I’m back in Japan for the first time in a while and I’ve been looking forward to catching up with a whole bunch of old friends.

While I’m in Tokyo, I’m staying with a 親友(shin’yū, close friend/bestie), and catching up with another 親友 if she can get the time off work. In fact, most of my time here will be spent catching up with 友達 (tomodachi, friends) and 仲間 (nakama, companions) from when I used to live here.

My first reunion has been put together by a 親友 named Masa. I meet up with him at Asakusa Station and am greeted with a big “久しぶり!” (“Hisashiburi!” “Long time no see!”) upon arrival. I ask Masa who he has been able to dig up from my past stint in Japan for our impromptu 飲み会 (nomikai, drinking party) and he mentions one person, Mayumi, whom I haven’t seen in a decade.

10年ぶりに会ってないなぁ。あっという間だなぁ (Jūnen buri ni attenai nā. Atto iu ma da nā, I haven’t met [her] in 10 years. Time flies), I think to myself.

We get to the tempura place we’re having our 飲み会 and are soon met by Masahisa and Yasuko, 仲間 who worked at the same ライブハウス (raibu hausu, live-music venue) that I used to frequent in the 2000s. I know them through a guy named Taka, who was a 登山仲間 (tozan nakama, hiking buddy) of mine a while back.

Mayumi arrives and is followed by Kaoru, who rolls in from Nagano Prefecture.

“薫ちゃん、長野からわざわざありがとう!” (“Kaoru-chan, Nagano kara waza-waza arigatō!” “Kaoru, thanks for coming all the way from Nagano!”) I say to her with a big hug. “いいえ、とんでもない” (“Iie, tondemonai, No worries), she replies. Kaoru is Yasuko’s 相棒 (aibō, partner in crime) from their time working at the ライブハウス.

Given the place of independent musicians in Japanese society, these 友達関係 (tomodachi kankei, peer relationships) help provide an 居場所 (ibasho, place to belong or a sense of acceptance) when you feel a bit like a misfit. And with this group, 本当に居場所がある (hontō ni ibasho ga aru, I honestly have a place to belong). As the saying goes, 類は友を呼ぶ (rui wa tomo o yobu, birds of a feather flock together).

When I first met this group of friends, I was helping a few of them with some translation. My task was to make the English lyrics of their bands’ songs sound as natural as possible. And, of course, その時こそ (sono toki koso, especially then) our interactions were a lot more formal. There were lots of greetings ending in bows and a “よろしくお願いします” (“Yoroshiku o-negai shimasu,” “I’m looking forward to working with you”). This would be met with a response of “こちらこそ よろしくお願いします,” (“Kochira koso yoroshiku o-negai shimasu,” “It’s my pleasure, I’m looking forward to working with you”).

こそ is a particle that can emphasize what you’re saying, as in, 今年こそこの試験に通ってやる (Kotoshi koso kono shiken ni tōtte-yaru, I will pass the exam for sure this year). In that case, you’re conveying to the listener that it’s this year that you will pass the exam.

You will hear こそ a lot with こちら (kochira), which means “in this direction” but is also a polite way of saying “this.” The term こちらこそ therefore emphasizes “this side’s” (your own) sincerity, for example:

A: どうもすみませんでした (Dōmo sumimasen deshita, I’m very sorry).

B: いいえ、こちらこそすみませんでした (Iie, kochira koso sumimasen deshita, No, it’s me who’s very sorry).

After knowing each other for a few years the formality of these greetings has been scaled back to a more casual “よろしく!” (“Yoroshiku!” “Thanks in advance!”) and “こちらこそ!” (“Kochira koso!” “Thanks to you, too”). Nowadays, however, we’re extremely casual. In the cramped yakitori joint, I trip over a chair and hear Masa yell out, “サム、酔っ払い!” (“Samu, yopparai!” “Sam, you’re drunk!). Pointing at his own bright red face, I reply, “君こそ!” (“Kimi koso!” “You are!”).

When こそ follows the particle から (because), it emphasizes the reason: 久しぶりに会ったからこそ、びっくりするほど心地良かった (Hisashiburi ni atta kara koso, bikkuri suru hodo kokochi yokatta, Precisely because it had been so long since I’d seen [my friends], I was especially surprised at how comfortable being with them was). こういう友達がいるからこそ、日本に来るのは楽しい (Kō iu tomodachi ga iru kara koso, Nihon ni kuru no wa tanoshii, It’s because I have these kinds of friends, coming to Japan is fun.)

With the party winding down we were still trying to figure out where one band’s 元スタッフ (moto-sutaffu, former roadie) ended up in life. Hopefully, 今度こそ会いましょう (kondo-koso aimashō, we can meet up with them next time).

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