Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Life with My Japanese Wife

Some funny and some sad things:

As my wife's parents aged they had to be placed in a retirement/care hospital. My mother-in-law was physically well, but suffered from Alzheimer's. My father-in-law, residing in the same hospital, was mentally as sharp as ever, but was physically unable to walk. My mother-in-law would be taken to visit him. She would ask who he was and be told he is your husband. She would state very clearly that he was not her husband because she did not like old men.

My youngest brother-in-law asked his mother if she recognized him. She said no and he explained he was her son. She shook her head and said, "you came out of me?" Naturally, I had to ask if she knew who I was. She said she did because I was strange, in fact, "you have always been strange." Ouch.

During The Marriage Some Funny Things:

1. My wife bought frozen orange juice for the first time. I told her it was pretty good and, also, economical. She served me a glass of frozen thick orange juice the next morning. She stated, it sure isn't very economical to her. I asked her if she diluted it first? You know the answer.

2. We bought meat for swiss steak. My wife thought it was a regular type streak. When I came home from work she served me a martini, which she had learned to make superbly. Next, we sat at the dinner table and she served the swiss steak. She had only fried it on each side and not cooked it for hours, as was necessary. Needless to say, we ate very late that night.

3. Rice. Now all Japanese woman know how to cook gohan, right? Wrong, one more time. Remember, there were no electric rice cookers at the time. Luckily, I had been in my in-laws kitchen one night while my mother-in-law was making the rice. My wife knew you had to wash the rice, but that was all. I watched my mother-in-law make the rice and asked her questions. So when the first time my wife was going to make rice, I had to show her. What a great gaijin husband. (The good part of all this was we would read a cooking book someone gave us for our wedding gift and I would explain to her what the cook book said. From this she became a skilled cook and today, even though she does not enjoy making meals like she did before, she is a fantastic cook.)

4. My wife thought she needed to make some money. This was before we were married. She had asked her father if it was OK. What a good daughter. He said absolutely not. No daughter of his was going to work. She snuck out and got a job in a coffee shop (kissaten). There were twice as many small coffee shops at that time than now. Every 4-5 shops were coffee shops. Who should walk into this coffee shop while she was serving? Boy, all of you are so smart. Her father ripped off the apron from around her waist and hustled her off to home.

5. My wife calls me at the Air Base around dinner time, crying. You have to come and meet me. So I get on the train and two hours later I meet her at a coffee shop. I sat down and she, crying her little heart out, states, "I lied to you." Oh, oh, she is already married? Nope, her parents had changed the age on the documentation when she was born, for some reason, and she was not 23 she was 24. She told me, "I guess you don't want to marry me now." Two hours back on the train and into bed.

6. Another frantic phone call. You have to come to Tokyo as soon as possible. Wham. What this time? By train I commuted for 2 hours. I walked to another coffee shop. OK, what happened? Someone had stolen money from her purse. It was her tuition money for the English School she was attending. She had been going to college, but felt that an English School would be better for her. Her father was mad because she had left her purse wide open with the cash showing and had slung it over her shoulder. You know who paid her tuition? You are all becoming brighter and brighter. 2 hours on the train back.

I have had a good life, but as I may have already stated, I wish I could do some things over. I would have stayed in Japan longer after getting discharged from the military. I know I would have made it financially, somehow. I should have understood my wife better; I should have been a better person. Now I have medical problems, but I hope I am still alive and well enough to return to Tokyo. I want to stay 3 weeks next time, with some travel to Kyoto, etc.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Japanese Learning Programs, revisited

Had to drive a longer than usual, so I took an old Pimsleur (Intermediate Level) disc and listened to it. In one of my previous blogs I had stated Pimsleur's program had not helped me much in my Japanese conversation learning and understanding. I had not used this program for years and was surprised as to how much I now understood and learned from the two lessons on this particular disc. I feel from the studying I have been doing and the recent trip to Tokyo I am doing better than before. I think the point of this is use as many teaching aids as you can. I should not have dismissed Pimsleur's learning aids and I now include it in my 'good' list. I think that as you progress and find certain programs or tecniques too difficult or what you think are of too little value you should periodically retry and reevaluate them.

