This evening my husband and I were walking along the huge, snaking shopping street about 6 minutes from our apartment. One thing I'm going to miss after we leave Japan is the proximity and variety of shops that we have at hand. This street is one of several reasons we have lived in the same neighborhood for our entire stay. It's not only that it is convenient, but also that we save so much money on food at the cheap markets located on it.
At any rate, as we were walking down the street, a Japanese woman pushing her bicycle shouted out my name. I looked over at her and I had no idea who she was. Fortunately for me, she said her name and then I remembered her. She was a student who I taught privately for about 3 years about with the last lesson ending about 10 years ago. We stopped having lessons together when she moved to a city in another part of Japan then moved to Germany due to her husband being transferred.
I'm not sure if I remember correctly, but it is possible that this student was the first private student I ever taught in Japan. I liked her a lot and even went to see the sumo with her at one point. It's nothing short of amazing to run into her after all of these years. It's not only that she's back in my area, but also that she was on that street at the same time as us in the same location along the street. For the record, walking the entire length of that street if you don't stop and check out any of the shops would likely take 10 minutes at a decent pace.
We chatted briefly and I gave her my e-mail address and phone number. My hope is that she'll contact me and we can at least catch up with one another. If she wants to start to study again with me, that'd be all the better, but I mainly would like to see what she's been up to. She was pretty shocked, incidentally, that I was still in the same place. Such is the life in Japan that no one expects you to remain in the same place for long. I think she was also surprised that we were still in Japan.
At any rate, this experience is one that I have occasionally mulled over in the back of my mind. I have taught and met a great many Japanese people in my time here. Some of them came to my home over a hundred times, but I'm not sure that I would easily recognize the ones who I haven't seen in the past three years. And, no, I'm not trying to say anything here about all Japanese people looking alike. :-p
The main problem is that I have seen so many of them and it all becomes a bit of a blur after awhile. I recognize their names, of course, but not their faces. It doesn't help that I endeavor not to make eye contact with anyone when I'm out and about because it is taken as an invitation for strangers to walk over and start talking to me while I'm just trying to go about my business and head back home.
This time, I was lucky that she told me her name. I don't know if my face was as blank as my mind and she saved me from myself or if she just figured out that it had been so long and I might not recall her. I still wonder if the day is going to come when a former student or coworker comes along and greets me and I'm just left looking like the middle-aged woman with the Swiss cheese memory that I am.
A small aside about people "recognizing" me on the street. I once had an experience where I was coming out of the subway and a tall, foreign man with very little hair and what sounded like a German accent said "hello" to me in a familiar way and then asked, "you don't remember me, do you?" I said that I did not and he started talking about having worked out with me at some gym that we supposedly went to together. Since I've never joined a gym of any sort in Japan, he'd clearly mistaken me for someone else. So, sometimes people walk up to me and think they know me when they don't. That's pretty surreal given how few foreigners are around who look like me.