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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Japan in a Word or Two

By Leah Aronoff

It is 1961
I don’t speak Japanese

Charming servant
in charming inn
points to giant husband, Al,
and says to me, Ooki
I know what she means
I hope Al doesn’t

We relax against a fence
in Ueno Park Zoo
and are suddenly assailed
by a group of school boys
Two or three have the courage
to address us in English
They ask, Do you have the time?
Can they not look at their wristwatches
which are very much in evidence?

We are visiting an old man
an artist who has illustrated
a bird book.
He turns the pages slowly
as we dredge up admiration.
Finally I recognize a bird
A robin! I exclaim
We have those!
The old man addresses Al sternly.
Lobin Led-Blest not rearry Lobin Led-Blest.
Lobin Led-Blest rearry Thlush.

One encounter is almost wordfree.
In a Kyoto neighborhood
I interrupt a small group of small girls
playing on the sidewalk.
I say one word
The name of a Living National Treasure
A woodworker who makes
nail-free bathing buckets
of hinoki wood.
I want one.
One little girl knows where the man lives.
She grabs my hand
and leads us up one street and down another
To myself I say, Please don’t get lost,
Please don’t stray so far from home.
Before I break down
she has us there
delivered as silently promised

It is a hot and humid August
We are tired of roaming
We need a coffee break.
The waitress comes to the table
ready to take our order.
I have learned the word for coffee
and repeat it proudly.
I say Cohee
and hold up two fingers.
She repeats Cohee?
I say Yeah.
She says No cohee?
I say Yeah, cohee.
She says No cohee.
I look at Al
and ask if he’ll have beer.
Al says Yes
and I order two birru
using up my second Japanese word.
As we sip our beer
I watch a Japanese couple drinking coffee.
What to make of this?

In a few months
I create a group that wants to learn Japanese
I get a teacher
I learn my third Japanese word
It is iieh
It means No.
Its pronunciation is close to Yeah.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Oh iieh! LOL What an interesting and funny story.

Hi Leah,

I think that you and Al must have been very great travelers because you were so quick and happy to drink beer when the coffee order went awry.
Good for you!

I enjoyed reading your cleverly written poem about your travels......

Morning Knockoff

When I was first near Ueno Station
a group of Bangladeshis
surrounded me and all wanted to take my bags and
hollar bad English at me
they were a little intimidating
A Japanese man from my subway train suddenly appeared
at my elbow
and walked me all around the park
to rescue me from the restaurant workers
who lived some ten to an apartment
or under the rhododendron bushes they almost led me to
it was the first time i'd been frightened
in six countries

~Kathi (written just now about her sabbatical in '91)

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