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