People are very kind here in Japan.
But their kindness comes in subtle ways.
It's in the way that the girls on the Sakai track team were helping me learn Japanese during a break in our workout on Thursday - by drawing hiragana and katakana characters in the sand and quizzing me. I received thunderous applause when I got one right (which wasn't that often!). They were genuinely excited for me.
It's the way that the secretary at school shared her secret chocolate stash with me after lunch on Friday. I'd commented that I liked chocolate (the words are similar in English and Japanese - or maybe it's just a universal sentiment among women!), and a sweet treat magically appeared on my desk.
It's the way that my host mother made time in her busy schedule to take Jess and me to an origami museum in Ishikawa on Saturday. And the way her girls, though they weren't quite sure what to make of the two foreigners hanging out with their mom, darted around the museum gift shop to help me find lucky poop stickers.
Ah, yes - lucky poop. Add this to the list of random things that I love about Japan. The Japanese word for luck, "un," shows up in the word for poop, "un-ko," so the Japanese have this fantastic appreciation for lucky poop. I first became aware of this at the museum gift shop, where Jess and I questioned our host mom about a golden poop souvenir that was available for a mere 500 yen. The shop was also stocked with metallic stickers, featuring unko with smiling faces. Awesome.
I've since noticed a lucky poop icon available on my cell phone for text messaging, and plush lucky poops available for the winning in crane games at the arcade. Poop is lucky, and it's everywhere!
But back to the kindness of my host sisters - the fact that I knew how to say "unko" crossed the large cultural, language and age divides that existed between us (the girls are 9 and 11 years old) and made them giggle. After our tour of the origami museum, we headed back in to the museum gift shop, only to find that it was closing. I had made an earlier off-handed comment that I'd like to buy the unko stickers as a gag gift for a friend, and the girls remembered that. They ran ahead of me, grabbed the stickers, and ran back, determined to help me make the purchase before the shop closed.
Now that's kindness. I'm 150 yen poorer, but infinitely happier for having purchased my very own うんこ stickers.