For the past few months my regular volunteering gigs have lined up to create a draining, but fun volunteering-filled weekend. On Saturday a month I go to Nobeoka City Library and read English books to children. I read the English and one of the (older women) Japanese volunteers translates the story into Japanese for both the kids and their parents. The past few times I’ve gone I’ve been the only foreigner to show up, so I end up reading the English for most of the books, which is completely fine for me. After all, that’s why I’m going. I would rather be reading to the group than standing awkwardly off to the side, trying not to visibly cringe every time the other volunteers say “dis” or “zat.” Truthfully, most of them have decent pronunciation, but there are sometimes when I have to stop myself from stepping in and correcting them.
Once a month on Sundays I head back to Nobeoka and volunteer with a group who call themselves (for some unknown reason) the English Arcade. This is a group of about 6-10 (depending on the month) mostly older men. There are a few women, but all but two of the regular members are retired. They are all incredibly intelligent and well educated people, so I normally end up learning something from our discussions. The head of the group normally brings a simple news article for us to discuss and I inevitably end up being the representative for all things America.
This past weekend, a group from the English Arcade took me out to lunch at a French restaurant. I had only been to the restaurant once before, at it’s opening, but that was at least a year and a half ago. The food was delicious and I had a great time. After that, the head of the group and one of the members took me for a drive to see a really nice beach in northern Nobeoka. We talked a lot about a variety of topics along the way.
I call those kinds of experiences being “gaijin-napped.” Gaijin is a shortened form of the Japanese word for foreigner. These experiences involve you getting into a car with someone you sort of know (but trust so it’s not sketchy or anything), with only a vague idea of the destination, and hoping for the best. It always turns out to be interesting, regardless of where they take you.