No Language Necessary: A Cross Cultural Veggie Exchange

Having come here knowing actually zero Japanese words, I am pretty proud of myself that I have since mastered: basic counting, basic greetings and obscure foods (my true point of interest).  At the office, my lack of Japanese language puts me at a disadvantage, and I spend a lot of time communicating (or honestly, miscommunicating) with coworkers through nods, points, laughs and smiles.  But hey — what counts is that I’m trying…right?

Through all of this communication/miscommuncation, I have actually been able to develop different relationships with quite a few coworkers.  Some more strained and difficult than others simply because of the language barrier, but some thriving and continuing outside the office on day trips to Nikko, Mitaka, a summer elementary school festival, and Studio Ghibli (Hayao Miyazaki, the beloved Japanese animator’s studio and museum).  The relationship that stands out most in my mind, however, requires absolutely zero language to work and transcends a friendship created through speaking, as this relationship is based solely on a weekly exchange of vegetables.

This coworker, Akaike-san, brings me freshly harvested veggies from her garden, freshly cut from the vine every Wednesday. From cucumbers to peppers to pumpkins to eggplants to okra to mulukhiyah, my backpack is filled with delicious, homegrown food for the remainder of the week.  She speaks hardly any English, I speak hardly any Japanese, but we are able to have a thriving friendship based on our shared love of food, cooking, and the desire to cross any boundary that language may propose.

I wish that I was able to further the exchange by providing my own food to share with her, but she insists that I do not need to get her anything with a shake of her head, a wave of her hand, and a smile that shows that she is getting just as much out of the exchange as I am, but without the physical product.


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