The seventies in Kyoto were special. And I know there is a tendency to romanticize them now, but hey folks, it wasn’t all good. I have no lost love for non-flush toilets and rooms with no heat or AC. And… we didn’t know very much.
Imagine coming to live in Kyoto with maybe a little nihongo speaking ability, but certainly zero or a very low reading ability. That left a lot of us lost. We had to rely on eigo sources. But, remember, this is before the internet. So what was there?
For me, there were just three sources of jōhō available in English. The first was The Japan Times. This English shinbun was about ten pages long and a far cry from American newspapers, I thought. But that wasn’t the entire problem. It was very expensive for a poor student. I’d have to get on my bicycle and go into town to get a copy. It was sold in the lobby at both the Kyoto Hotel and the Royal Hotel. I metta ni indulged. However, both hotels also had nice clean Western bathrooms off the lobby. When my mother visited me, we’d make regular stops there since she wasn’t a fan of my squat toilet.
Another source of English information was the Kyoto Tourist Bureau. They had a few publications and would answer questions. But it was located across the street from Kyoto Station and I rarely headed down that way. Also, I wasn’t a kankōkyaku and it was slightly embarrassing to go in there and collect pamphlets that would tell me how to use a Japanese toilet, ohashi etc.
There was one more source of English information. The Armed Forces radio station didn’t come through very clearly on my cheap rajio, but I sometimes caught the news or some music if the air waves were right.
So, one day, I was cleaning my room and I put the radio on to see if I could catch the Armed Forces radio. I did and the DJ was a talkative one. I don’t remember what song he was playing, but he said “… and the late John Lennon.”
WHAT?!? John Lennon was dead? How could I not know such an important thing? When had he died? Why didn’t I know? How could he be dead without me knowing it? I was shocked.
Can you imagine not knowing something like that today? You’d have to be totally off the grid, so I guess it is possible, but the shokku was great and it still remains as a strong memory of the isolation that I didn’t fully realize I was experiencing until that moment. And, by the way, this is why I was compelled to learn to read in Japanese.
- nihongo – 日本語 the Japanese language
- eigo – 英語 English (language)
- jōhō – 情報 information
- shinbun – 新聞 newspaper
- metta ni – 滅多に rarely
- kankōkyaku – 観光客 tourist(s)
- ohashi – お箸 chopsticks. Note the honorific “o” here as well.
- rajio – ラジオ radio
- shokku – ショック shock(s), surprise