COLUMN: Japanese language provides challenges

I landed on Hokkaido July 3 knowing exactly two words of Japanese.

Hello from Toyokoro, August 2016

Six months ago, each of my grown sons separately shared with me the Facebook message posted by Allyssa Hooper about the upcoming opening for Assistant English Teacher in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro.

Newly credentialed as a secondary English and ESL teacher and ready for adventures, I thought “Why not?” and “Why not now?”

Despite some very sensible answers to those questions, here I am.

I landed on Hokkaido July 3 knowing exactly two words of Japanese, and soon learned that using even those two words is a more complex and contextual process than I would have thought.

“Sayonara” is only used when it will be considerable time before meeting again, so I hear instead “jaa mata” which translates as “see you”.

“Arigato” (thank you) is  followed by the tongue twisting “gozaimasu” except in the most casual of situations.

I have yet to find myself in one of those.

Vowel sounds at the end of words are swallowed into whispers, except for the “o”.

And words never end in consonants, so my name has become “Janetto”.

Fortunately, as a foreigner I am offered much assistance, much leeway and many smiles.

And there is no doubt for anyone that I am foreign: the only blondish head I have seen in the past month is in my mirror, and I can now lay claim to having been the tallest person at a basketball tournament.

Incidentally, the basketball skills of the junior high students were impressive!

Toyokoro in summer is soft air and deep green vistas.

I imagine that the Fraser Valley may have looked like this 70 years ago.

At the farmers’ market, I find crispy greens, immense cabbages, tender broccoli and zucchini, and a variety of mushrooms, none of which resemble the brown or white buttons in Canadian groceries. There are other vegetables too, for which I hope to soon learn the names and uses.

Cooking with unfamiliar ingredients will be part of this adventure.

I am developing a little crush on the Tokachi River, which I am fortunate to cross on the Moiwa bridge several times each day.

The banks are high today, after a week of intermittent rains.

The Tokachi appears as wide and silty here as the Fraser is at Chilliwack, and here in the heart of Toyokoro the greenery hugs the river banks.

A peaceful 30 kilometre wander brings the Tokachi and me to the Pacific Ocean at Otsu, the easternmost village in the Toyokoro school district.

The elementary school at Otsu has a student population of five, housed in a building designed for at least 30 times that many.

Political and financial priorities are clearly different in this culture, but I will save any commentary on that until I have been here longer.

My thoughts on this experience will likely be focusing on food and language and educational comparisons, but these are early days.

For now, I am missing home while soaking  in the freshness of the air and the kindness of the citizens.

Jaa mata.

Janet Jory is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.


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