When I was in Tokyo I met some gaigakujin friends. One of these had worked in Tokyo for many years and had retired. His Japanese was very good. On the other hand., people who have only been in Japan working for just a few years are even better. Why? I think it is because some people have a propensity to learn foreign languages. I do not have that propensity and don't know why. (Gakuranman.com shows this and blogs about his experiences. His Japanese is very good in my opinion). Also, age of the person learning makes some difference.

I hope to return to Japan next year and I will see if all of my new studying results in more and more understanding and speaking.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What you don't look for you find.

While I was in the military, a long time ago, I made friends with an American attorney attached to the IG's (Investigating General's) office. He was a second or third generation Japanese, born and raised in Honolulu, and was very wealthy. We both were assigned to an American Air Base, about 2 hours from Tokyo. Even though I became enamored with Japan and the Japanese, I had never thought of marrying a Japanese. But my friend's ambition was to do just that; and it had to be a well respected Japanese girl, not a bar girl, etc. I had been told by my family, before I left for Japan, not to bring back a Japanese wife. I did not even want to get married to any girl, at that time. I was 26 and after many years at the university, I just wanted to be free to do what I wanted.

My wealthy friend rented an apartment in Tokyo and paid the many fees associated with doing just that. Every time he was not on duty, especially on the weekends, he would leave the base for his apartment and go 'hunting' for a wife. He would go to department stores, parks, zoos; you name it, but he never could find his dream. I, on the other hand, didn't want to get married, but loved Tokyo so much, I did the same as my friend, except I stayed in the Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ), located near Shibuya. I could not afford the cost of an apartment, even though the exchange rate was ¥360 to the $ and costs for goods were low.

I almost always had a 3 bedroom room at the BOQ to myself . After having been out late one night, I returned to my quarters and went to bed. Upon awakening, I found one of the other beds was occupied. We introduced ourselves. He was on R&R (rest and relaxation) from Korea and had arrived after I had gone to bed. His wife had given her blessing for him to come to Tokyo, if he would bring her back some silk. He asked me if I knew of such a place to buy silk and I told him, I did. I determined what quality of silk his wife wanted and we went to Shibuya for breakfast and a department store to buy the silk. He found the department store as interesting as I always did, so I suggested we start on the top floor and go down and look around, one floor at a time, until we came to where the silk material was sold.

On the top floor a bunch of artists were seated and drawing caricatures of the many patrons. There must have been 8 or more artists, but one's caricatures were special to me. Helping the artists by handing out the paper that was used to draw upon and collecting the money which was going to typhoon victims in another area of Japan, was this beautiful Japanese girl in a kimono.

We watched the artist, that I liked, draw for quite awhile, and then started to leave. As we walked away the good-looking girl tapped me on my shoulder and told me in hesitant English that her father wanted to draw my face. So we returned and I sat in front of the artist I had been watching. After he finished, I went to pay him but he refused, stating I was a guest in Japan and he could not take my money. I reasoned with him and told him this was for charity. His English, while not great, was better than my Japanese. He made me promise I would come to his house for dinner. I did not get to pay!

You have to picture Japan in the early 60s. Americans were still not welcome in many sections of Tokyo. Ikebukero, as an example, had been leveled by the bombing and though I always went with my Japanese friends, I was not allowed to enter any of the establishments, until my friends and I had tried 4-5 times. Finally, I was welcomed. For my future wife's father to invite me to dinner, at his home, was unheard of.

I told him I would have to wait several weeks, as I was preparing a speech for a meeting in Manila and had to do research, prepare and attend the meeting. I told him upon my return I would come to dinner, but I forgot all about it. My future father-in-law's pen name was similar to one of my Japanese friend's name. Upon my return from the Philippines, my house boy (yes, officers in the BOQ had house boys) told me someone had called and left a message for me to call back. I did so and my future wife answered the phone. I was so surprised and if her father or brothers had answered, I am sure I would of thought it was my friend's home. I ended up going for dinner almost every weekend. My future mother-in-law was an excellent cook and made me Japanese dishes, Chinese dishes, Western-style dishes....in other words with little in the way of a kitchen she was a gourmet cook.

After our marriage and return to California, we had two children. My mother-in-law came to live with us for one year. My father-in-law, who I had grown very close to, refused to fly on a plane and would not come to visit. One of my brother-in-laws graduated from veterinary college and came to live with us for one year. Two of my friends were veterinarians and invited him to watch and learn American techniques at their office.

