Fast forward to sophomore year, second semester. I was talking to my advisor, who was also the leader of the Japanese program. We were discussing my studying abroad. It was a requirement to graduate with Japanese as a major. We will call him H-sensei.
H-sensei was trying to get me to put off studying abroad until my senior year. He said my Japanese wasn’t good enough for me to go. But that was why I wanted to go. I needed the motivation to push myself and to try harder. We argued about it every day for a month until he finally gave in and said I could go my junior year. But, he told me, you should go to F Daigaku.
No, I told him. I want to go to DB Daigaku.
I refused to waver. If I go to FD, I explained, my Japanese won’t improve. Like you told the exchange students from Japan, there are a lot of good English programs at FD. It’s a school dedicated to teaching English and making English teachers out of its students. Being so, everyone there is studying English, and because I’m an American, they will only want to speak to me in English. I want to go to DBD. I don’t want to go to Japan to learn how to teach English. I want to go to Japan to learn how to speak Japanese.
I won that argument. Quickly.
When August rolled around, I didn’t go to my university like the rest of my class. Instead, my suitcase and I went to the airport, boarded a plane, and about 15 hours later, landed in Narita Airport in Japan.
I went early so that I could stay with my friend, Yu.
Yu was actually the same friend that threw me the surprise party for my birthday my freshman year. Every day that I stayed with him, we went to his university. He did his work in a lab with seven desks. At each desk sat a guy. Ko, Sana, Haya, Ryu, Ota, and Yu. There was one extra desk, so I sat in that one.
Sana was a strange guy. He always wore basketball shorts, a plain t-shirt, toe-socks, and Adidas sandals. I’m pretty sure that he practically lived in the lab. He was there before us every morning and was still there when we left.
Ko was a bigger guy. He studies martial arts and was planning on being a police officer. He had a goofy sense of fashion, but he knew how to make me laugh.
Ryu barely spoke a word to me the entire time. The others liked to tease him, but in a friendly way. It wasn’t like the teasing I had when I was a kid, but I told them to stop every now and then. More than anything, I think it was their way of being good friends and trying to get Ryu out of his shell. He was very, very, very shy. I heard from Yu, though, that Ryu actually was a boxer. With his build, I wasn’t surprised. He was awkward, though.
Haya was never really around. When he was, though, he was the sporty one. He would toss a baseball into the air and catch it, occasionally inviting everyone outside for a game of baseball because, he said, we all needed some fresh air.
Ota was actually the one that helped me get out of my shell. At one point, it was just the two of us in the lab. I had barely spoken to anyone because I was nervous and had no confidence in my Japanese ability. Ota and I had exchanged a few words a few days before. It went something like this (translated, of course):
Ota: (to self) Ah~ I’m hungry~
Me: Oh, me too.
Ota: Wait! You speak Japanese?!
Me: Yeah, a little…
Ota: You should talk more!
Me: I just don’t have much confidence yet…
Ota: That’s a waste! Talk more and it will get better.
Me: Ah, okay.
A few days after that, he came up to me when it was just the two of us in the lab and we talked. He was very patient with me. He helped me look up words I didn’t know in Japanese and never became frustrated with me when I didn’t understand something that he said or how to properly convey what I wanted to say. He never got bored as we were talking, either. In fact, he looked a little bit disappointed when everyone else came back.
I never told him how much that short time meant to me. I’m not sure he even remembers. My Japanese is much better now. In fact, it’s one of the few things I do actually have confidence in.
That day, he taught me that people won’t laugh if I make a mistake. The fact that I’m trying at all is enough and is what really matters. I think that my conversation with him all those years ago is the reason that my Japanese is at the level that it is now.
A week passed and it was time for me to go to my dorm in Saitama. Yu and I packed up my suitcase and put it into the trunk of his car. We stopped by his school so I could say goodbye to my new friends, then headed toward my university, arriving an hour and a half later. We said our farewells and I went into my dorm to meet the other students I would be living with as I got the grand tour.
Calling it a dorm isn’t exactly right. It was more like a share house. There were two floors with eight rooms on each floor, and each girl got her own room. (It was an all-girls share house.) In every room, there was a bed with a mattress, futon, pillow, sheets, a desk and chair, a wardrobe (there were no closets in the rooms), and a bookcase.
Each floor also had its own kitchen with three (small) refrigerators, two stoves, and two sinks. There was a cabinet for every girl on the floor, marked by her room number as to avoid any confusion on whose was whose. Pots, pans, dishes, and silverware were also provided. Each floor had two showers and two toilets, as well, each in its own room with a door, making it nice for privacy.
