In general I am disappointed with the level of conversation that I get to engage in with many people. Many conversations center on my being a foreigner, with the emphasis being that no matter how much this is my home, no matter how much I may contribute to the society in yen or other modes of volunteerism, I can't possibly know what is really happening.
These conversations are different than those that I have when visiting the US, but they are equally unfulfilling. Most conversations that I have with Americans goes something like:
"So, you live in Japan?" the person says.
"Yeah, I do," I reply, hoping for a really great discussion about American and Japanese relations or something.
"How do you like it over there."
"Well, it's life, really. I mean I pay taxes, fix the car, and play with the kids. It isn't so different from here, really."
"Yeah, I just put a new muffler on my truck. It had been on there since I bought the thing, and it just fell off one day. The funniest thing..."
Then I listen, and maybe have a beer just for something to do while I listen.
BUT TODAY... after class one of the students stayed on to ask me some questions about an assignment from one of her other classes. She was looking at part of the script from "American Beauty." I like the film anyway, so I was happy to stay and discuss it. We talked a little about American families and relationships, especially the relationships between the boy next door (Ricky?) and his father, a military man. We talked about people who have written about how American men never mature, either by some fault of their own (Dan Kiley, The Peter Pan Syndrome), or through a social flaw (i.e. Robert Bly, Iron John) that keeps them from growing up.
Our conversation led us from military families to our perspectives on the military. She grew up in occupied Japan, so she had great respect for Americans in uniform. I had several friends in the military families when I was growing up. Which led to the situation in Iraq.
This was really new. A student who was ready to discuss events in Iraq. Our opinions seemed to be similar, but that may have been that she did not want to contradict me. We talked all the way through lunch hour about bush, the events in Iraq, how Japan got itself tied up in the mess, and how Koizumi has all his eggs in the same basket.
The conversation was in Japanese, which was too bad, but I think she enjoyed, if nothing else, exchanging views with an American on current events. She mentioned that she had spoken with another professor on the subject, one of my Japanese colleagues, but she didn't seem ready to swallow that side of the story. More along the lines of, "Where would we be without the Americans. So we should support bush."
I was happy to talk about real topics with a student.