The moral to this story, don't look for what you want and you might just get it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Japanese/English Skype Classes

If you live in the U.S. most of those who show an interest in language exchange for Japanese/English have a problem with the time difference, if they live in Japan. But it can work especially on weekends where both might be off from work.

I finally found a "class" hosted by an "English teacher" living in Korea. He spoke both Korean and Japanese, or so he claimed, fluently. His English was not perfect, from my observations in writing to him on both Skype and Lang-8. The times were still difficult for me, but the earlier class (he had 2/week on Sunday, Japan time) was possible. I went online several minutes before the class and let the "teacher" know I would wait for the class to begin. Several minutes after the starting time I had no reply back to me, so I did some of my other chores on the computer. After one hour, I saw a message from the "teacher" that there were no students and he (the "teacher") was one hour late. Duh, no wonder there were no students!

Again, I have to state that finding a person who truly wants to exchange language skills on Skype is almost impossible to find. I am sure others have had luck, but usually just in using text, instead of speech. I want to learn conversational Japanese and I am willing teach English conversation.

I am almost read to give up.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Japanese Learning Program

I have just joined a new Japanese language learning site. I found it stimulating and it has provided a great experience. I won't explain it as you can go to the site and read and listen to the demonstrations. I will give you my experience and reaction to it. I will still continue to use Lang-8, but I think except for having a language partner to study with, this new program is the best. I have spent a lot of money on programs and looked at many sites, but this site, which is free is the best.


I think because this is a fairly new program, there are some mistakes in either the Japanese or the translations. I only found this out by reading other, more advanced, students' posts, who send corrections to the moderator. I would like to have you leave a reply post to this blog and let me know what you think, especially if you are in the strong intermediate and advanced stage of your Japanese learning. One reason I like this program is that at my advanced-beginner level, it seems this is more conversational in its teaching. I could change my mind about this program as I use it more. I will keep you informed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Studying Japanese

I have probably done some of my best studying since many years ago. This was motivated by my planning a trip (with my Japanese wife) for October. I had not really studied much in these last two years, but used the Japanese I remembered, to say simple things to my wife and her family when we phone them. I have forgotten so much and my pronunciation has deteriorated. I think, since planning this trip, my apprehension in going out in Tokyo by myself has diminished, but I still wish I spoke better and understood better. I wish I was younger, because no matter what anyone says, most older people do not learn as easily as younger people. I used to learn more and retain more of my Japanese many years ago in my youth...oh, that was so long ago!

For any and all, if you want lots of motivation and don't mind reading, in English, the following web site might help. Be warned: it is very verbose. The author had/has the ability to stay motivated and struggle on, even when he was starting. Now, he is fluent (I assume very fluent) in Japanese and lives and works in Japan.


I think if there had been a web site, or someone to motivate me, like this, 40 + years ago, I could speak almost fluently, now. I don't know or use Kanji, but I would have learned. I do use kana. I am now reviewing kana, sentence syntax and vocabulary. I have lists of vocabulary that I used to know and no longer do. This is sort of sad, so one caveat is to keep reviewing, even if you are not in Japan and think you won't use your language skills.

You might wonder why my wife did not teach me more Japanese, since when we married I spoke very little and she spoke very little English. That was so fun and we laughed so much at all the misunderstandings. I will explain later why she did not speak Japanese to me or the children later.

Her family was very supportive and mine was not. I had planned to be discharged from the military in Japan, before I met my wife, as I had been offered a very low paying job. I had to change my plans as the pay was not enough to support a wife and rent a place to call home.

I had been introduced to my wife by her father, a great artist, after meeting him in a department store where he and his art group were doing caricatures of people for a donation for Japanese families who had experienced flooding and loss from a typhoon. He drew my face and refused to take the donation, stating I was a guest of Japan. I explained I was an officer in the military and could afford to donate. His English was good enough to speak to me, aided by my poor Japanese. We argued about his accepting the money, but he refused and he finally invited me to his home for dinner. His daughter, who became my wife, was helping all the artists in this group by handing out the square drawing boards (しきし) and collecting the money. She was attending English school after quitting the college she had been attending. She was dressed in a very nice kimono with her long hair on top of head and was beautiful. If you have ever seen a Japanese woman walking in kimono and noticed they way they walk, you would fall in love, as I did, immediately....especially since she was so beautiful.

