A few weeks a go a Japanese female friend of mine (T) emailed me asking if she could bring a Japanese male acquaintance (K) by my office to meet me. I happily agreed and so I met with T and her friend. At first I was a bit puzzled about why he wanted to meet me – he was an exchange student from Osaka who was preparing to leave the US and return to Japan. When I asked him what I could do for him, he simply smiled and said that he heard about me from some of my doctoral program colleagues and was curious about who this guy was who had lived in Osaka and could speak a little Japanese. At that, I was still unsure what exactly our visit would accomplish, but I began to get a feeling that T knew exactly what she was doing and that perhaps she had brought this guy to my office for a very different reason.
With no clear purpose for a conversation, I began to talk about my dissertation and experiences in Japan, asking K’s opinion on various topics. He remained quiet, smiling and nodding his head as T and I began to laugh about stories where she witnessed my Japanese L2 identity (the most amusing being her story of my bowing at the steering wheel when driving and backing the car into a parking space, Japanese style before shopping at Pittsburgh’s Little Tokyo market and eating mochi ice cream).
Our conversation lasted about an hour and we agreed that it could be fun for K and I to meet while I was traveling through Japan later that summer. I asked him to email me his Japanese cell phone number so that we could correspond and then gave him my email address.
Later that day, I noticed a baseball hat sitting on the floor next to one of the chairs where my students usually sit. I couldn’t recall who had worn it, but I figured sooner or later I’d get an email from someone asking if it was still there.
A few minutes later, I received an email from K, thanking me for meeting with him, and telling me that he might be able to help me with my research.
I think I may have something to tell you besides my keitai number.
Then, upon my asking if he should like to meet at my office again, this time without T, this email followed:
Hi, I forgot to tell you. I’m actually gay. Please keep it secret.
And then, wondering if he had left his hat behind…
I think I left my Penguin hat in your office. I would like to get it before a classaround 10:30, if you are available.
“Ah hah,” I thought, “a reason for him to come back and chat with me again.
And then, another email…
I am glad that I finally found someone I can talk about what I really am. I have been pretending I am a straight, which brought some problems. haha…
And yet another:
About what I told you in my other email – please don’t tell anyone, only a few of my American friends know. I don’t tell the other Japanese students.