Upon arriving in Japan I spoke no Japanese at all. I set to and studied the language and slowly but surely one new phrase after another came into my sphere of understanding. One of the first phrases I recall hearing a lot was, “Aisatsu Wa Daiji Desune” Literally the phrase means “Greetings are important aren’t they” and you hear this phrase being said over and over by the older generation to the children of the nation. This phrase is ingrained in the tradition and mythology of Japan and is culturally very important to the Japanese across the entire nation. These days I think this phrase alone typifies much of the culture of Japan and this one phrase has changed my life for ever.
Back when I was still in my initial “emergence phase” here in Japan I really wanted to try everything Japanese. This included putting this phrase “Aisatsu Wa Daiji Desune” to work to try and “Feel Japan” Although back in my own country I didn’t speak out to people in public very often I decided to give it a try. I began in my own local village. Back then foreigners were still very much a novelty and many people would take a second Glance at me everyday. This made it very easy for me to say shoot out a greeting, “Konnichiwa” (Good Day) . My language was limited and so I couldn’t go much further than just “Good Day” The response was mixed, some were surprised and turned away, others would return the greeting.
Time has passed and these days my Japanese is not too bad at all. About 3 months ago I moved from teaching full time in Smith’s Kyobashi to Smith’s School of English Fukushima. I knew I had a whole new “Aisastu” playground to work and was looking forward to the reactions of this bustling metropolis. I started from my first day. I put on my best smile and big, clear voice and set off. First off with the JR station staff “Good Morning, Ostukaresama” (response…confused look), moving along the street I spotted a woman washing the front doorway of a building, “Good Morning, gokurosama, Kirei ni shiteimasu ne” (response- confused look)..Dog on lead with Older lady in tow, “Good Morning, Kawaii desu ne” (Response – “Arigato”)…Shutter stuck half way up shop window shopkeeper in trouble, “Ostukaresama, Isshoni ganbaro, (creak, creak, up it goes) Yoshi…… Ittekimasu” (response – confused look)…Oh yer! Mum with a pram, I look the litte boy right in the eyes “Ohayogozaimasu ” (Response – Mama says “Ohayogozaimasu”… Nope, no way, none of that, I look him in the eyes again with my best smile and kindest voice “Aisatsu wa daiji desune” (response, “Hai, Ohhayogozaimasu” Big smile from Mum and bye bye waves all round.
This goes on all day with me. When I first started behaving like this I used to make it till about lunch time before my cheeks felt stiffer than a bride groom on his wedding day. These days I can keep up the smiles and greetings until well into the night.
It has been 3 months now since my feet landed on the steps at Fukushima station. This morning as I passed through the wickets and the station staff dipped his hat, The lady cleaning the building was out and with a big smile, “Ohayo Mark-kun” I oiled the shutter two weeks ago and so it doesn’t stick anymore but the owner always waves and says “Good Morning” in English, the Hairdresser on the corner will even put down his scissors to come out and say hello, untold children and mothers wave and say hello. In short I have a marvelous walk to the school everyday. I know and see that these greetings make people smile. I like that a lot. Moreover these same greeting charge me up and make me feel great. I feel like part of a community and a part of Japan.
I love this country and so feeling apart of it just makes my life all the better. ‘Aisatus Wa Daiji Desune” Give it a try, It may change your life too.