The Characters of Tottori

The best part about learning Japanese is the people that you will meet. Speaking even just a little bit of Japanese during your trip will add a lot of unforgettable moments.

In Tottori we met the greatest cast of characters from any of our trips and it started as soon as we exited the train station.

Our hotel was called Hoteru Ekimae and was a short distance from the front of the station – the name means “hotel in front of the station,” after all. As soon as we exited the station we heard an excited, “EH? EEEHHHH!?” from an older gentleman who was gawking at us like he had spotted two unicorns.

“Where you from?” he asked.

“Amerika,” I replied — that’s “America” in Japanese. (You needed that explanation, right?)

“Ahhh,” the man said. “Ah…what ahhh….what shuu?”

I knew that shuu means state, so I said, “Sousu Dakota,” which is South Dakota in Japanese.

“Sousu Dakota?” the man said, scratching his head. He kept walking by listing all of the states he knows while shaking his head: “I know, Montana, Ohio, Nyuu Yoku…don’t know Sousu Dakota.”

On the day we went to the Tottori Sand Dunes we also took the Tottori Sightseeing Bus around the area and visited some of the other local attractions. At one of them we were standing at the bus stop for a while because the bus was late. We were the only two people at the stop and probably kind of stuck out.

Not too long later a man comes out of a building and asks us what in the world we are doing. We talk for a little bit in Japanese and he goes back into his building, which had signs that said something along the lines of “Together, Make Tottori Beautiful.” Maybe he was the mayor or something? I should have asked.

Just a couple minutes later he comes out again and gives us a couple oranges and offers to give a ride to wherever we were going.

The next day we had a whole half day to just wander the city and see what we could find. What we happened upon was a street festival full of food and drink stalls, vendors, and musicians.

The first person who spotted us was an elderly woman (“obaasan”) who beckoned us into her store. She was a kindly-looking lady, so how could we refuse? We walked into her store and found ourselves in a Caribbean themed shop full of Bob Marley pictures, beach bags, and smoking paraphernalia.

I looked at the kindly looking obaasan and said, “Konbanwa.”

Good Evening.

She then shuffled over to me, and proceeded to slap me on the chest repeatedly, while saying “Konbanwa” over and over again and looking up at me with huge eyes that seemed to not believe what she was seeing.

“Konbanwa,” I said again with a stupid smile on my dumbfounded face.

“Nihongo…ga…jouzu,” she said.

Your Japanese is good.

“Nihongo ga jouzu ja nai,” I replied. “Demo jouzu ni naritai.”

I am not good at Japanese, but I would like to become good at it.

She then slapped me on the chest yet again and said, “Jouzu ni natta.”

You have already become good.

Boy, I could have fallen over from happiness at that moment. In all honesty, I didn’t say much to her to deserve that compliment, but still the thought of that kind obaasan in the Caribbean shop makes me smile.

My biggest regret is not buying something from this kindly old lady. If anybody reading this knows this lady or this store, please leave a comment — I would love to return here when I visit again in the spring of 2023.

After leaving the store of my favorite obaasan in all of Japan, we returned to the party where we promptly got in the beer line. Here somebody noticed my “Osaka” T-shirt and said, “Ah, ii T-shatsu” which mean “nice shirt.”

“Arigatou,” I said, “demo boku no ichiban sukina machi wa Tottori.”

Thanks, but my favorite city is Tottori.

This made us some fast friends.

When we told the group of people around us we were from America we got plenty of raised glasses and chants of, “USA! USA! USA!” Then we told them our next stop was Amanohashidate and they immediately took to the street, bent over, looked through their legs, and laughed.

(They were not crazy — not that kind of crazy, anyway. That is what you do — what we did — in Amanohashidate.)

Meeting these people in Tottori were the highlights of the trip. Without being able to speak basic conversational Japanese, none of this would have been possible.

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