OK, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted here.  I plead…well…busy-ness.  Michelle and I have been shopping and making up the itinerary for her soon-move to Pennsylvania.  My neighbor whose husband works for Google has added me to the Google+ beta, and I’m seeing if that will be a good way to talk to my daughter when she’s away at college.  I’m trying to get a jump on my new Film & Lit class (I’m only on lecture 3, but I have the framework of the class all set up).

On the learning Japanese front, I’m still not the wunderkind that would make a language teacher beam.  Ito sensei has saved some conversational Japanese cassettes (and accompanying books) for me, and that’s a blessing, but I”m still distractable by the little things.  I was reading episode 23 of Hikaru No Go, and I came across henohenomoheji–doodling with Japanese characters.  Michelle remembers Kazumasa showing her simple nonomo face drawings when he stayed with us.  Here’s a simple site with some information:


And I’m been reading George Meegan’s book The Longest Walk in bits; he’s reached Central America at this point.  Aside from feeling that I’d really not enjoy the hardship that even a yoshikart could not make up for, I’m struck by how the walking diary is really a love story.  And putting this together with Kintaro Walks Japan (Kintaro is in love with Ayumi, George and Yoshiko Meegan’s daughter), the whole thing washes over me with joy and relationship.

It’s a very busy time, but I’ve not vanished.


rarely used: “watashi wa anata wo aishiteru”

It’s Father’s Day, and what a lovely gift appeared on the dining room table this morning.  There were also balloons that Jamahl (one of our cats) had managed to untie from the back of a chair, and I’d gotten a much-needed early gift of BBQ utensils last night.

But the gift this morning was completely unexpected: Living Language Japanese (book, CDs, dictionary) and a pocket travel dictionary.

Now my feet are really to the fire; I was dawdling with the basic text and workbook Michelle brought home from her Japanese class(es), and my excuse (which was a real one) was that the CDs were missing, so it was hard for me to practice in the car, while playing World of Warcraft, walking along the beach, just noodling around the office.  This set comes with four CDs to help me practice some words, phrases, sentences, dialogues.

I love that it says Complete in the title.  I’m pretty sure four CD’s won’t have me mastering the entire language.  But I’m also pretty sure that it will give me the rudiments I need to ask directions to the nearest bathroom or hotel or restaurant or telephone or bank.  And I can, quite possibly, stuff four CDs worth of information into my greying skull.

Added to Ito sensei’s help, my GameBoy DS Japanese Tutor game, a number of websites many of you have been so kind to share with me, I should be on my way.  Along those lines, I learned this morning that Japanese rarely use the phrase “I love you.”  Of course the word love is befuddled with loads of meaning (Platonic love is not romantic love is not motherly love is not love of Snickers candy bars).  Several sites did teach me how to say “I love you” (and love the thoughtfulness of the Father’s Day gifts), but it also gave me some interesting notes on “love” Vs. “like”:

watashi wa anata wo aishiteru (I love you)

watashi wa anata wo daisuki desu (I like you…with various ending options… delete desu, add da if you are male, etc.)

I’d better memorize the difference… this sort of thing could get me into trouble!


Savoring Booth

I’m reading the last little bits of Alan Booth’s Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan.  The final section has him walking from Nagoya to Taira, and there are nuggets of delightful Japanese–words I’ll likely never get a chance to use, but I’m writing them down in a little notebook.  Just a couple of chapters from the end, he visits a preserved five-story gasshozukuri (“built like hands folded in prayer”) style house in the steep hills near Gokoyama (“Five Mountains”).  The roof is steeply pitched to shed the heavy winter snows, and the building is tall because there is little arable land; this housed several generations at once.

Sitting in the dark-beamed living area on the ground floor Booth notes an in-English pamphlet that says, “the house is so spacious and dimly lighted inside that it is not fit for our modern way of living.” It is only fit to remind us of what “the real Japan” was like once upon a time and to provide visitors with an opportunity to go “oooh” and “ahhh” and “natsukashii” (“that brings back memories”).

I”m not sure I will ever use words such as natsukashii or O-nyanko (“meow-meow girls), but shizuka na yado (“quiet inn”) seems practical.

I”m sad to be reaching the end of the book.  Booth died young; his body of work (at least what is readily available) is small.  But he’s packed human interest, humor, travalogue, insight, history into this small body.  And just maybe his sharing words popular at the Ava Odori Festival in Takoshima could become a mantra:

“The fool who watches the fool who dances is a big fool, so he might as well dance.”



