New Year is the most important family holiday in Japan; it’s similar to a Christmas in Canada or Thanksgiving in the US. Many businesses shut down for the last few days of the year to give their employees time to spend with family. Conversational English schools like NOVA are usually open for every other holiday (because students are available for lessons), but thankfully they give teachers and staff a break and shut down for about a week at the end of the year.
The Penpal had to work today, but her father had the day off and wanted a chance to spend some time with me. The only other time we have spent time together alone was in a very awkward car ride from Numazu station to The Penpal’s piano recital. The Penpal’s father’s English is limited to the basics; yes, no, hello, goodbye. The thought of spending an entire day with him was pretty terrifying. Fortunately my Japanese has improved a lot in the past year or so, but even with that I spent the evening last night studying new words and preparing some emergency conversation topics. This only seems neurotic if you have never faced the thought of spending a day with your girlfriend’s father who can’t speak your language.
The Penpal’s father arranged our day through the Penpal. He was going to pick me up at my apartment and take me to Numazu Port to see a structure called View-O. Like most port areas in Japan, Numazu is susceptible to serious damage in the event of a tsunami. View-O is a man made gate over the entrance to the Numazu port area that automatically closes in the event of an earthquake of a certain strength. The idea is that it will block some or all of a tsunami wave to reduce damage to the port and the boats.
The gate looks like an arch over the port entrance that has a viewing area open to the public. From the top you can get a great view of Senbonhama beach, the Numazu port, Numazu city, and the green mountains of Izu peninsula.
I tried my best not to think about how nervous I was spending time with The Penpal’s father, and to just do my best to be relaxed and enjoy spending some time with him. Fortunately the combination of my improved Japanese abilities, last minute study, and his patience made the time move fairly smoothly. I only had to look in my dictionary twice!
After seeing View-O and taking a lot of pictures, The Penpal’s father told me we were going to pick up his wife from her mother’s house, and then meet The Penpal for dinner. I had successfully made it through the afternoon and I was now in the home stretch and close to having my translator back!
We drove to a part of town I had never been to before and parked in front of a small, older looking house. After a few minutes, a tiny older woman came out of the house and walked up to the car. She looked at me through the window and smiled. I thought this was just another case of an older person seeing their first foreigner, until The Penpal’s father told me I was looking at The Penpal’s 91 year old grandmother. I jumped out of the car, greeted her in Japanese, and gave my best attempt at a polite bow. I really want The Penpal’s family to like me, so I did my best to make a good impression. She kept smiling, which I took as a good sign.
The Penpal’s mother got in the car, and we returned to their house where The Penpal was waiting for me. Even though the day went well, I was very VERY relieved to have my translator available. We went out for dinner and talked about our adventures during the day. I am thankful that her father took the time to get to know me better, and very thankful that things seemed to go well.
(2015 Update) It turns out that I did make a good impression on Grandma, and it ended up helping me out A LOT, which I would find out in a few months.