When two people from vastly different cultures meet for the first time, the encounter is usually fraught with tension. Neither person really knows what to say, so the conversations can get a little dicey. However, there is one thing on Earth that tends to unite people no matter what their race, ethnicity, or creed may be. That all important unifier is sports. Now, with respect to all the amazing sports out there, I will only be talking about soccer today because it’s the primary sport, I play at Waseda University.
I arrived in Japan about 3 months ago and every single day has been a roller coaster ride full of emotional ups and downs. At times, I feel like I’m making great progress towards mastering Japanese and all my conversations tend to go smoothly. Then in what seems like a flip of a coin, my Japanese seems to fall out of my brain and I can’t seem to think of the right words or phrases to say. Now, I can attribute this to a lot of things, like exhaustion and anxiety. Who knew that going to class 6 days a week would be so brutal… I think the key to preventing these lapses in my Japanese is to interact with more Japanese students, so that I can reinforce the lessons I learned in class. But the biggest question is how?
In a few of my other blogs, I mentioned how difficult it is to meet Japanese students in Japan. Aside from talking to the occasional Japanese students in classes, many are quite shy because they don’t speak English well. Now, who can blame their apprehension when a large portion of the foreign exchange students can speak a lick of Japanese. So, the real question is how do we bridge this language gap?
Thankfully, Waseda University has an amazing place called the “Intercultural Communication Center”, where Waseda staff help pair exchange students with Japanese students. They do this by creating various intercultural events throughout the semester and all of them are great! For instance, a week ago, they had a mochi pounding event where you could try making your own mochi. Also, the ICC students got to meet some sumo wrestlers at the event and they made the mochi with them. Pretty cool right!
Even though, I participate in many of the ICC events I still wanted to do something a bit more active. I do walk around everywhere, but that’s not really the kind of exercise I like. Back home, I take part in my university’s futsal club and ever since I came to Japan, I haven’t had the chance to play soccer. Well, until recently. In mid-October, the ICC announced it first ever monthly soccer event. When I heard this news, I nearly jumped out of my seat because I could finally get my soccer fix. Now, it gets better because not only where we going to play soccer, but we were also going to be playing with the Waseda soccer team.
(My UMD Futsal team for the Spring tournament)
Now, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have a shred of anxiety before coming to the first game in October. At the time, all I could think about was what language we were going to use while playing and I had a feeling it was going to be Japanese. To my surprise, once me and my friends arrived at the field in Higashifushimi, we were greeted in some of the most broken English I have ever heard. In that instant, I knew I was going to be okay because these Japanese students were trying just as hard a I was to communicate, and that’s exactly what we did.
From the get-go, me and my Japanese teammates quickly bonded over our shared interest in soccer. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t perfectly explain my thoughts to them because in the end, they always had a general idea. This was a great confidence booster for me because I’ve always struggled with the thought of sounding stupid or making a mistake in Japanese. These ICC events really opened my eyes to the fact that even though I make some mistakes every now and then, it’s all a part of the learning process. To be honest, while playing we mainly shouted out names, or small short phrases like “pass”, or “頑張れ” (which means, you can do it in Japanese).
The atmosphere of the event was amazing! Communication was mainly done at the most basic of levels and we were still communicating through our actions and our shared love of the sport. Now since then, I have gone to two more ICC soccer events and each time I come home from the event, I feel like I’ve made some great progress towards mastering Japanese. I’ve even made a few friends along the way. For this I will forever be grateful to the ICC and the Waseda Soccer Association for making these events possible. I look forward to the Spring when we can playing again.