We were pretty much set. It was nice.
School started and I met all the other international students, plus some Japanese students. A Canadian boy (we will call him Kuro) and I became really close friends. We hung out a lot, studying together at a Starbucks in the mall. We actually convinced a lot of people that we were married. It was kind of hilarious.
There was a girl from Australian that we will call Ish. She had a very different personality than me. We didn’t hate each other, but we were obviously very different, so we simply didn’t talk or hang out. She was in the English club. She had a huge crush on one of the members, so she was dedicated and went to every single meeting and participated in every event. The leader noticed this and asked her for her help for an event.
He wanted to invite as many international students as he could to go bowling with the English club members. Ish was a good girl and invited as many as she could, including me. It ended up being most of the girls that lived in my house, plus Kuro and the other boy from Canada, then, of course, the English Club members.
We went to a bowling alley closer to Tokyo, taking about an hour to get there by train. From the station, we walked to the bowling alley. I ended up walking next to a boy that you now know as Yohei.
Anywho, Yohei seemed rather uninterested in talking to me, so I gave up and ran up to Kuro, talking to him for most of the night.
We all went bowling and had a fantastic time. Yohei warmed up to me a little and even posed for a photograph later in the night. I still have the photo.
When bowling was done, we walked to the bus stop to go back to the station, only to realize that the last bus had already left, so we walked back to the train station.
Much to our dismay, though, the last train to our city has left just minutes before we arrived. We caught a train that went closer to our city, but it was still twenty minutes away (by train). After eating some ramen at a shop, we went to karaoke for the rest of the night.
Karaoke in Japan is much different than the states. In the states, you sing at an open place in front of a bunch of other people you don’t know. It’s like a bar setting. In Japan, you and your friends can get a room where you can sing with just you and there are no strangers. There’s also room service.
A few people sang, but then almost everyone fell asleep. Cheaper than a hotel, but not nearly as comfortable. We all woke up at around four thirty and caught the first train home.
Not too long after that, Ish decided to have a Halloween party. Because we lived in the same share house, that meant that it was going to be in my house. (She didn’t ask, of course. She kind of just assumed that everyone was in.)
A lot of people came, but most of them left before midnight to catch the last trains home. The guy that Ish liked (let’s call him Tatsu), though, lived at the same stop as us, so he stayed until about 12:30. After he left, though, I found his cell phone. I knew it was his because it was glued to his hand most of the night, so I recognized the case.
I put it in my pocket and went up to my room, where I started to get ready for bed, almost forgetting that I had his phone in my pocket. I found it again, though, and opened my laptop so I could message him on Facebook. I told him I found his phone. He replied almost immediately, much to my surprise. He thanked me for letting him know and said that he would be over in a second to pick it up.
He rang the doorbell and Ish opened it, ecstatic to see that her crush had come back. Much to her dismay, though, he asked for me. (I know this because I was walking down the stairs at that point and could see the whole thing happen.) Her reply was an almost angry “Why?”
Tatsu saw me and pushed past Ish, calling my name and a big, “Thanks for messaging me!”
This, I believe, is the moment that Ish began hating me.
I handed Tatsu his phone, and Ish wasn’t happy. “Why does she have your phone?”
Tatsu ignored her. “Tanie, tell me your LINE ID so that we can talk more!”
LINE is a free chat app that almost everyone in Japan with a cell phone uses. They don’t really do texting, and when they do, it isn’t unlimited and free like in the states. They do have unlimited data plans, though, so LINE is the way to go.
I gave him my ID information and he added me, sending me a message so that I had his, as well.
Ish quickly jumped in, offering her ID as well. I felt bad for her, though, because Tatsu seemed so obviously uninterested. He could have at least pretended to be a little happier about it. Instead, he offered a cold, “Huh? Oh, yeah, sure.”
Ish was persistent, though, I will give her that.
I had changed out of my party clothes and into my pajamas before I had messaged him on Facebook, so I was sitting on the stairs in my giant cat sweatshirt and pajama pants. Tatsu smiled at me and said, “Are those your pajamas? I like them! They’re cute!”
Ish was getting angrier with every stupid comment out of Tatsu’s mouth. He wasn’t flirting with me, like she thought he was. He just wasn’t giving her the attention that she wanted. She was glaring at me with eyes that screamed “Get out.” I got the message.
I told Tatsu that I was just getting ready for bed, so I had to get going; I had plans the next day.
Ish lit up like a Christmas tree.
Until Tatsu took my comment as an out, saying (in Japanese), “Yeah, I should go, too. I have a lot to do tomorrow, too.”