I had to attend a meeting in the Philippines and told my future father-in-law, that I could not come to dinner. He gave me his home phone number and told me to call as soon as I returned. He stated I was now obligated to come to his humble home for dinner. When I returned from the Philippines my house boy (yes, as an officer and a bachelor, I had a house boy to clean, wash and iron my clothes, etc. Of course, I had to pay him, but, 48 years ago it was so cheap I could well afford it) told me I had a message that I was to call a person who had left their name and phone number. Since I had almost forgotten my promise, I thought it was from one of my male Japanese friends whose name was very similar. I dialed the phone number given, and thankfully, my future wife answered the phone, because if one of her brothers or father had answered I would have thought it was my friend. To make a long story short, I went to dinner, met the family, and continued having dinner at their home almost every weekend. I stayed at a BOQ (bachelor's office quarters) in Shibuya. Sometimes I drove my jeep and sometimes I took the train from the base I was stationed at. Either way, it took about 2 hours. It was fairly easy to get to my fiancee's home by train and by taxi. The taxi drivers never knew exactly where the house was, as, in those days, the addresses were all mixed up and not like in the U.S. Luckily, I memorized how to get there and gave them instructions from the train station to her home.

Our attachment grew until it became a firm and committed love. We were engaged for 6 months with her family adding more and more support and mine adding only threats and discouragement. We married at the American Embassy in Tokyo. I now understood I had to go back home so I could make a living...a really good living compared to staying in Japan. We decided to have a child right away and my wife became pregnant. We stayed in off base housing, which were called rice paddy houses. Just plywood walls and a space heater and kerosene water heater. I returned to Travis Air Force Base for separation , which is near San Francisco, and had my wife fly to San Francisco, timed for my separation to be complete. Of course, she wore a kimono for the long trip (no jets, only prop planes). She was seated between two American wrestlers who had been on tour in Japan. They were huge and my 4 foot 11 inch wife was awed. When she tried to sleep one or the other wrestler would poke her and ask her another of many questions. She tried to understand and answer in her broken English. At the baggage claim area, she pointed them out and they were huge. They had been so nice to her, I went over to them and thanked them. They explained they were sorry they had kept her from sleeping, but they had so many unanswered questions about Japan.

I will digress and tell one of many funny stories. The base was surrounded by bars and places for the servicemen to meet prostitutes. Some of these girls did their shopping in the stores surrounding our house and, of course, my wife would pass them on the street when she shopped. One day, one of them looking at her and gazing at her up and down, shouted at her, "some beach", or my wife thought that was what was said. Upon my return home that night, she told me about this and told me that she knew all the areas around Tokyo fairly well and she was pretty sure their were no beaches nearby. I asked her to tell me one more time exactly what the person had said. Oh, I now understand I told her. The girl had said "son of a bitch" with a very heavy accent that even my wife could not understand. I explained, as best as I could, and we laughed so hard. Lots of things like this came up all the time, but I don't want to bore my reader any more then I have.

We returned to the Los Angeles area where we rented a home and finally bought a home. After having our first baby boy, we had another child, a girl. I asked my wife to speak Japanese to them, but she logically stated she had to learn better English as we would be living in America and she had to translate so much for me, if she did, it would become burdensome. So my children, who are good looking and smart and both work in a profession and make a very good living, picked up some Japanese and took some courses in college. My parents never really reconciled with me, but things did lighten up, especially as the children grew. My wife's family always were my family and today her brothers and sister and their children have become my family, too. They all tell me I am Japanese and pretend my language skills are good. They are so polite and such liars. I meet all their friends when I go to Tokyo and they range from shop owners to executives with major companies and hotels. I have no problems in trying to converse with them and attend meetings, where meals are served, with them, at their insistence.

We have been married 48 years and it is still fun. With aging, my health, for the first time, is starting to decline, so this next trip to Tokyo might be my last. My wife has aged beautifully and will probably live until she is in her 90s. Because I wanted to say so much to my Japanese family, I started to re-learn my Japanese, but it has not been easy. This I why I say, you never know about the future, so no matter what language you studied, keep refreshing your skills.

