Connie: Incoming Freshman

April 8, 2011

So the new school year starts out in April. I only have a few more days before my long break comes to an end and I’m back to sitting in classrooms listening to long lectures.

Along with lectures comes another thing: freshmen. Our dorms were full of families helping their kids move in. I would walk out into the hallway in pajamas and wonder why I was faced with someone’s brother. It’s a bit awkward after having spent the whole year in a girls-only dorm. It was also a bit annoying to hear everyone chattering, and the girls whose doors are broken (like mine) have yet to get used to them slamming with a resounding crash and waking anyone in the dorms up.

These are only minor annoyances, and they’ve mostly disappeared already. Since the new freshmen have replaced the old tenants, I think our floor has actually gotten cleaner. Not that that’s such an impressive feat; all it takes is people not leaving chunks of chopped vegetables on the table and clumps of hair on the shower room floor. Still, it’s nice.

What’s more, the new girls are all so friendly. My American friend was in the kitchen and was approached by one of the new girls. She asked my friend, “Are you my 先輩 (sempai)?” The word “sempai” means something like senior, and it’s a very important part of Japanese culture. You have to use a different, more polite form of speech when addressing sempai who you aren’t particularly close with, and in club settings sempai have the right to order around their juniors, who are in Japanese called 後輩 (kouhai). Anyway, my friend was very happy about gaining this new status. She was happy to be talked to in Japanese and happy to show the girl around the dorms.

A few days after this I was in the kitchen cleaning some dishes while a girl was moving in. Her door was open, so I’m guessing she saw me pass by on my way to the kitchen. She came in shortly after me with the only purpose of saying, “Hello! Nice to meet you!” The girls from last semester for the most part kept to themselves, so it was nice to see the newcomers greet us in such an open way.

What’s more is when I’m walking out around Saijo, the freshmen seem to have a different reaction to me than the others typically do. This is partially, as one Japanese friend told me, because high school students rarely interact with foreigners, and since the population is so homogeneous, they don’t really know what to make of us. The other thing seems to be that we have lived here half a year and know our way around while the freshmen don’t. It’s probably strange for them to see us walking around with purpose while they’re still trying to figure out the difference between up and down in college life. Instead of the, “Ah, a foreigner,” sort of reaction we’ve seemed to get all year, these kids give us something slightly closer to awe. While this is strange, it’s also kind of refreshing.

All of the freshmen participate in an event called 入学式 (nyuugakushiki), which is usually translated as Entrance Ceremony. Basically they all get dressed up in suits and carted off somewhere where they sit through some speeches and whatnot, welcoming them to university. They also get bombarded by every club on campus as well as some businesses, all of which are advertising or looking for new members.

I wanted to go, so I went with a couple of friends. When I got off the bus I was standing near the jazz club, so I went over to greet my friend. He handed me a pile of fliers he was supposed to be handing out and then promptly disappeared for the rest of the day. I suppose handing out fliers was good experience, but I ended up getting separated from everyone since I felt obligated to do this chore. I didn’t particularly mind, I suppose. I like the feeling of belonging to something, even if I’m still a bit on the outside of the whole group.

In the end I managed to get rid of all the fliers, though one girl helped me out. I didn’t get to meet any freshmen, but maybe they’ll remember that I was the one visibly foreign person working with a club. I was also wearing a high school uniform, so maybe they’ll remember me for that.

I also got to listen to a lot of free jazz. Unfortunately, no one brought a flute for me to play. Though it was probably more a formality than anything, the trumpet player (who is quite skilled) said it would have been nice if I’d joined them. Maybe next time, if I feel like waking up an hour early to get there.


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