Who me? Was I a kahogo mom? My daughter and I were touring the after-school care center she’d be attending. She was in first grade and I was a working mother. The local government ran these gakudō kurabu so that kids didn’t have to be home alone after school got out. They accomodated first through third graders. Any child older than that was on their own. And this Gakudō Club made sure they were ready to be on their own by then.
They were just getting ready to have oyatsu and invited us to sit down with them. We were served glasses of cold tea by a second grade boy. Some of the girls were peeling the ringo that we’d eat. Yes, you read that right. In Japan apples always get peeled and a knife is used to do it, hopefully in one strip as you’d go round and round. And there in front of our eyes CHILDREN were using knives.
“Oh, doesn’t Shana know how to use a knife to peel an apple?” asked one worker.
“She’s SIX,” I wanted to respond indignantly. Instead I just murmured something about different customs. We’d just moved back to Japan after three years in America.
My daughter was wide-eyed at that one. And she could see these kids were really takumashii.
After we had our snack it was time for chores. Another surprise. The kids went in to clean the bathrooms!
The head of the center explained to me that these kids had two working parents so they needed to learn life skills so that they could help around the house. There was no coddling here of either children or parents. They were raising self-sufficient kids. Everything they did was based on learning a skill. So different from after-school care in America where kids were more apt to get extras such as art lessons or drama.
The children would go home at 6 PM. Parents did not pick up their kids. Some parents still wouldn’t be home, but the kids all had house keys. The kids walked home, often in the dark. They’d walk in groups, dropping each kid at their home and cheerfully saying goodbye. As luck, or no luck would have it, my daughter lived the furthest from the center and would be walking the last three blocks by herself. Gulp.
The second furthest away was another first grade onna no ko. Her mother was divorced so it was just the two of them. And her mother worked late, so sometimes she’d come back with my daughter. One evening she announced that she’d cook bangohan for the four of us (my son was two years old at the time). A six year old was offering to cook dinner for us… Okay.
And she did. Eggs, I think, and maybe a salad. She managed the whole thing on her own without my help. Very sugoi! My own daughter was amazed.
Now, what can we learn from this? I tried hard not to coddle my children and they both did their own laundry from the time they were in first grade or so. When my son went off to daigaku he was shocked that there were students that had never done sentaku before and didn’t know how to use a washing machine.
And this is just another reason why I am so deeply grateful that I got to raise my kids in two different cultures!
kahogo – 過保護 overprotective
gakudō kurabu – 学童クラブ after school care for kids with working parents
oyatsu – おやつ a snack, used mostly for children. Adults might take a midafternoon break and call it “osanji” or a “3 o’clock.”
Clearly, I wasn’t going to fit in. I looked around the room miserably. The two other students, David and Carl, were way ahead of me in Japanese. I didn’t belong in an advanced class, but the other class was filled with students starting their second year of Japanese. I was ahead of them, but behind the advanced students. I was beginning to regret the intensive summer I’d spent at the Middlebury Japanese Summer School. Not only had I not fit in there either, but I’d hated every minute of it. I’d been in a class with a group of people who’d all used the same textbook and knew what itanda ebi were.
In 1976 there were just two choices for college level Japanese kyōkasho. My college used the less popular Nakajima and Young series. The vast majority of colleges used Eleanor Jorden’s books. Though we might have learned most of the same grammar points, the two texts seemed to have used entirely different vocabularies. Only one other student had used Nakajima and Young. He was an older man from Switzerland. Japanese was his fifth language and he wasn’t having the same adjustment issues as I had. In other words, he was having no pain.
To make matters worse, we were only to speak Nihongo, even outside of the classroom. This was a Middlebury rule, but the other language students were required to have three years of the language under their belt to even apply for summer school. It made sense for them. For us, not so much. My roommate and I cheated like crazy to stay sane.
Our director that year was a hard-nosed Japanese academic and she was determined to run things the Japanese way. We would all need exercise and she declared that volleyball practice was mandatory. I don’t do sports. I skipped. And she put her foot down. I immediately jammed my yubi during the next practice. It swelled up and a faint purple line appeared. Naturally, I asked to go to the clinic and naturally she told me it was fine. The next day she succumbed to the obvious and indeed my finger was broken; no more volleyball for me.