Ish cast me another nasty look, but I ignored it. It wasn’t my fault. She was coming on too strong and it was just pushing him away. He wasn’t interested. With that, I went upstairs.
Later, a message came from Tatsu telling me that he got home safely.
Ish ignored me for the rest of the week. She only talked to me when she would see me talking to Tatsu and she would join in on the conversation. That didn’t work out as well as she wanted to. Tatsu was kind of the King of Cold. When he had no interest in something, he was really good at completely ignoring it.
I believe that Ish decided to simply try to push me out of the picture. In doing so, she unintentionally made me a very happy person.
Yohei told the International Center that he wanted an English tutor. They recommended me. Ish was more than willing to introduce him to me. She had to do it at the most inconvenient time, of course.
A few days later, I was home sick. I sat at the kitchen table, reading a book and drinking tea, nose red from tissues, no make-up, and hair a mess. Ish decided that this was the perfect time. I could hear them coming up the stairs. As soon as I heard a guy’s voice, I bolted to my room, using the door that avoided the stairs. I wasn’t fast enough, though. Ish called my name, stopping me.
“Tanie, wait! This is Yohei. You’re going to be his new English tutor. The International Center was going to inform you today, but you weren’t at school. So I just thought I would introduce you!” Evil.
“Oh… we’ve met,” I said. “At the bowling thing.”
Yohei, in Japanese, said, “Yeah, I told her that, but…”
“I just thought you should know about the tutoring!” she chimed in with a smile so fake that Barbie would be proud.
“Thanks,” I said. I was extremely embarrassed. I was the kind of person that was always worried about my appearance, but I wasn’t about to dress up and do my hair and makeup when I was home sick.
Yohei could read the air. He knew that something was off. “Do you feel okay? Do you need anything?” he asked me.
I tried to smile. In all honesty, I was fighting tears of embarrassment. “I just need some rest,” I told him. “I feel better than this morning.”
“I’ll let you get some sleep, then. Feel better!” he said, then left. Ish followed. I took a deep breath, then went back to my book. I wasn’t going to stoop to her level. I wasn’t going to say anything.
The next day, I went back to school. I wasn’t 100% yet, but I didn’t want to miss any more of my classes.
Yohei saw me sitting in the lobby of the international center during my free period. I was doing my homework. He came over to talk to me, apologizing for the day before, saying that he didn’t want to bother me because he knew that I was sick, but Ish insisted.
I told him it was okay, then we talked about tutoring. We had the same free period schedule on Wednesdays, so we decided that we would do tutoring then.
After talking for a little while, Yohei and I found out that we actually had a lot in common. What really got us talking, though, was when we realized that we both had the same favorite music group: Bump of Chicken. That topic was what set us off and caused us to be good friends.
Word got around that I was tutoring English and soon, I had a group to tutor four out of five days of the school week.
I was busy, but I was happy.
I loved it.
One of my groups was three people: a girl and two guys. The two guys were Hama… and Tatsu.
I didn’t find out until a little later, but Yohei, Hama, and Tatsu were all best friends and hung out regularly. I often hung out with them all separately, but we only hung out as a group a few times.
Once, they wanted me to make them French toast. We all went shopping and got what I needed, then went back to my house so I could cook for them.
Yohei offered to help while Hama and Tatsu played the Nintendo 64.
Ish had moved out of the share house a week earlier. She switched to the private apartments two stations over. I was relieved. If she saw that Tatsu came over so I could cook for him, she would be fuming and I would probably never hear the end of it.
When everyone was done eating, Hama cleaned up and did the dishes. He was a sweet guy. He was a hard worker, studying at the university during the day and working nights. I always wondered when he found time to sleep.
On his days off, we would go to Starbucks for coffee and just talk for hours. I really enjoyed those times. We had the same views on so many things that I sometimes felt like I was talking to myself, but then he would surprise me by saying something new. Like talking to myself, but much more interesting.
Hama and I would occasionally go out to eat together, too. Sometimes, just the two of us, but we’d sometimes invite Yohei. I really liked when he invited him. By this point, I had started to develop quite the crush on him, though I would never admit it out loud.
One day, in late November, I got a message from Tatsu.
“Hey, Tanie, let’s go to Disney. :)”
I was more than happy to go! We also invited Hama and Yohei, but Hama couldn’t go, unfortunately, because he had work. Instead, Tatsu’s friend Ken came with.
Yohei and I talked most of the trip. We were happy to get a chance to talk outside of a school setting.
By this point, I had a huge crush on Yohei. Any chance I got to hang out with him was my favorite part of the day.
