Rural communities the world over have a distinct charm; the people are usually friendlier, more close-knit and very curious. These attributes certainly apply to the rural island community I reside in now in Japan. My short time here has already been punctuated by astute exchanges that offer community integration opportunities as well as lessons about language, culture, life and many other topics. This new “Japan Scenes” series is my attempt to document a fraction of these exchanges that I hope will be as interesting to my blog readers as they were to me.

I spend a lot of time of ferries lately…

My immediate community is an island of its own but the extended community includes 2 other islands close by. I had already visited one of the other 2 islands but the third and smallest one had eluded me until this faithful day. The plan was to pick up some items from a colleague in the evening after work so I made my way to the port and waited on the next ferry to arrive. I look very different from everyone so unsurprisingly someone recognized me.

River-man: K-sensei, how are you?!?!?
Me: I am fine! (I did not remember his name but his face was familiar)
River-man: Where are you headed today?
Me: To C-island! I need to pick something up from a friend and head back before it gets too dark
River-man: I am headed there too for a meeting

The ferry soon arrives and we get on and 20 minutes later we are at our destination port. I proceed to summon the help of Google Maps as I try to follow the landmarks given in the instructions on how to find my friend’s home.

River-man: Will you be walking?
Me: Yes (while showing him my destination on my phone)
River-man: I’m headed in that direction, plus its 25 minutes by foot so join me in my car!
Me: Really? Thank you!
River-man: I’ll be returning on the 9pm ferry so meet me at X place at X time and We can travel back together!

We proceeded to share information about each other as I learned that he is from this island but works on my island. I also finally learned (I hope) his name, about his family and important work he does. This is the example of community integration opportunities I spoke of early. In a few conversations, I put a name to a familiar face, had an opportunity to use (and hopefully improve) my terrible Japanese and learned that this unassuming man was quite important in my community and was very proud of the work he does.

Oki Islands View

Oki Islands View

The quest to find River-man

+2 hours and it was time to leave C-village and head back to my island base. By this time it was pitch-black outside. Armed with Google Maps I set off to find the meeting spot. A few minutes later I arrive at what I think its the meeting spot but its dark and I am unsure if I am in the right place. I peek into the school next door and notice the lights on in the office so I walk toward the light hoping that there was someone there. Surprisingly there was someone there; a young Japanese man in his early twenties.

Me: Good evening. Excuse me, I am so sorry. Do you know River-man?
Young Teacher-man: River-man? Yes I do! Are you looking for him?
Me: Yes! We are supposed to meet in 30 minutes to catch the ferry back home together.
Young Teacher-man: Do not worry I think I know where he is! follow me.

After few minutes of quick walking and multiple flights of stairs, we arrive on the 3rd floor of what must be the biggest building on the island. However, it seemed empty and eerie my imaginative mind started to think that this is how horror movies start and any minute the lights would go out and then slowly come on and I would find Young Teacher-man missing! Thankfully it didn’t happen and after a few minutes of checking, we retreated back to the school staff room as Young Teacher-man rustled through files and tried calling River-man’s cell phone… multiple tries and no answer.

Young Teacher-man: It will be ok. I know the ferry timetable. If I don’t get him in time I will drive you to the port to catch the ferry.
Me: Really? Thank you!
Young Teacher-man: Where are you from?
Me: I am from Jamaica.
Young Teacher-man: Really?!!?!? (A wide-eyed look on his face) Bolto Bolto Bolto!…

The number one conversation starter

Japanese level up?

We proceeded to talk about many topics including how he is a new teacher who only started teaching four months ago and his love of basketball. He fired off the usual questions I have been getting; how tall are you? Why did you come to Japan? How old are you? How long did it take to travel from Jamaica to these tiny islands? How fast can you run the 100m? We then did a second check of River-man at the same building (thankfully taking the elevator this time). There in the silence, we heard voices and together realised that a group of people were having a meeting in an ajoining room. We sat and waited and in less than five minutes the meeting was over and River-man appeared from behind a closed door.

River-man: I am so sorry, I could not answer my phone!
Me: There is no problem. Young Teacher-man kept my company and I made a new friend.
Young Teacher-man: It was my pleasure River-man.
Me: Thank you Young Teacher-man!

River-man and I travelled to the port together exchanging more information as I cringed internally while using my mixture of simple English and broken Japanese. Luckily he understood most of our exchanges (I hope) and soon we were back at home port waving good-bye as he hopped onto his scooter as I wrestled with my bicycle. I memorable evening indeed.

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