In the late 1970’s, as is true now, gaikokujin came to Kyoto with specific goals in mind. I met Robert, studying to be a Zen priest at Daitokuji. My friend Pat was destined to become a Japanese art history professor. Those studying Chado were many. Japanese gardens? Oh, yes. Cooking? I didn’t know anyone doing that, but I think they do now. Have I forgotten martial arts? There are always those, though purists in karate would go to Okinawa. Textiles? Absolutely, be it the wearing, designing, dying etc. of kimono, that was another approved route.
So, what was my bag? (Or my groove, maybe?) Well, I didn’t exactly have one. Since nariyuki had brought me to Nihongo and then Japan, the only thing I really wanted to do was learn the darned Japanese language. Actually, I was determined to learn to read it and that meant memorizing kanji and then making my way through different books with three dictionaries at my side. And a cup of tea, of course.
It meant starting my day at a kissaten with the ubiquitous morning set–and grabbing a shinbun from the rack near the door to try and read.
I quickly found a fun topic. Just kidding. It wasn’t fun, but my visa sponsor got me to help him with his work for the anti-nuclear power movement. So there I was reading newspaper articles in Japanese on genshiryokuhatsuden and being a covert part of the hangenpatsu movement. Later I would go on to translate a book called Genpatsu Gypsy. Though I’m not sure what happened to my translation (it is rumored that it circulated in Australia) I did get to meet the author and slightly astounded him with my list of shitsumon which showed him how closely I’d read his book. There I was, in my early twenties, translating a book on nuclear power. Not exactly why most foreigners go to Kyoto.
This necessitated me learning how to say maverick in Japanese. I think I’ll use the word kawarimono for that!
Later I’d try dabbling in a few of the more traditional arts, but mostly I just left it to fate to determine what to tackle next. No regrets!
- gaikokujin – 外国人 foreigners. This is the polite form. In Japan, the shorter the phrase gets the ore casual or even rude it is. Because of that, it isn’t exactly polite when this gets shortened to gaijin. But it very often is shortened to the dismay of some.
- Chado – 茶道 The Art of Tea, or the way of tea, or the study of the tea ceremony
- kimono – 着物 It is not a bathrobe! It literally means thing that you wear, but refers to a proper Japanese kimono.
- nariyuki – なりゆき fate. Literally how it unfolds is how I go… or something like that. A sense of destiny beyond one’s control.
- Nihongo – 日本語 the Japanese language
- kanji – 漢字 Chinese characters. If you learn them, it will help you slightly in a Chinese restaurant, too
- kissaten – 喫茶店 coffee shop, but now refers to an old style coffee shop as opposed to a cafe. Us old folks like this style much better. Hipsters do not. Yet.
- shinbun – 新聞 newspaper
- genshiryokuhatsuden 原子力発電 – nuclear power. It’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Kind of fun to just casually reel off… 😉
- hangenpatsu – 反原発 “against nuclear power.”
- shitsumon – 質問 question
- kawarimono – 変わり者 maverick, someone who is different