There was just a week between the end of Japanese summer school and the Associated Kyoto Program that I’d be participating in. I knew I wouldn’t fit in because I was not a student at any of the elite schools that made up the consortium. However, one of my sensei had served as a director for the program two years previously and he, well, pulled some strings. On the flight to Kyoto, students from each college sat together. I sat alone.
Still, though, I hadn’t anticipated that there wouldn’t be any other student at all at my level. I thought I’d finally be in a class where I could dig in and learn. No more “thirty kanji a day” memorization like I’d struggled with during the summer. I’d study hard, but it would be at a more normal pace. Meanwhile, David and Carl were already deep in discussion with our Sasaki-sensei, who was practically drooling over their linguistic magnificence. I hardly got a second glance. The textbook was boring. Did I really need to know how to say “feudal system.” (Unfortunately I still remember this word. See below for proof.)
I wasn’t fitting in at my homestay either. The Inoue family was nice enough, but they had two small otoko no ko and had always preferred to have young men stay with them. They ended up with me because at the last minute I got nervous about getting motion sickness during a bus or train commute and asked to be near campus. They were just around the corner and being able to walk to school in just a few minutes was great. Oddly enough, I never got motion sickness on the buses or trains of Kyoto, but I loved the neighborhood. The little boys were like aliens to me as all I’d ever experienced were my three younger sisters.
I had gotten sick though, the moment I arrived in Japan. It could have been the heat and humidity, the totally strange food, or the long plane ride. Before I knew it, I hadn’t really eaten in over a week and I ended up in the hospital. Looking back, I know there’s a word for it. Natsubate is what I had.
After spending a day or two in air conditioning and a day or two under the care of my director’s wife—who was Japanese-American, but knew darn well that chicken noodle soup would cure me—I moved in with the Inoue family. My director’s wife had kindly hinted to them that I could do with some American food to start with.
That first dinner I was served two small hamburgers and a side helping of frozen peas and carrots. And given a pair of ohashi. I looked around the table to see how I was supposed to manage the vegetables. Luckily I was an old hand with chopsticks so that wasn’t the problem. But was I to eat one pea at a time with them? The answer to that was, no. And for the first, but definitely not the last time, I was introduced to Kewpie mayonnaise in its convenient tube. Apparently we squirted it onto the vegetables and mixed it up a bit. It was then possible to eat the vegetables more easily with chopsticks. Unfortunately, I hate mayonnaise. I somehow ate the vegetables. Maybe I was offered a small fork. I don’t remember. But what I do remember is that there was no way I could eat two hamburgers. So I ate one of them and apologized and said I simply couldn’t eat them both. Mrs. Inoue was unfazed.
“That’s fine. You can have it for breakfast tomorrow morning.”
I smiled. Nice joke, I thought.
The next morning I got a piece of toast for breakfast on my plate next to the hamburger. Which was stone cold. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Who eats cold hamburgers for asagohan? Friends later declared my homestay family as weird. But dinner leftovers often appeared at breakfast at any temperature. Eventually I even learned to eat curry for breakfast.
Mrs. Inoue was determined to have me eat a good breakfast. I’d come downstairs in the morning and cheerfully greet her saying, “No egg for me this morning, please” and go into the bathroom to wash my face. When I walked back into the kitchen she’d have a plate waiting for me. With a barely cooked fried egg on top of some even less cooked bacon. It was an impossible situation. It made me gag everyday. I got up earlier and earlier hoping to sneak out of the house without eating her breakfast. Yes. We were in a battle.
itanda ebi – 痛んだえび Apparently this was taught in the textbook written by Eleanor Jorden that was more popular than the one I used. Itamu is the verb for spoiled (when applied to food) and ebi means shrimp. Itamu is in the past tense here and modifies (OMG, I’m doing grammar!) ebi, so the sentence was about getting food poisoning from shrimp at a restaurant in Ginza. Seriously? Ginza? The most high-class restaurants are there. Why not Shinjuku with its wealth of cheap eateries? I consider this a Jorden fail.
kyōkasho – 教科書 textbook
Nihongo – 日本語 the Japanese language
yubi – 指 finger
sensei – 先生 teacher. It’s also used as a suffix after the family name for teachers, professors, doctors etc.
