Friday, October 15, 2010


Aisatsu: 1. a greeting; a salutation; a salute....

Today I got off a little early from work. My train pass expired last week, and because of circumstances, I'm waiting to renew it for a bit. The weather had just cleared up so this made for a perfect chance to try a new way home! So as I was leaving, the students were still having their club time. Since I was trying a new way home, I was going to leave the school by a different gate. This was the first time I had left school by this gate. This required walking the entire length of the school along the field where the sports teams were practicing.

After being mobbed by the first year girls from the basketball team (they were very fascinated by my cell phone, and surprised for some reason that I liked it in English mode.) I continued on my way past the field. The softball and soccer teams were too busy and far away to really notice me. The last club to pass was the baseball team.

As I was walking, I was playing with the GPS system on my cell phone to make sure I didn't get lost on my little "adventure" so at first I didn't realize that the boys were yelling at me trying to get my attention. Finally it registered that they were yelling "Amber, stop" in English. When I stopped, somewhat confused, the captain of the team turns to the club members and calls them to attention. Then the entire team stopped in the middle of their practice and bowed while screaming "aisatsu" in Japanese.

I was a bit shocked. I am used to the students calling to me individually as I go home past their clubs, but I'm not used to them stopping the entire practice to bow as a team. I have now just upped my opinion of the baseball team. They are cute.

There are 5 more definitions of "aisatsu" in my handy dandy electronic dictionary... Aisatsu is huge in Japan, and even more important when you are in school. Not only is aisatsu used when you see someone (as in a greeting) it is also used when parting. This is a huge part of daily life in Japan.

When I first started working in the schools, I thought they were a bit too focused on this whole idea of aisatsu. I mean really, how important is it to say "hello" or "good-morning" every time you see someone? Especially if it is forced. Teachers regularly tell students how important aisatsu is. For the longest time I just didn't get it.

Then I moved to this new school. When I arrived at this school, the first day, even without having being introduced yet, almost all of the students who I met in the hallways greeted me very energetically and with smiles. Wow. That instantly created an atmosphere of warmth and welcome. I was very impressed with these students who greeted me so warmly. Once we had been introduced and I started going to classes, the aisatsu increased, and even started coming in English (this is the only English some of the kids know. If you ask "How are you?" after the "Hello" some of them freeze and freak out, despite this being asked before every lesson. Then again, I remember the same thing when I was learning Spanish in High School. We would see people in the halls and say "Hola!" and the teacher would remark that that was the only word the students actually used... This must be a universal problem.)

Compared to my former school (where the students only gave aisatsu when addressed first or when forced.) this was a huge difference. I felt welcomed and liked. I smiled so much easier, and working was more fun. Compared to riding the trains and commuting in the silence of strangers, just recognizing a former student and greeting them makes my day. Or seeing the same people while I walk to school. People who were once afraid or suspicious of me, relax and smile if I say "Good morning" to them. Then after that, they are waiting for me, and they say "Good morning" first.

There is an old man who stands outside every morning on my way to work. He waits for me to pass by so he can greet me. He has such a huge smile every time he sees me. He even occasionally gives me gifts.

Ah, the power of aisatsu.

It really is amazing how simple greetings or traditions can change your entire day and outlook. A day that was dreary and gray, is suddenly brightened by the faces of people who greet you and are glad to see you.

Try greeting the people around you this week. And watch the reactions from something so simple, yet so profound. The first step to building relationships is "aisatsu." And along the way, helping to keep the road smooth along the way of the relationships is... "aisatsu."

Just a little something I've learned this year and have become grateful for.

Aisatsu is a beautiful thing.

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