Hiragana to yo Mama

This, my friends, is what I have been trying to memorize for the past month or so, and I think I finally have it down!  Trying to get a feel for a language I’ll be using in the next year that I know nothing about. The Japanese language has been one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to learn. In my brain, it feels like reading symbols, listening to someone on fast forward, and speaking as though my tongue is not my own at times.

I parked my Xterra aside a curb next to a beautiful banana yellow two-story home. It was one of those typical Portland homes; fairly old, small in size, very homey looking, and unlike any other home around it. Double checking my directions to make sure that this was surely the place for my Japanese class, my heart began excitedly beating as I was about to begin my journey for the next year.

I opened the wooden gate surrounding the home and skipped up the porch steps. Just outside the entrance stood a small structure that resembled a sort of bookshelf.  I looked in the cubbies and saw a mixture of shoes, all shapes, sizes and colors. I glanced up at the foreign sign with pictures that obviously meant “please take off your shoes” then slipped the vans off my feet and set them on the top shelf to join the family.

I opened the front door, moving my head to the left, then to the right, looking at the posters that children had created. All adorned with scraps of colored paper and intricate squigly lines. I recognized many of their pictures and drawings, but struggled to grasp what their squiggles were trying to say.

The first floor of the home seemed to be used for small children to learn and study Japanese, and be cared for by adults. There was a tiny kitchen where more posters hung, small stepping stools were scattered and a rack of colorful plastic dishes lay. It was a very open space without doors to separate rooms, only one that led to the first floor bathroom.

I glanced to the right where a small staircase led to the second floor. Above my head I could hear a woman’s voice say something in what sounded like Chinese, followed by the chime of children in unison speaking back to her. I knew I was in the right place. A house full of so much knowledge. Teaching Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean in this home, and I was about to be sitting upstairs learning how to communicate in Japanese.

A handful of small children came hopping down the staircase, laughing and smiling. I walked slowly by each of them and sat in the open room where 3 long school desks created a U shape around one smaller desk; obviously belonging to the teacher. I sat for a few minutes looking around. An older woman, about five feet tall with dark brown hair, a beautiful flowered button-up shirt, glasses, and a friendly smile, came shuffling through the door. She looked up at me, smiled, and joyfully sounded, “Konnichiwa”.

And so begins my adventure.

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