kanji – 漢字 Chinese characters. If you learn them, it will help you slightly in a Chinese restaurant, too
hōken seido – 封建制度 feudal system. Make sure you memorize this entirely useful phrase.
otoko no ko - 男の子 boy or boys
Natsubate – 夏バテ A special word used to describesuffering in the summer due to the oppressive heat. When you get natsubate you don’t feel like eating and you can quickly succumb to the heat. Natsu means summer and the bate comes from the verb bateru which means to be exhausted.
ohashi – お箸 chopsticks
asagohan – 朝ご飯 asa means morning and gohan is meal, so together it means breakfast.
If you take a walk anywhere in Japan in the months of July and August, it’s possible to identify where the ichinensei in your neighborhood live. Look out at the balconies of the apāto, or the small yards of the homes. If you see a morning glory plant in a pot, then you’ve found a first grader.
First grade is an important grade in Japan. It is not about the academics, but rather it is about teaching children to live in society. After entering school they learn about themselves, and then about their families. After that they learn about their own school, and the circle continues to widen out to the world. To do this, they also have themes that cover all subjects. In the autumn, we were surprised to see the role of donguri. They counted them, sung songs about them, read about them, picked them up and helped clean the area around the school of them, and then used them for art projects. It turns out that you can get a lot of mileage out of an acorn.
We had moved to Yagumo, an area in the Meguro Ward of Tokyo, in the middle of the school year. I enrolled my daughter in first grade at the Yagumo Elementary School, wondering if she’d be the first foreign girl there. But it turned out that years ago there had been a British child, and since my daughter spoke Japanese they were amiable and welcoming. As her okāsan there was a slew of preparation I had to do. I received a stack of past class newsletters to review, and a math set that needed to have labels put on every piece, some of which were smaller than dimes. You had to write your child’s namae on tiny labels and then put them on every single item. There was no way that my clumsy Japanese script would fit on those labels, so I cheated and put her very unique first name on the tiny pieces. As for the stack of newsletters, I did give them a glance and did my best, but all of them were hand written and difficult to decipher. I was amazed that the teacher would send home this newsletter each week. It told the parents exactly what they’d studied in school that week, and what the shukudai for the next week would be. It was illustrated with seasonal pictures and also had shout-outs to children who had made some kind of achievement. I imagine it is all done via the internet today, which is sad in some ways, though more ecologically sound.
Japanese children do not have a long natsu yasumi. The school year begins in April and is divided into trimesters. The first trimester runs from April until the third week of July. Then they break until September 1. A 40 day natsu yasumi seems more effective than the American system since children have less time to forget what they have learned. And because it comes mid-school year, instead of at the end of the school year, teachers are able to give shukudai.
Yes, homework. The first graders got piles of worksheets to do to review what they’d learned in their first trimester of school. They also had projects. And even though it was summer vacation, it wasn’t like they weren’t going to school. In fact, they went to school pretty regularly for swimming lessons. Almost every Japanese elementary school comes equipped with a swimming pool. In the cities, Japan is always pressed for space, and many of these pools were found on the roof of the school. This is where the Yagumo Elementary School pool was located and my daughter, along with the rest of her class, trotted off for swimming lessons each day of the summer. It was just expected that children would be around for these classes, and they were scheduled at different times during the week. There were regulation mizugi and caps to be bought and labeled, and a whole list of instructions for what and when a child could eat before swimming class. Shana came home the first day with an attendance card and proudly showed me her sticker. The goal was to fill the card with stickers and achieve good attendance and to also get a rank in swimming. (There are ranks for everything in Japan, not just karate.)
One of the bigger homework projects involved a morning glory plant. Each first grader had nurtured their plant from seeds, starting back in April. I guessed that Shana would not be able to participate in this project because we’d moved to Yagumo in June and she didn’t have a plant. I was wrong. It turns out that the teacher had one for her. When I asked the teacher how she could possibly have known that she’d get a transfer student (very unusual in Japan) two months after school had begun, she happily informed me that she had three “extras” that she secretly was growing herself in case they were needed.
