We moved to Tokyo over two months ago. I’ve written at least 20 blog posts in my head, but alas, this is the first I’ve had time to sit down and write. I’ve often wondered which topic would be the first glimpse at my life here in Tokyo. This feels right.
We send our oldest to a Japanese kindergarten called a yochien. We desire for her to be immersed in the Japanese language and to be salt and light at her school.
I wish I could post photos of her school. You’d walk past the neat and orderly rows of mama-bikes to wait in line with all of the other yochien moms. When school is dismissed, the staff announce that you can proceed into the courtyard to pick up your child (at least, that’s what I assume they are saying. They could be saying anything, how would I know?).
Today my feet sunk more into the gravel than usual. I opted for canvas shoes today instead of boots, and I quickly realized that was a mistake. So much gravel, so much dirt.
I push my youngest in her stroller, following my husband through the sea of moms until we finally see our daughter in her cute little uniform. Funny how she blends in so easily. Navy bowler hat. Navy blazer with her class ribbon and her name in Japanese. A plaid skirt with suspenders. Navy tights or knee socks. I can’t get enough of the uniform cuteness. A sea of adorable children in their school uniforms. Such a heartwarming sight.
Today we learn that it’s open playground day and the children are allowed to play while their parents stay and visit. Instead of playing in their smocks and class hat, they are allowed to wear their blazer and bowler hats (which are normally reserved for the walk to and from school). I watch my daughter get approached by several young students. I see her run off and kick a soccer ball with them. My heart is full.
If you only saw my timidity. My hesitations. My fears…I can’t speak Japanese, how will I get to know these moms? God clearly provided for us to come to Japan, but I feel so helpless without a grasp on the language. There I am, the chubby American woman in a sea of slender Japanese frames. There’s no hiding me. My husband is conversing with the children my daughter plays with (because he can speak some Japanese – although, let’s not forget about that time today he had to use google translate with a 6 year old…). Me? I have an arsenal of Japanese in my vocabulary (note sarcasm). I can ask deep, thought provoking questions like “how old is your baby?” in basically the worst Japanese grammar ever. It probably came out through a thick american accent like this “baby, how old?”. Heaven forbid I understand anything more than a 2 word answer. I just nod and smile and pray I can handle the awkward silence that follows. I cannot speak. I’m an extrovert dying right now because I’m unable to speak the language (cries inside).
I walk through the gravel, smiling (hoping to look approachable and kind). So much smiling…bowing, nodding, saying “konnichiwa”. They’re so kind to speak to me. How much I wish I could speak to them. I mean really speak. Ask about their children, their hobbies, what they did today.
I watch my daughter run hand in hand with a friend, and I’m reminded how much I love our place in this school. We came to Japan to live in the community and serve the Japanese. To meet them where they are. Well, they’re here! Hundreds of people. I’m in awe to think that God brought us here. I love feeling like part of their community, even though I’m so different. I obviously don’t fit in, but that’s okay. God didn’t make me Japanese. He made me uniquely me, and I’m excited to be here, in this place, at this school, standing on this dirty gravel playground. (Which PS – my OCD clean-freak inside is struggling).
How could a gravel playground be so beautiful? How could it be so awe-inspiring?
Whether I’m wearing boots, canvas shoes or sandals, when I walk into that school, I’m standing on holy gravel. The Lord is in this place. I feel Him.
(Now, let’s just pray I can learn lots of Japanese at a Guinness World Record speed so I can talk to people, ok?)