I've had to reevaluate my methods for starting and building relationships since moving to Japan. In the States, as with everything, we use a more direct method to starting friendships. "Hey, we have something in common, let's hang out some time." It's not always quite THAT simple, but at its root, befriending people in the States can be done relatively simply. Not so in Japan. Here it's all about taking it slow, building trust, establishing routine. It's taken me a while to get this new model through my head. It's still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that meeting someone once at the mall then asking them to come to English class just doesn't work. My American gut tells me if you want to make friends, just get out there. Go. Do. Win. But like I've said, that just doesn't work here. In fact, trying to make friends that way is more likely to alienate people that endear them to me.
This past summer, during a training session on cross-cultural communication, it clicked for me: consistency and routine. I could meet a lot of people by doing different activities each week, but in order to turn those relationships into friendships, I was going to need to see them on a regular basis.
Enter, Operation Old-Faithful:
Join a mommy-baby swim class at the gym near the mall. See the same moms and babies two to three times, every week.
--Success! Not only have we had a really fun time swimming (splashing and playing with rubber duckies, more like) but I would now consider us officially in the group (Being in the group is HUGE in Japan. Once you're in, you are in! It's when people begin to open up and trust you). Moms from the class have started coming to Oyako Eigo (Parent-Child English) at our church and wanting to spend time with us outside of swimming as well.
Follow up swim class with lunch and grocery shopping Aeon (the mall). Go to the same shops. Make sure to go the the same Onigiri shop every time.
--Success! We are a fixture at Aeon now. Shop ladies poke their heads out when they hear Jill's squeaky shoes coming down the road. The Onigiri (rice ball) ladies know our order by heart and all come to the register to hand us our lunch.
Bonus: We've befriended a gaggle of Obaachans (Old Grannies) who congregate outside the food court. After we eat, and walk out to do our grocery shopping, they call and wave to "Chiyo-chan" (Jillian) and she shows off the new words she has learned or gives them all high-fives.
Same old park, every single day(-ish). The park across the street from our apartment isn't the most exciting park I've every been to. Just a patch of grass with swings and monkey bars. But, it's where the moms gather, so it's where we go.
--Success! We've had a few really interesting conversations with the neighborhood moms. A few have joined the swim class moms at Oyako Eigo.
Bonus: Jillian LOVES the swings.
The part of me that wants to explore the other shopping centers and parks around town has been slowly quieted by the response we're receiving.