Each day the plant figured into her homework. It was used for observation. She had to draw pictures of the flowers on it at different times of day. It was used for math, as she counted the blossoms and then did math problems based on the different colors. For me, the scary part was keeping it alive over the summer. I don’t know what kind of penalty a mother would get if she and her child killed the teacher’s morning glory, but luckily these plants were pretty hardy and even the rowdy boys in her class brought them back proudly at the beginning of September fully intact. It was eye opening to see how one plant could be used for so much. Watering the plant each day and determining how much water was also the child’s job. So they learned to nurture something, with a built in guarantee that the plant was hardy and the job was doable even for a six year old.
During the summer, Shana also had a few days of usagi duty. The school had a rabbit, and each day a sixth grader and a first grader would be responsible for feeding it. The school often paired sixth and first graders together since the first grader would learn the ropes from an older child, and the older child would profit from being in a teaching role. She trotted off to the school, lettuce and carrots in hand.
The last reason that she had to go to school was for a week of rajio taiso. And that’s another post I’ll make this summer!
ichinensei – 一年生 a first-grader. At an elementary school, but is also used for the first years of junior high, high school, and college, though usually modified to indicate which level of school.
apāto – アパート apartment
donguri – どんぐり acorn
okāsan – お母さん mother
namae – 名前 name
shukudai – 宿題 homework
mizugi – 水着 bathing suit
usagi – ウサギ rabbit
rajio taisō – ラジオ体操 radio exercise. Explanation to come….
Of course you want your kids to be bilingual when you’re in a foreign country or married to a person from a foreign country. I was no exception. To give myself some credit, I never did think it would be kantan. And there were so many ways to “do” it.
Living in Rhode Island in 1988, soon after moving back to the US from Tokyo, I met an older Chinese woman. She had five kodomo and four of them were teens or in daigaku. Her youngest was three years old. She griped to me that she was actually paying college tuition to have her older ones learn the Chinese language. She was determined that the three year old learn Chūgokugo then and there. Outrageous to have to pay money to teach them a language they could have learned at home, she’d say. But apparently three is the age where they realize that the outside world is speaking something different from what is spoken at home. And that’s the first stumbling block for many.
The Monbushō supports Japanese citizens living outside of Japan by providing free kyōkasho and a correspondence course. I’m sure it is quite different now, but for my daughter it meant tape cassettes and workbooks. And when we lived in New Jersey, it meant going to hoshūkō. She liked it and we all liked getting lunch at a Japanese bakery afterwards.
Back in the early nineties the Japanese shōgakusei were passing around manga and learning American history through a multi-volume set of manga. The teachers at their American school would be impressed by their knowledge. They had no idea it all came from a manga.
The other day, my daughter told my bored grandson to go read his library books. He stated that he’d finished reading all of them. She scolded him for only taking out graphic fiction this time around. I had to laugh. What goes around comes around.
I said I had one word and only one word for her. Ribon! Or I could spell it as it is in English….
Ribbon comes out monthly and is over three inches thick. Buying it in America would cost me upwards of $10 (more like $20 now). And darned if she wouldn’t finish reading it in thirty minutes or less! It seemed like an incredible waste of money to me, but she insisted she had to have it each month and truthfully I was impressed that she could read it so quickly.
But it was those manga that kept her Japanese alive and made her avid to read more. And… as a librarian I thoroughly approve! Her reading level stayed on an elementary school level, but considering she had an American mama and was living in Japan, well, I will take it.
kantan – 簡単 easy, siimple
kodomo – 子供 child, children
daigaku – 大学 college, university
Chūgokugo – 中国語 the Chinese language
Monbushō – 文部省 The Japanese Ministry of Education
kyōkasho – 教科書 textbook(s)
hoshūkō – 補習校 Literally, supplementary school, but refers to the Saturday school held overseas in areas where a Japanese population necessitate it. They range from being small cultural schools catering to part Japanese children all the way to very serious endeavors meant to ensure that Japanese children living temporarily outside of Japan will not fall behind in their studies. Don’t even ask me about parent roles. They are expected and way beyond PTA’s of America.
shōgakusei 小学生 – elementary school students
manga 漫画 – graphic fiction or frankly, comic books
During my first years in Japan, my dictionaries were my constant companions. I had a few of them. There was the Nelson, for reading kanji. I used it so much that I had many of the bushu numbers memorized. To this day I can tell you that 140 is kusakanmuri.
