A few weeks ago, The Penpal asked me if I would like to come to her piano recital in Numazu. She asked very politely and said that she would completely understand if I didn’t want to go, or if it was too inconvenient. She also apologized in advance about her performance, which was apparently not going to be very good. Being a good boyfriend, I agreed to go. There was only one catch – since The Penpal would need to be there early in her formal kimono, her father would be picking me up at the train station and driving me to the recital.
A few days before the recital date, I started teaching myself a few new words of Japanese to make conversation in the car. The Penpal’s father didn’t speak any English, so I would need to use all of my Japanese skill to communicate. I brought my dictionary and phrase book on the train and studied right up until I arrived at Numazu station.
At the station, The Penpal’s father easily found me (the only white guy around), and we exchanged greetings and got into the car. He asked me how the train ride was. I asked him how far away the recital was. We discussed how nice the weather was. He pointed out the carp banners along the riverside. I asked if he could play any instruments. We kept the conversation going until we arrived at the culture centre. I was relieved because I had basically exhausted my vocabulary by that point.
We pulled into the parking lot, and were told by the attendant that the parking lot was completely full, and we would need to wait for some cars to leave before we could enter. The wait was estimated to be about 15 minutes, but the time would depend on when people decided to leave. At this moment I looked over at The Penpal’s father and he looked at me. We both had exactly the same expression on our faces – the universal “Oh Shit” look.
To say that the next 15 minutes were awkward would be a gross understatement. We attempted to discuss a few topics with little success. I attempted to use my dictionaries to assist, but there is nothing that kills a conversation like trying to frantically flip through a dictionary to find a noun, then equally frantically searching for a verb to attach it to. I am sure that he would have rather been almost anywhere other than stuck in a car with some gaijin who was dating his daughter.
After 15 minutes that seemed like about 2 hours, a car left and we were able to park and enter the culture centre. I was greeted by The Penpal, looking fantastic in her formal kimono, The Penpal’s mother, and Williams. The Penpal needed to go backstage to get ready for her performance, leaving me to sit with her parents and Williams. Right before she left, she again apologized and asserted that she would not be very good.
One major cultural distinction of Japanese people is that they NEVER admit to being good at something, even if they are great. The Penpal had actually been playing piano for 20 years, and dazzled the audience with a jaw dropping performance of Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu. If you have never heard this before, PLEASE click the link above. It is truly a beautiful song and a challenging piece for a pianist.
On my way back to Numazu I reflected on a productive day: I survived the car ride, met The Penpal’s mother, and got to witness The Penpal’s skill on the piano. I also learned to never trust a Japanese person who says they are not good at something.
(2014 Update) This was a complete rewrite of my original 4 sentence post. I can’t believe I didn’t write more at the time!