Ohgoodgrief, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Spring Break ended for me, and I’ve been swamped with papers to grade. My daughter’s graduation calendar has an item in nearly every square for May (I’ve volunteered to work at the Senior Breakfast–the last brushes with these kids before they all scatter for colleges…sigh), and my son just got back from a football scouting camp where he placed fourth overall over hundreds of kids AND he’s running two events in the CIF Track Finals in Carpenteria in a couple of weeks. Reports on Student Learning Outcomes are due at school; I’m putting (well, putting-off putting) together a Film & Literature class online for the Fall semester; my daughter and I booked a flight and room to Pennsylvania for her orientation and registration the first week of June.

It’s been a busy time.

But the walk is never far from my thoughts.

So how’m I doing with the Japanese lessons. Uhm…I get distracted. I may have to just take a class with deadlines and directions. I should be spending more time learning useful phrases: “Where is the bathroom?” “Help me I’m hopelessly lost!”–that sort of thing, but I get enamored of less practical words and phrases. I’m tickled by pipuru and shinboru (people and symbol) and other Japanized American words, and I become fascinated with glimmers of recognition (Hinokage, the town, means “shadow of the sun,” and in that I can see the root of the film title Kagemusha, “shadow warrior”). I really need to invoke the Nintendo DS Japanese tutor more. We’re at a year an ticking, and that’s NOT a huge amount of time.

I’m reading snippets of Alan Booth’s Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan, and I love it. In the second section he is following the path of general and samurai Saigo Takamori, and he’s finding himself in some very small, near-inaccessible places. Yes, he does show some of the darker elements of Japan (he’s particularly upset that the move to the cities has left much of the countryside chopped up, industrialized, cemented over with highways, deserted), but he also shares touching moments. In Hinokage, for example, one man spent some time encouraging the author to settle down in the town. He was treated royally in a local bar (not as an odd gaijin but just because the people were friendly and respected the effort he was making to follow Saigo’s tracks) and sent with glowing testimonials to a local ryokan where, after he thinks of songs praising Hinokage’s beauty, homeyness, and charming name, the following exchange with the proprietor took place:

“It’s nice to be staying in a town with a name like that.”
“It’s nice for the town that you’re staying in it….”

As for walking, I’m doing some, though I’m not on the tight regimen I need to work up to yet. Just yesterday I walked about 5k to pick up my daughter’s car from the service station. It was early (about 10 a.m.), but it was unseasonably hot and a bit muggy, and I remember my student saying that in Summer Japan is VERY hot and muggy. Booth is walking (at this point of his book) in August, and it’s uncomfortably hot and tiring for him in spots; he sings great praise for occasional breezes and patches of shade (and stretches of river to jump into). The heat, as I walked to the Honda shop, reflected off the pavement, off retaining walls. And I found that I was relieved with every circle of tree shade I found. The landscape was suburban Santa Monica, 40’s tract homes, contemporary multi-units, a freeway overpass, several for-lease store-and-business fronts. It’s much like I imagine I’ll be passing through on a lot of the Tokaido hike (though there are also the rural, forested, sea-view, mountain passes, reconstructed edo villages). But here’s my point (there was a point), walking on the reflective concrete in the heat was HARD.

Finals are coming soon; I’ll have a little more free time, and I’m just going to have to step things up.


Learning Japanese (or “your name is not Smith!”)

OK, once again I have to start somewhere.   It seems like I’m starting at a lot of somewheres, but that’s a good thing; it keeps me active.

Realizing, after reading the experiences of WalkingFool and Alan Booth and Patrick Carey, that I could very well get lost even IF I spoke fluent Japanese, I thought I should at least learn enough Japanese to get by, to ask directions, to read signs and maps, to show that I’m making a respectful attempt to honor the culture I’ll be visiting.  So once again I called upon my kids’ Japanese teacher, Ito sensei, for some suggestions, and she had several.  There are the books my daughter and son have been using, and there are others (I was delighted to learn of a book called Japanese for Busy People because it made me wonder if there were a companion book called Japanese for People with Nothing Else to do).  I’ve got my Japanese tutor on my Nintendo DS, and I’ve been directed to a website called


Now this last source has, perhaps, given my children fits as I walk around the house reciting “Hajimemashite, Sumisu desu.”

“Dad, your name is not Smith.”