Then there was the Green Goddess which is what we called the huge and heavy dark green Kenkyusha dictionary.
But it was that small J-E dictionary that I lived with, traveled with, and depended on daily. In my first couple of years in Japan I used it so much that it got very worn out and the cover was torn. It warped and started to unravel. It didn’t matter because the pages were so very thin that using the dictionary and wearing it out made it easier to use as the pages lost their pristine stickiness.
My sensei friend eyed my dictionary each time I pulled it out. One day he asked if he could have it. I had some mixed feelings about that. He was a professor of English. He wanted my dictionary to goad his students into studying more. Japanese college students were notorious for using college as four years of play after passing rigorous exams to enter college and after having learned as much in high school that an American would learn in the first couple of years in college. I knew he’d hold my dictionary up in class and tell his students that they should study until their dictionary looked as worn as mine. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of guilt-tripping a bunch of college students.
I was attached to my dictionary. But I also liked the guy. So, I told him that he could have my dictionary if he’d buy me a replacement. So off we went to a honya-san.
I missed the old one, but adjusted to my new blue one, though the pages didn’t turn as quickly. I still have that blue dictionary. Even forty years later it isn’t as worn as my first dictionary because by that time I didn’t need a dictionary as much as before. But, I still smile when I pick up my blue dictionary. Physical things are always so much more precious when there’s a nice omoide attached!
kanji – 漢字 Chinese characters, also used by the Japanese and Korean peoples.
bushu – 部首 radical. Not that kind of radical, though. It indicates a part of the kanji that you use to find it in a dictionary.
kusakanmuri – 草冠 the radical for “grass.” Almost any flower is going to have it used.
Kenkyūsha – 研究社 a publishing house in Japan. They publish the huge J-E and E-J dictionaries that translators favor.
sensei – 先生 teacher
honya san – 本屋さん bookstore
omoide – 思い出 memory or memories. A word that is used very often in Japan as omoide are considered very precious.
After some number of years in Japan, I got engaged to a Japanese man. It was bound to happen since I was past the kurisumasu kēki age already. Let me explain. There used to be a saying–and I’m hoping it isn’t popular anymore–that neither women nor kurisumasu kēki (which is eaten on Christmas Eve in Japan) are any good after the 24th. Indeed, the questions come thick and furious when you reach that age. But at 27, I was finally engaged.
This was the impetus for me to find a cooking school. I had learned to cook on the fly and wanted to be better. Of course, any lessons would be in nihongo, but I figured I could follow. Which was wrong because cooking requires a whole new vocabulary.
I went to enroll at Tsuji Cooking School (now called the Tsuji Culinary Institute). I was living in Tokyo at the time, but this school had originated in Osaka so I figured the recipes would be more to my taste. Of course I planned to enroll in a Japanese cooking class, i.e. not Western or Chinese. Alas, that would not be permitted until I took a fundamental class. So I reluctantly entered the basic class along with a group of other future brides-in-training.
Readers, imagine my chagrin when the very first lesson was on how to cook a hamubāgu! What the heck… anyone could do that, right? No. This was a Japanese hamburger. Here are the steps involved that I still remember to this day:
Mince an onion. To do this, cut it in half and then thinly slice it, leaving it connected. Then turn and continue thinly slicing. (An illustration would help….)
Take a slice of white bread and soak it in milk (this makes a filler for it).
Sauté the onions gently. Let cool.
Mix the onions with the hikiniku (probably a mixture of ground pork and beef).
Gently squeeze the bread and tear it up. Add to the ground meat.
Form patties with a kubomi in one side.
Heat cooking oil and put in the patties with the kubomi side down. Flip when charred and then cook until juices run clear when pressing with a fork.
Make the sauce. (Yes, there is a sauce!) As far as I remember, you mix equal parts catsup, tonkatsu sauce and cream to create it. I might be wrong about the cream.
Put on plate with glazed ninjin and a green vegetable so it all looks pretty (color coordination).
No bun. Eat with knife and fork!
