On Thursdays, Sophie, Jared, and I head down to Kujō Station, where we begin the short walk to the kodomo shokudō. Located in a primarily Zainichi Korean neighborhood, due to discrimination against Zainichi Koreans, there is a real need for a place where kids can come and receive free meals and adults can receive inexpensive ones. By the time we arrive, final set-up is being done for the day. At first, the jobs include plating food, taking orders, serving food, and washing dishes, and, once we close, vacuuming, cleaning tables, etc. I’ve found that working here is very fulfilling and that we actually have the ability to make a difference, however small it may be, and contribute meaningfully to the community.
Before coming, due to stereotypes that Japanese people tend to be very formal and aware of hierarchy, I was a bit nervous, especially given the fact that I had not learned keigo yet. However, I was surprised to find that people there were quite informal—people often use contractions, short form, and don’t finish sentences—and that it felt a lot like when I had volunteered at a soup kitchen in the United States. However, when we were added to the group chat, I was surprised to find that people used quite formal Japanese in the group chat. It seems that formality is more important in written Japanese, even group messaging, than in person.
I’ve been humbled and grateful to be able to volunteer at the kodomo shokudō, even if I feel that my weakness in Japanese is sometimes a hinderance to me being helpful. Thankfully, they are quite forgiving whenever I have trouble understanding. In fact, I feel that they’ve taken me in as a part of the community in a way that I did not expect. For example, whenever I arrive, I am often greeted warmly, and people are eager to talk to me and include me in banter. Although a language and culture barrier separates us, they do their best to include me and keep me in the loop, even during busy hours. I will be very sad to say goodbye when I leave for the last time next week.
It’s so nice that you found a fulfilling CIP to participate in. Was everyone that went there zainichi?
Thank you for your kind comment. Many of them customers Zainichi, as it was in a primarily Zainichi neighborhood, but most of the volunteers were ethnically Japanese.
I can imagine it must be difficult to push past the language and cultural barriers, but it sounds like you made a conscious effort to form connections regardless of difference, which is awesome. A great way to meet new people while helping others and improving your language skills. Thanks for sharing – both the story and the photo!
Thank you for your wholesome comment. I’m glad you enjoyed both the story and photo—I enjoyed it greatly! If you liked hearing about it, I recommend that you stop by next Thursday to volunteer if you’re still around; no notice required.