Thursday, January 10, 2008

one thing leads to another...

Well, 2008 has just begun and already I've learned something new. In Japan, once the new year has begun, when we meet friends and acquaintances we say a New Year's greeting:

akemashite omedetougozaimasu
kotoshimo yoroshiku onegaishimasu

It's long and sort of a tongue-twister but it's *very* important to remember to say. It's almost like making a first impression that's going to last for the whole year. As January wears on, it gets harder and harder to remember who I've met and who I haven't met and if I run into someone unexpectedly I get all flustered as I try to remember if we've run through this ritual yet this year.

But it's the beginning of the year so I'm still on the I-probably-haven't-seen-you-yet side of this tradition. On Monday morning, my neighbor friend stopped by my house to see if I could pick up her daughter from preschool when I get Misaki and as I opened the door I started in with the first part of the phrase and... she didn't say it back! I was even more flustered so I didn't say the second part and we just went on with our conversation. I asked how her winter vacation went and she said that her grandmother had died so most of the vacation had been taken up with the funeral and that it hadn't been as much fun for her kids. I made my condolences and as she left, I muttered the last part of the New Year's greeting and again, she didn't say anything. I was totally confused because she's the nicest lady in the world (way nicer than me!) and she's Japanese so why didn't she say it. This is the first time this had ever happened to me. I just couldn't figure it out.

On Tuesday after I came back from my English class (man, those kids were full of energy!) and our kids were in bed, Chikara told me that he had seen my friend's mom in the afternoon when he was outside with the kids and when he said the greeting to her she said that she couldn't return the greeting out of respect for her mother who had passed away recently. As he told me this, I had an a-ha moment. That's why my friend hadn't said it to me, either. Unfortunately, even after she told me that her grandmother had passed away, I didn't connect the two so I had spent the day wondering about it.

On Wednesday morning, when I saw my friend, I apologized and told her about my whole misunderstanding. She apologized too (we apologize a lot here) and we had a really great conversation about death, of all things. She and her family are not Christians and the whole thing had really freaked out her kids and caused them to ask questions that the adults didn't have answers to. She said that it must be different for us because we're Christians and I said that it's true, we view death differently. Obviously it's very sad and we grieve for our loss, but we are able to find hope and peace. The more I thought about it, I realized that I don't fear death. How can I? God has led us this far, why would he not have a plan for the rest of our lives, too?

Especially as a new year starts and people around me are making resolutions, this line of thought led me to think more about how I am using this life that I've been given. Am I doing what God wants me to do? I really hope so. Am I being a good steward of what He's given me? Most of the time. Am I having a good attitude along the way? hmm... next question. Is my heart in the right place? Man, these are tough questions. Not really an answer, huh? Um, not all the time. Do I love my neighbor as much as I love myself? I did learn a lot about myself last year in regards to this and I hope that the lessons learned help me care more for the people around me this year.

So in lieu of a New Year's resolution, I will hold onto the hope that as each year passes I am learning more and changing for the better. I think that's enough of a challenge, don't you? It can't be any harder than remembering the New Year's greeting!


Abigail Munday said...

I know what you mean about the aisatsu being complicated! I said all that to a friend on the phone last night, she reciprocated, and then I ran into her at the grocery store this morning. She said them all over again (I guess because we were face-to-face this time), but I got a bit flustered because I wasn't expecting it and I was already thinking of something else I wanted to say to her.

Anonymous said...

That sounds really confusing. If only you could say happy new year and explain to them that it's what we do here and you're trying to share your culture with them:) I like to think of anything that can get me out of a confusing situation.

Love Kim

Gina said...

Boy oh boy, when you're right, you're right! : )I can't say the New Year's greeting in Japanese too well either! And thank god you said it was a tongue twister! I agree! : ) Honestly,I think it really is. It's one heck of a mouth full for me and I always seem to have the worst time getting that particular phrase out. Sometimes I say it, but it comes out *painfully slow* ha ha ha. I just can't say it fast for some reason. Such a hard phrase for me. When I was at swim school the other day, the swimming school secretary or receptionist lady, told my friend and I, the happy New Year phrase to us. My friend Rie-san bowed and said it, in return, I bowed and started saying, said phrase and somehow got stuck in the middle. All eyes on me and I got really red faced, so after trying to say it in Japanese a few times, I just said, Happy New Year!!! In English instead. They smiled, they saw me having trouble with the phrase, and they had a laugh and said, Happy New year back to me as well. Other Japanese words or whatever are not too terribly hard for me to say. Well, maybe a few. But this is just like the phrase of death to me for some odd reason. I just can't get it right for some reason. Very happy to know I am not the only one. Phew! : )

Mom said...

What a wonderful New Year's resolution, Sarah, and really, with an attitude like that, how can you miss? Saying out loud that you want to love more and care more puts something in your spirit that cannot be shaken. Now I feel kind of silly that my big resolution was to walk the dog everyday. and I haven't done it once yet. But I will, and it's going to be awesome.....