And I hate to admit it… but it was delicious!
kurisumasu kēki – クリスマスケーキ Christmas cake. Back in the 1970s Japanese people assumed that we Americans all ate this on Christmas Eve. And were surprised when we had no clue about this cake. They are still wildly popular and you cannot have Christmas Eve without one.
nihongo – 日本語 Japanese language
hamubāgu – ハムバーグ hamburger. There are a few words for hamburger depending on how it is served.
hikiniku – 挽肉 ground meat. Pork was cheaper than beef when I lived in Japan and a burger was always a mix of the two or even all ground pork.
I often get asked why I went to Japan or why I chose to study Japanese. I honestly wish I had a better answer to that question than the truth itself. In the 1970’s people got interested in Japan if they were artists, or if they were drawn to Bukkyō. At the very least, you’d expect someone to have an interest in Ajia if they were undertaking a study of Japanese.
Not me. I got to Japan because I was lazy and hot one late August day.
In the late summer of 1975 I was scheduled to enroll in classes for my sophomore year of college at the University of Kansas. I’d had a pretty good freshman year, but had not yet come to terms with the foreign language requirement. I knew I had to deal with it that year, since two years of a language were required for graduation. I supposed that I should do what others did—that is continue with my high school language. But I hated Furansugo and did terribly. I just dreaded spending two more years with it. And I apparently did not have an aptitude for languages. I had reluctantly decided that my best bet, i.e. easiest one, would be Hebrew. I could go into a first year class and maybe something I’d learned in Sunday School would help to make up for my poor language aptitude, as my French teacher had labeled my ability. I wasn’t enthusiastic, but rather simply resigned.
Registering for classes meant going to the cavernous Allen Fieldhouse. It wasn’t air-conditioned, and this was hachigatsu in Kansas. I cannot stress that enough. Each department of our huge university had a table. You had to locate the table, and then pick up a card for the class you wanted to enroll in. There were always lines, and sometimes you got to the front of the line only to find the section or class was already closed. You could take another section, and then figure out your schedule all over again—and hope that it would work out. The list of classes offered was printed out in a huge handbook that looked like a big city telephone directory, but was even flimsier. Nobody liked this process. Freshmen and sophomores needing to enroll in required classes were always at the bottom of the heap and had the longest lines for classes.
Departments were arranged in alphabetical order around the fieldhouse, but also by Colleges. So you walked in circles… literally… as you looked for them. You needed a sakusen. You would want to head for the most popular ones first. You needed a pencil with an eraser, because your first plan never worked. It was hell. I knew the line for Hebrew would be shorter than the one for French, though, and that perked me up a little.
The only problem was that I could not find the Hebrew table. It wasn’t where it should be alphabetically. I did another round of the Fieldhouse, but I still wasn’t seeing it. It must be under another department. I tried Middle Eastern Languages. Nothing. I went to the Religion table, but I didn’t see it listed there, either. No, it did not occur to me to ask someone. Hebrew wasn’t that popular. I didn’t think anyone would know. (Really, they wouldn’t have.) I was dead tired and hot. I had all my other classes and I just wanted OUT. Maybe I should just give in and do French. I started to walk over there, when I saw the sign for Japanese. Not a single person was waiting in line!
That summer I had met some Japanese students when I worked in the dorm cafeteria. One of them had even helped me fix a flat tire on my jitensha. I’d gone to one of their association events. What the hell. They’d probably help me study. They were all very nice. The class would probably be small. And I was just too hot to stand on any more lines. I just wanted to leave. Propitiously, Japanese 101 fit with my schedule though it meant M-F 8:30 – 9:20 and a lab on Tuesday and Thursday. I took my card and got out of the heat.
This is the true story of how I ended up studying Japanese in college—which ended up having not an inconsiderable effect on my life at all!
And as for the mystery of where the Hebrew table was? It turns out that the Hebrew Department was so small that it was located in the Linguistics Department. That is what I should have been looking for. Oh well.
Bukkyō – 仏教 Buddhism
Ajia – アジア Asia
Furansugo – フランス語 French language
hachigatsu – 8月 the month of August, i.e. 8th month
You’re probably thinking that respect is a given in Japan. But I quickly found one place where it was lacking. It was at a playground. Oops. It was not a playground though it seemed to be. Rather, it was a tankidaigaku.