I studied at Starbucks on a daily basis. It got to the point where I would walk in and the workers would see me and say, “Oh, Tanie! Here, again today, I see! Would you like your usual? A grande size coffee? Good luck studying!”
Yohei and I messaged back and forth almost nonstop on LINE on a daily basis. I found out that he had a part time job at the Seven Eleven next to the station, down the street from the Starbucks I studied at. Most days, after he got off, he would come sit and talk with me.
One day, as I was studying, I was sent a message by a Chinese friend of mine back in the states. He said that he missed me. We were good friends and messaged on a regular basis, so this was really nothing too special. I told him I missed him too.
A few minutes passed and another message came. It was long. I had to scroll to read the whole thing.
Summarizing dramatically, he liked me and being away from me was making it more and more obvious to him. He had a girlfriend of three years, but he wanted to end things with her and be with me.
This threw me for a huge loop (and quite honestly, it terrified me). I literally sat there and stared at the screen for five minutes, reading and rereading. Surely I misread something. This must have been sent from someone else. But it was from him.
I was flustered. Why?! I thought. Things were going so well! I cherished our friendship! Why was he going and ruining it?! He was making things all jumbled and confusing.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone walking toward me. I half expected to see Mr. Kareshi. He knew I was there every day. Much to my surprise, though, it was actually Tatsu.
“Tanie! You come here to study?”
“Every day,” I said. I was distracted by the message from my Chinese friend. I had no idea what to say.
Tatsu caught on right away, asking what was bothering me. I told him what my friend sent me and asked him for his advice.
“Give him a chance?” Tatsu offered.
I can’t, I told him.
He asked why.
I just can’t.
Was it because he said he would break up with his girlfriend? he asked.
That was a part of it, yes. A large part. There were other reasons, though.
“You like someone else?” he asked.
“Well… Yeah,” I admitted.
He looked up a bit. “Oh, Yohei! Hi!”
Oh, no… Please, please, please tell me you’re joking. Worst. Timing. Ever.
“What are you guys talking about?” Yohei asked.
“Tanie apparently has someone that she likes,” Tatsu blurted out.
Gee, thanks, Tatsu.
Yohei looked at me. “Really?” he asked. I couldn’t read his expression.
“I bet I can guess who it is!” Tatsu claimed. He then started spitting out names of all of the guys I was close to. He was getting dangerously close. I didn’t want Yohei to know I liked him. He couldn’t find out. Not like this.
“Yeah,” I blurted. What? Wait, who?”
“Kyousuke, huh? I knew it,” he said. He folded his arms and leaned back, proud of himself.
I glanced at Yohei. He was staring at me, but I still couldn’t read his expression. I could feel my face getting warm, but it wasn’t because Tatsu guessed. It was embarrassment from lying to avoid them knowing the truth.
Later, the three of us played cards over at my house. We played with a “batsu”, meaning whoever lost had to do something as a punishment. Luckily, I never lost. Yohei was too bad at cards for me to have a chance to lose.
Tatsu kept winning. That being so, he was the one that got to choose the punishment. Tatsu liked hearing secrets. “What,” he asked Yohei, “is the name of your crush?”
Mr. Kareshi turned as red as a tomato. “Um… I used to like Kiko, but I don’t anymore,” he said.
My heart sank. I really screwed up any chance I had, I thought. Then again, maybe I never even had a chance at all. I wanted to at least fix the lie that I told.
The next day, Yohei and I were talking. I was telling him about how I wanted to go bowling on Christmas. Our mutual friend had said he would go with me and I was inviting Yohei, too.
He asked why I didn’t invite Kyousuke.
This was my chance!
“I don’t actually like Kyousuke… I just wanted to have Tatsu stop prying.”
It wasn’t the whole truth, but it wasn’t a lie, either. He believed me, too. (I didn’t find out until later, but apparently his comment about liking Kiko was a lie, too. He didn’t tell me at the time because he was nervous that I would think he was lying since it was the same situation.) We both thought Tatsu was too nosey.
Since that was all out in the open, I could breathe a little easier.
Yohei and I went bowling with our mutual friend and me on Christmas. The friend and I met at the station at the meeting time, but Yohei wasn’t answering our messages. It was ten thirty AM, just like we agreed.
We waited around for another fifteen minutes. I felt my heart sink a bit as our friend said that we should probably just go on without him. As much as I wanted Yohei to show up, he didn’t seem to be.
As our friend and I arrived at the station nearest to the bowling alley, our phones suddenly went off. Yohei had been working the late shift at his part time job the night before and overslept. He did end up coming and bowling with us. We waited at a restaurant until he got there.
I was as giddy as a schoolgirl.
Part four to come. It’ll be long another long one!