Maybe, I will blog about all the fun and funny things that happened between me and my wife, and maybe, even some of the things that happened to her when I was away at a meeting or at work, but that is a blog for another time.

がんばって ください

Monday, June 29, 2009

Best programs for learning Japanese

There is no one best way to learn Japanese, except to be in a conversation program and live in Japan among the Japanese. Living with many others who speak your native language will not be helpful.

Here is my feeling about some of the programs for studying conversational Japanese:

1. Rosetta Stone. I borrowed someone's intermediate program. For learning vocabulary and listening to speech it is very good. For learning kanji and kana it is helpful. For speaking and listening it is not too good. People you meet, even when using polite Japanese just do not speak the way used in this program. Maybe the beginners program would be good, but I did not try that as it is too easy for me. I returned the intermediate program which I would have been willing to buy if it had been more realistic. Rosetta Stone uses strange ways to say things, which can be easier to say and usually shorter in sentence structure. Japanese syntax is hard enough without using the suggested ways used in Rosetta Stone. They are not exactly wrong in how they translate and, maybe, if you learn Kanji it is the way a newspaper or journal would state it; but not for conversation.

2. Japanese101.com. I have used this when I was really into learning this language. I joined their trial program and downloaded the lessons to my iPod. If you played the lessons over and over again I think you can learn a lot. You have your choice of 'newbie' to 'expert', so there is something for everyone. By paying for the subscription you have many ways to help you in your studies and if you apply what you learn in your everyday life, speaking Japanese, I think this program is excellent. Remember I am mainly interested in conversational Japanese.

3. School and university courses. Most of the courses given are not specifically for conversation, but they do force you to learn vocabulary and sentence structure. Using an immersion course in Japan really helps, but once again, if the course does not spend most of the time teaching conversational Japanese, your speaking on the street will be limited. If you primary goal is to learn vocabulary, Kanji and stentence structure, this is a good way to do it.

4. Miscellaneous programs. Tapes, CDs, internet programs all have a place. I have one CD program that is good by Pimsleur (intermediate), which I use to listen to going to and from work. It is pretty good and I would recommend it. I cannot say it is better than Rosetta Stone, but it is more natural for conversation, in my opinion. Another program called Power Japanese is good. You listen and answer quizzes, try to follow directions, etc. It is challenging and rewarding, but I believe it is mainly for the intermediate student. Trying to find partners on the internet is difficult if you live in the U.S. and want a partner in Japan, due to the time difference.

I am sure I have left out other ways I have tried, but the point is that no matter which method you use to study, you need to speak everyday with native Japanese.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Racism in Japan

A story from a black student in Japan got me thinking. After meeting my future father-in-law in a Shibuya Department Store, I became engaged to his daughter. This was in early 1960 when intermarriage, even to an Asian was frowned upon. My future in-laws not only approved of me, but loved me, as I did them. After 47 years of marriage and now living back in the United States, I have seen the racism in Japan lessen, as it has in the U.S.

I had read about 1 year ago in a blog that a young male white foreigner (gaigokujin) complained of racism. He was still living in Tokyo after several years. I could never understand why he was still living in Japan if the racism was so blatant and widespread as he stated. I think it was his own inadequacies and, maybe, egocentrism that caused his problems; the old chip on the shoulder syndrome!

When I was first in Japan there was racism, especially against the blacks who were stationed there in the U.S. Military. This racism was from both the white Americans and the Japanese; but this abated over the years. My wife and I still travel a lot to Japan and have very good friends, all Japanese. We have never seen an overt act of racism. Of course, her family, who all state I am not an American, but Japanese are never outwardly ashamed of me and I always feel accepted. Our other friends are from Japanese people who were either working in the U.S. or from introductions to Japanese while we visited. Some of these friends work in offices and stores and some are in managerial positions, salarymen or own their own companies. My wife and I are comfortable with any and all.

I still struggle with the Japanese language and wish I had done more to improve it when I was young and it was easier to learn new things. While I can get around Tokyo by myself, it is a struggle to speak and understand people who I am with for long periods of time.

If you or any of the other students or truly interested in Japan and plan to stay or visit often, I suggest you learn conversational Japanese now.

Japanese language

I think that it is harder for an older idividual to become proficient in Japanese than a younger person. One other factor is if you live in Japan and do not surround yourself with people who use your primary language, it will be easier to become proficient.