In order to return to Kyoto in 1978, I needed a Japanese person to act as my hoshōnin. Luckily, I’d made some friends at Honyarado, the hippie kissaten that was the plague of our study abroad program since we kept getting a little too involved with the staff and friends of staff—and there were rumors that they were involved in all kinds of underground activities (and I know the truth, but I’m not telling…yet.) But. I made at least one lifelong friend there and he was a professor at a junior college within walking distance of my apāto in Midorogaike. He said I should audit classes there.
Back then, Seika College was a two-year school, primarily for joshidaisei. Nowadays, it is a proper daigaku with a daigakuin and special programs for foreigners. But back then I was only the second foreign auditor, they said.
I ended up taking four different classes. I will speak about two of them here. The sensei was quite famous and had authored some books. It was unbelievable to have access to such an esteemed and knowledgeable professor. His name was Hidaka Rokuro and I took a Sociology class and shisōshi with him. They were both large lecture courses.
Now, in America, if you wanted to talk or sleep during a lecture class, you’d normally choose to sit in the back. Right? But these joshidaigakusei were audacious. They’d be chatting away while sitting in the front row, to the extent that Hidaka sensei would sometimes apologetically ask them to tone it down. That would work for about gofun.
There were only two times that he got the full attention and admiration of the class.
The first time was when there was a giant mukade in the room. Shrieks filled the air and Hidaka sensei calmly walked over and killed it. Everyone was impressed. I mean, it was HUGE.
[I was going to put an image here, but aren’t you glad I spared you?]
The second time was when he was talking about his war experiences. Nobody cared about that until he mentioned that during the war they did not have shampoo so they washed their hair with soap. Suddenly everyone was listening as he extolled the virtues of soap as shampoo. Because… Hidaka-sensei had a glorious full head of healthy looking hair. He was living proof of what he was talking about.
I studied his books and the pages are filled with my notes. His lectures were sadly above my true language abilities of the time, but I got a taste for some alternative history and a deeper understanding of what the radicals of the time were preaching.
tankidaigaku – 短期大学 junior or two-year college
hoshōnin – 保証人 to stay in Japan on a cultural or student visa you needed a Japanese person to ask as your guaranteer.
Honyaradō – ほんやら洞 a famous coffee shop that a bunch of hippies built in 1973. It burned down, sadly, in January, 2015.
kissaten – 喫茶店 coffee shop, not cafe. Old-style!
apāto – アパート apartment
joshidaisei – 女子大生 female college students. Calling them “coeds” as we used to do in America would be the right kind of feel for this word.
daigaku – 大学 university or college
daigakuin – 大学院 graduate school
sensei – 先生 don’t we all know this is teacher, thanks to the martial arts?
shisōshi – 思想史 literally the history of thought. I guess ideology works for a translation.
gofun – 五分 five minutes. Go is five and fun is minutes. However, fun changes in combination depending on which number it is used with. (You need either a teacher or a textbook to understand why this is.)
mukade – ムカデ millipede. Apparently they are NOT poisonous like centipedes are but I assure you there is not a scarier looking bug around. I once found one in my futon and I deserted my lodgings for three days due to the shock of it. Really.
When my daughter became of age to attend daycare, I became acquainted with the municipal hoikuen system. It’s Japan, so you can just bet it was highly organized. And from Day 1 I knew I was going to have a charenji with it despite my oral language abilities.
It was the darned renrakuchō that had to be filled out each and every day. It went back and forth between daycare and home so that we’d all know exactly what was going on with my daughter. Some of it simply involved checking a few boxes, but it asked for details on dinner, breakfast, how long she’d slept, bowel movements (consistencies!), bathing, mood, and health. On their part they’d report back on what she ate, how long she napped, toileting, health and activities or special notes. Thanks to that, I know exactly what my daughter did 35 years ago, today:
It did not occur to me to write my response in eigo though I often jotted down our meals using English words I thought they would recognize. Nor did it occur to me to foist this off on my daughter’s otōsan. It was a job for mama and I stepped up. But…. dear readers, I did lie sometimes. The thing is, our dinners were not always something I could be proud of. There were a lot of dinners of just yakisoba. I did not think that would pass muster as a proper dinner so I’d enter it as yasaiitame, which just sounded better than a noodle dinner. Breakfast also was embarrassing since my daughter wouldn’t eat much. Too many times it was just jūsu and a banana. I imagined other mothers were doing better. But the staff at the hoikuen never said a word.
