This is a love letter of sorts, because it is from deep within my heart to my forever friends scattered around the world, and my new Japanese friends at the rink, in the barn, and in the dojo. I would like to introduce my new friends to you in this post of gratitude, which I’m starting in November, a time for giving thanks. I am finishing it on New Year’s Day, reflecting on a very full year.
I hope to translate this letter myself in three years, to ensure the meaning is exactly right. Perhaps I will seek help translating portions of it early, so that it can be shared soon. Either way, it is excellent motivation to keep learning Japanese, so I can speak to these wonderful people in their language. As I write, I am thinking of you, my new friends, how I met you, and how I knew instantly, despite my very limited language skills, that we would be very good friends.
Hockey manager, mother of team captain, and friend, Minako, thank you for checking my understanding of LINE messages, for ensuring I know where the rinks are, and for welcoming me to the hockey family. You have helped me figure out what to buy to make ramen, how to politely introduce myself to individuals and groups, and how to navigate socially. In other words, when I’m trying to say “take care” I asked you how to say that in Japanese? Is it really “mata ne”? Or is that too casual? And another night I texted you from my refrigerator:”Minako, can I still eat this onigiri? It’s been in the fridge for three days.” “NOOO! But, you could possibly take the raw eggs out, heat them in the microwave, and feed them to the birds! Do NOT eat it, you will DIE!” Or something like that. J
Jooba sensei…Tomoe-san, thank you for allowing me to dig into barn chores with you every Tuesday. I enjoy my time working in the barn as much as I do actually riding. Being a part of your barn family is a great privilege and honor. I am thankful for your friendship and teaching, and also for my new friends, Miwa and Keiko. It has been a very interesting journey learning how a light touch, proper balance, posture and timing can be effective. I relied on power to manage a strong-willed and anxious horse in Washington, but here I get to see a different way, one of softer influence and courtesy. Our routine of cleaning, then riding, then having lunch together is a joy, and I look forward to every Tuesday. I positively will NOT book anything else, no matter how interesting (even something as nerdy and cool as analyzing a data set!) on Tuesdays.
Kendo dojo…thank you for welcoming me into your family. Ben and Sam have really enjoyed getting to know your children, and I feel like one of the Kannonzaki mothers, even if I can’t keep up with you in conversation, nor certainly in putting on or stowing my gear! That will be several years’ journey! Kumiko and Shigel – thank you for essentially adopting two more kendo children. You have been so dear and generous with your time and friendship, helping me buy gear for three hours at McDonald’s on my phone, under the duress of a VERY low battery (3%!). One of the highlights of my memories is getting to introduce you to my horse friends and my kichi friends. I look forward to many more exchanges of friendship and nabe recipes!!! To the entire dojo, and all the patient sensei who work with us each week, thank you. Yoroshiku onegeishimasu. I used to be terrified of Mondays and Thursdays because I know I am decidedly not athletic or coordinated. But within about 6 weeks you helped me along far enough to actually look forward to keiko, and the chance to hone my skills a little more. Thank you for being patient, and hiding any laughter behind your men. I am never 100% sure what you are saying, but I get the general sense pretty well and I can tell it is all positive and friendly. Thank you so much for the welcome! It is a great privilege to keiko with you.
Daijou-sensei, thank you for volunteering to teach Ben and me. Your insistence on correct form during practice is essential to drilling the movements into memory. Ben and I work hard to remember everything, but as soon as we fix one element, another falls apart! You balance being encouraging and demanding, and remind us not to smile in the dojo once keiko begins. We are intent on learning all we can. You clearly put your heart into all you do to support the dojo family. We also have the privilege of seeing you often on Nimitz Court where 8 children look forward to your visits every afternoon for work. Thank you for rescuing countless balls from the rooftops, reminding children not to climb too high in trees, trying strange blue rubbery American snacks (Fruit Roll-Ups) and taking it easy on the kids in light sabre battles. (The force is definitely with YOU!) Ben and I will keep working on our form and kiai. The neighbors really love when we yell “YaaaaAAAAAAA…MEEEEEEEENNNNNNN!”
And one important friend has the uncanny ability to appear within moments when a translator is needed. My friend Yuki manages the grounds crews at the bases. She is very busy, but she stopped by once in October and we chatted in the neighborhood for a while. From that moment on we became good friends. Thank goodness, because I managed to bump into some people looking up at the trees behind the houses a couple weeks ago. I tried to explain that I like to split wood. The men explained they were going to be doing some tree cutting in the spring. I got very excited and showed them my kindling pile (the kids and I bring wood back from around the grounds on base), and asked if I could have some wood. It got tricky explaining at that point, despite my efforts to act out splitting wood. (They may have thought it was kendo, I’m not sure, because they called someone to translate.) Guess who showed up within a minute or two? YUKI! It happened to be her boss that I was appealing to for tree rounds. She explained I’m not actually crazy, not too crazy, and that I just miss my chickens and my countryside. This is the last thing I had been hoping for, after hockey and horses…being able to have fires and split wood. The smell and the physical activity, outside, are so important to me. Thank you, Yuki. When I was thinking about moving, I had a very hard time with missing the smell of fall and fires. I never thought it would be possible to have that here. Your friendship warms my heart, thank you!