Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Update from Nagoya, Japan - A Night on the Town!



Last Friday in Japanese class, we had just started learning how to politely ask for permission. Little did I know, that grammar structure would become very useful that same night.

After class, a couple friends and I bought unlimited weekend metro passes with the intention of seeing as much of Nagoya as we could in 72 hours. Our first stop-- Sakae.

Sakae is the "downtown" area of Nagoya, famous for its many animal cafes, eateries, stores, and vibrant nightlife. We got off at Sakae station and immediately stumbled into a bunny cafe. It was like a rabbit-themed Starbucks. Animal cafes are a growing trend in the United States but have been a staple in Japan for almost a decade. This was my first time going to one and found it to be a great way to unwind, especially after a long week of classes.

After we got our fill of hot chocolate and cute bunnies, we set off to shop. One thing I noticed almost immediately when I arrived in Nagoya was the difference in fashion. Outside of business attire, people dress rather modestly. Rather than tank tops and short shorts, most women wear loose-fitting blouses, flare pants, below-the-knee length dresses or skirts, and high heels. As for men, loose-fitting t-shirts, joggers, and sandals are the norm. Notably, jeans are rather uncommon for both men and women. The stores we visited reflected these more modest fashion preferences, some even selling kimono, yukata, and other traditional Japanese garments.

Before we knew it, the sun had set. Shopping bags in hand, we were looking for our next stop when we started to hear the rumble of drums. We followed the sound to its source and found a live band playing a rendition of "Payphone" by Maroon 5. The band's name was "Doos". On their website, they describe themselves as "Nagoya's instrumental street-performers". Growing up near New York City, I'd seen street performers many times before. Being a drummer and having attended and performed at shows myself, I can say with confidence that Doos' quality of performance was comparable to that of a sold-out concert.

Without a stage, they commanded attention. Traffic notably slowed and passersby soon formed a crowd. Doos' energy was so contagious that even the sternest-looking business men and women in the back of the crowd started bopping their heads to the beat. After their last set, my friends and I rushed to join the line to meet the band and buy a copy of their CD. While waiting, we frantically rehearsed what we would say to them in Japanese. I'd remembered that earlier in the day in class, we had just learned how to politely ask for permission. I brought it up and joked that I should ask to play on their drum set. Thinking I was serious, my friends immediately grasped onto the idea and urged me to do it. In truth, I'm usually very hesitant to ask for favors, let alone make such a bold request and in a foreign language.

We got to the front. My voice trembling, I finally said, "すみません、宜しければ、ドラムをさせていただけませんか。" which roughly translates to, "Excuse me, if it's okay, would you give me the pleasure of playing on the drum set?" To my surprise, they said yes! In fact, they joined in with my playing and we improvised for about ten minutes. The last thing I expected when I chose to study abroad in Japan was to perform with a rock band in front of a live audience, but there I was. The nerves from before melted away-- I was at home.

Thanks to this program, not only did I get a chance to immediately apply what I had learned in the classroom, but I also got to create something beautiful. I think it's incredible how despite having never met before, despite the language barrier, and despite all the our differences in background and culture, we were still able to come together and breathe the same rhythm. That night is easily one of my most cherished memories ever. I am incredibly humbled and grateful.

Be on the lookout for my vlog on my trip to Kyoto!

Until then!

Irene Mutwiri
George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
B.A. International Affairs
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow
Nanzan University - Summer Japanese Program, Japan

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