Despite the fact that I work at a Japanese office, I use English most of the time. I do the occasional translation, have the occasional conversation in Japanese, and read the occasional Japanese email, but Japanese language ability was not a requirement for my position. That said, I’m being exposed to much more Japanese than I was when I was in New Orleans, and for this I am thankful.
As a Japanese language student not in Japan, you have to be a collector of sorts, and the less frequent your encounters with Japanese are, the more you have to hoard and delight in those encounters. This can be true even if you’re immersed: It’s easy to turn off your Japanese ears if you’re bored or tired or surrounded by people who are insufferable. Maintain vigilance.
On this note, I’ve been trying to do a better job of collecting these little bits of conversation and force them to roll around in my head a bit. I thought I’d try to post some of those here and give the stories behind them in a new series…I need something to get me going, and sadly my next Japan Times piece won’t be online until the first week of August.
The phrase today is よく出る.
Chicago has been great for Japanese encounters outside of work as well. I recently discovered Conversation Exchange and met up with one language partner already and have another in the works. I’ve also volunteered with JETAA at an old folks home with a sizable Japanese-American population.
We read out the bingo numbers (in English—there are non-Japanese as well), and that’s about it, but they appreciate it and are a lot of fun to see every month. We also have very brief conversations in Japanese with some of the folks. For the first half of the year I was going three times a month to help out a volunteer who couldn’t make it, so they really got to know me.
Because they’re all a bit hard of hearing, we use a big speaker and microphone to do the calling, but even then they have trouble. One woman, who goes by Lillian I think, often double checks the numbers with the others at her table, which includes some younger non-Japanese folks.
One week, I called out a number, and she turned to her tablemates and said セブンティ・フォー? They corrected her to 75, and she said, オー、セブンティ・ファイブ。よく出る—Oh, seventy-five. That one comes up a lot.
The phrase made me smile because it perfectly represents how all the residents think about bingo. Some will come exchange their bingo cards between games because they got an unlucky card. Others grumble conspiracy when a certain number happens to pop up multiple times in a single night.
Volunteering has helped me understand the meditative, hypnotic appeal of bingo, but this is the benefit I get. It’s an hour where I can turn off my phone and call numbers, focus on being in the moment, but I’m not sure if it’s the same for the old folks—they are pretty competitive about it. I guess the thrill of winning is also appealing, as is the benefit of community.
It doesn’t feel like any numbers get drawn more frequently than the others, but you never know: We use a tumbler that spins bingo balls, and none of them are perfectly spherical, so in theory some could be shaped in a way that would make them よく出る.