Renrakuchō were part of my life for many years. When my daughter attended shōgakkō in Tokyo the first graders also had them, at least weekly. My son had one at his Japanese preschool in New Jersey and they continued to be a charenji for me.
I imagine this may be all online now or by email. The hobosan put a lot of work into making the covers of the renrakuchō so they now serve as fond omoide for me.
hoikuen – 保育園 daycare center
charenji – チャレンジchallenge
renrakuchō – 連絡帳 a notebook that goes back and forth between institution and parents so that they always know what the child is doing and how they are. Can be very detailed!
eigo -英語 English (language)
otōsan – お父さん father. This is what a child would call their father, or perhaps Papa.
yakisoba – 焼きそば a fried noodle dish that can be kind of junk food.
yasaiitame – 野菜炒め literally stir-fried vegetables. Considered to be a proper dinner dish, though you’d want to be sure there was also protein involved.
jūsu – ジュース juice
shōgakkō – 小学校 elementary school. Japanese elementary school goes from Grades 1-6 in most cases. After WW2 the American system of the time was thrust upon them so that they still have three years of junior high and three years of high school.
hobosan – 保母さん a daycare worker
omoide – 思い出 memory or memories. A word that is used very often in Japan as omoide are considered very precious.
After the restaurant owner pulled a yonige and absconded into the night, I gave up waitressing and started to work teaching eikaiwa at a school that a fellow waitress had attended. It was a popular school called REC Kyoto and catered mostly to young women in college. It had deep ties with Doshisha University. It also had a unique cafe style of teaching; small tables filled the room and students could drop by any time and have a twenty minute conversation. We’d go out to the waiting area and pick up 1-3 students of similar levels and work from there. There were textbooks, but we often just conversed.
Of course the first questions were getting to know our students. Ninety percent of the female students seemed to be majoring in English Literature. The rest, perhaps some sort of social science. If they weren’t in school or had graduated they were usually doing kaji tetsudai or hanayome shūgyō, i.e. getting ready for marriage.
I’d often perk up when a student would tell me her club associations. The first time a young woman told me she was manējā of a soccer club, I was duly impressed. This was different! And then I met one that was manējā of a baseball club. Wow! These girls were cooking. And then I asked what a manējā did. It turns out that the manējā of the team did the boys’ laundry. And not much else.
In preparation for marriage many of them were mastering the arts of ikebana, oshūji, chadō and Japanese dance. The marriage was almost always going to be an omiai kekkon. And needless to say, all of these students lived at home with their families, during college and after college. Yes, they were young women of a certain class and they were ubiquitous in Kyoto. I used to look out of the window of the building and watch prospective students enter and immediately know which of them were Doshisha girls. They had a certain look to them.
My study-abroad program had been located on the Doshisha campus, so I myself could be called a Doshisha girl which thrilled the owner of the school. And Doshisha has a strong relationship with Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts where I live now. I suppose I’ve made a bit of a full circle in life….
yonige – 夜逃げ literally night running away or absconding into the night. This is, unfortunately, more common in Japan than you can imagine and is usually due to debt or being unable to support one’s family.
eikaiwa – 英会話 English conversation – which has always been challenging for many Japanese, particularly the ones who are my age.
kaji tetsudai – 家事手伝い literally “helping with household work.” Women use it to describe that period when they are not working outside of the home and just sort of waiting to get married. It is probably outdated at this point.
hanayome shūgyō – 花嫁修業 the kind of training a young woman does before marrying. It used to be flower arranging, tea ceremony, possibly cooking school or calligraphy. Depends on the family.
manējā – マネージャー simply means manager, but if it is a woman manager of a sports team she’s probably just doing their laundry.
ikebana – 生花 flower arranging
oshūji – お習字 traditional Japanese calligraphy
chadō – 茶道 tea ceremony
omiai kekkon お見合い結婚 – arranged marriage. This is in contrast to renai kekkon 恋愛結婚 which is a “love marriage.”