Weekly fireside chats

Courtesy of Nicholas Staffaroni
Nicholas Staffaroni sits with his Japanese language teacher, Watanabe-san, at the latter’s home in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

Nicholas Staffaron shares his experiences as participant of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which is administered through the collaboration of Japan’s local and national government authorities and promotes grass-roots internationalisation at the local level.

Every Wednesday, I take the 5:55 p.m. train from Iwaki Station to Izumi Station, both in the city of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. The train arrives around 6:15 p.m. I don’t know the exact time, because I’m usually making a beeline for the parking lot where my tutor and friend, Watanabe-san, is waiting in his teal Fiat Panda.

We were introduced last August, after I applied for a Japanese language tutor through the Iwaki International Association. Right away, I could tell that his English was excellent. As luck would have it, he seemed to think the same of my broken, self-taught Japanese.

Our first two lessons were at a local Gusto off a busy road. Things went smoothly as far as feeling out our pupil-mentor strategy was concerned, but we quickly opted for a new location. We both agreed that shelling out for two drink bars at Gusto every week wasn’t efficient. This was when he offered to teach me at his home.

It’s about an eight-minute drive from the station to his home. We fill a good chunk of that time with idle chat about work or the weather, but occasionally something else will spring to mind and I’ll try to bring it up in Japanese. It usually just comes out as a mix of Japanese and English, though. After exhausting the small talk, we sit and listen to the shifting gears and the evening wind as it flies by our open windows; just enjoying the easy company.

When we arrive at the home that Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe built for themselves, I hop out of the right side door (it’s an Italian car after all) so he can lock it from the inside. Once inside, the smell of freshly cut wood wafts up to greet us.

In the summer months, we sit out in the garage, which has a large glass door leading out into the garden. Watanabe-san will slide it open, then close the screen door behind it to keep out bugs. However, his cat, Taro, always tries to break out through the screen. I’m quite fond of cats, so this gives me an excuse to keep an eye out for him.

In the winter time, we sit in the dining room and listen to jazz by an old woodstove. Taro often falls asleep in front of it. In every season, the 1½ hours always whisk by.

We find new ways to study almost every week. Sometimes we watch videos, or we read Haruki Murakami, or he helps me study for my driver’s license. No matter what we choose though, I always learn something: about Japan, about Japanese, or about my friend, Watanabe-san.

— Nicholas Staffaroni is a second-year ALT from the United States. He currently works for the Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education.