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12 December 2016 @ 11:29 am
"Let's go out to make more distant recollections even now"  
(Subject written on the side of a driving school car)

I love Itayado.

Itayado is a section of Kobe city, based around a shopping street where people sell fresh fish, vegetables, and sweets. Of course there are the usual chain stores, Dotour coffee, Ebisu sushi, Mr. Donuts, but Mom and Pop stores still have a chance here. It's the kind of place where you run in to the same people all the time. After a while, you can just order 'the usual,' the people at neighboring shops greet you like a fellow co-worker, and some of the regular passerbys know you by name.

Itayado has a mascot - a hermit crab.
Hermit crab = Yadokari
Get it?
Ita - Yado - Kari
The crab's name is 'Itayadokari-chan' and she comes out during parades and festivals. What other shopping street do you know that has its own peculiar mascot? The local bakery makes 'Yadokari' bread in honor of the character, a twisted roll that looks like a shell. Every ten minutes a song plays outside over the speakers 'Ita - yado, Ita- yado, Shotengaaaaai!'

I have such an affinity for this town. And with one of our schools located here, I get to be a part of it! We pay our dues to the area and bring in customers. I do most of my shopping around there and I feel proud whenever I walk down the street.

And the other day, I got to really live and breathe it!

It started with a campaign to get more kids into Itayado Nova. First we made our own original 'First-Time-Phonics-Fall-Event!' but only 4 kids signed up and only 3 kids showed up. This time, we decided to put out a booth at the Itayado Christmas festival. The shopping street lent us a cotton candy making machine and we sold it for 50 cents a bag. However anyone who took a free 5 minute trial lesson could take a bag for free. So my job was to attract people to the table, then give as many 5 minute lessons as possible.

I wish this was my job every day!

Greeting everyone, connecting with everyone, learning about people's connection with my language. . . It was so much fun. I met an 80-year-old woman who'd never spoken English in her life and had the gumption to give 5 minutes a try. I met three kids who were fluent in Arabic, French, and Japanese, who tried English for the first time. I met a junior high school student who was just passing through on her way back from visiting a potential high school. Maybe her positive experience in Itayado will influence her decision? I met a young student who'd already been to 4 different countries. I taught a baby who didn't say a word but could point a finger at every item I named in English by the end of the 5 minutes and totally impress his mom. At one point when all the Japanese staff were out, I did my best to make a sale using as simple English as possible when the woman across from me rolled her eyes and said, 'My family used to live in Australia. We're already fluent. Just give us the candy.' It was so exciting!

I only took one 10-minute break because my hands froze after being outside wearing nothing but a suit. I had a vest on over it, one of those toxic colors of yellow with our rabbit logo on it. Some guy stopped and said to me in English that our jackets match. He was wearing a more usual yellow color, but it was exciting to see him try out his English. There was another older man who wanted to eat a whole bag of cotton candy by himself. His wife was so embarrassed. 'People are looking at us! Why don't you finish that at home?' He was having the time of his life, reliving some childhood memory, and slowly finished off the whole bag standing outside in the cold and ignoring his wife.

I loved having an excuse to make eye contact with everyone, shout out 'Hello!' to everyone, and see what happened next.

One of the deals we had with the shopping street management was that our own mascot would join the Docomo mascot and Itayado-kari-chan on a small stage in the middle of the street for the closing ceremony. It's apparently the manager's birthday, so we were all supposed to shoot off confetti crackers together. We got our shortest staff member into the rabbit suit, but she was unable to see clearly and needed help walking around and being told in which direction to wave. People wanted her to stop to take pictures, so I ended up in some people's shots. When we got to the stage, they invited me to join in the birthday song. Everyone was handed crackers and the kids wanted to help our mascot shoot her's off so I had to be there to make sure it was okay.

After the birthday, a bunch of high-schoolers came up to sing a Christmas song for the event finale. They called me in to their group so I stood aside our Nova mascot. However that wasn't enough. Because I'm a native speaker, I got pushed to front-and-center with a microphone to sing John Lennon's Happy Christmas. I wasn't sure if this is really what was supposed to be happening so I turned to the girl next to me and was like 'Hey, what's your name?'
'Hello. My name is Sakura!'
'Sakura, why am I in the center? Why don't you be in the center!'
'You are native speaker!'
'Okay. But I don't know the lyrics.'
'You borrow mine.'
'Thanks Sakura. Good luck!'
'Do our best!'
Then we all sang our hearts out, along with the crowd of people in front of us, the manager with his birthday cake, Itayado-kari-chan and Nova Usagi together. The tinny speakers of the shopping street rattled as the music came out. And in a rush of emotion and Christmas spirit, I felt myself becoming one with Itayado. That sense of commerce joined with community that helped this whole Christmas event become a thing, and my small part in it which suddenly became bigger than I expected.

I love Itayado.

Jennifer