My first friend in Japan was an old man who owns a local gas station. He’s not really that old, but I thought he looked old when we first met. It was my first day here, the beginning of August and as hot and humid as hell. Surrounding the town are only wide rice fields and off in the distance you can see mountains. I had no car yet, so there was no place for me to go except around the new town and acquaint myself, expecting people to be staring at me out of windows. So I took a walk. I had only walked two blocks when this man ran out of a gas station waving and called me to “Come here!” He invited me in the gas station, gave me tea, a cigarette, and a seat, and he tried very hard to talk to me with the little English he knew. Then he called his daughter who lives in Sendai and who speaks really good English for her to talk to me. He invited me to dinner. And that’s how you make your first friends in inaka. I immediately had someone I could go to if I had any questions or problems. Unfortunately, he never gives me a discount on gas though.
People here are so friendly. I didn’t want to live in inaka, and if I did have to I wanted to live someplace a little more picturesque, in the mountains or by the sea. So I was disappointed at first. But even though it’s really quiet on the streets at night — you only hear the occasional song of the town clock (“Edelweiss”) or the incomprehensible town announcements — life in inaka can pick up pretty fast. Badminton and table tennis are un-cool, but I had to not care head over to the community center some nights to keep myself busy and meet people. Or I can go to the gas station to smoke, drink tea, and watch TV. And the students at school are really sweet. And if I want to be cool, on the weekend I can put on my tight black jeans and make the hour-long train ride to Sendai.