Thursday, January 05, 2006

Japanese Lessons

It's been grey & rainy most of this week in the northeast US. Dreary, really. Not remotely the kind of weather that kids that have been home for 2 weeks want to return to school in. Sigh. I keep trying to remind myself that it could be bitter cold with a foot of snow accompanied by perma-ice...... but it's not working.

We had a bright spot yesterday, though. After school our Japanese teacher, Tomoko, brought us some gifts she'd gotten us while visiting her home in Japan for the holidays. B & I began taking Japanese lessons with Tomoko last summer. It all began when B was 4-ish & I was looking for non-violent videos for kids. My husband brought home from work a list that the AMA publishes (he is an internist) of the least-violent movies for children. The movie at the top of the list had the oddest title: "My Neighbour Totoro". I happened to spot it at the library & said, "what the heck". We watched it together (I always watch new videos/dvds with B the first time) & adored it! B's first comment was, "Mom, when we move, can we move to Japan?" After explaining that we weren't likely to ever move (one advantage to be married to a practise-based physician) we got online & searched Totoro & the director, Hayao Miyazaki. We learned the Japanese names for the Totoros (O, Chu, & Chibi) & found other titles by Miyazaki (this was before "Spirited Away" was released). I have loved Japanese culture from childhood & spent a year bussing in a Japanese restaurant which taught me a lot about the food- which I love- so it has been great fun to share this love with my son. We have been saving for a trip to Japan for a couple of years, so last summer when my dentist told me about his son's new Japanese teacher, I asked if she wanted 2 more students. Happily, she agreed!

Fortunately, Tomoko has an education background & has experience with kids already, so she has adapted well to teaching B (with his tics & variable attention span). B has an unusual ability to mimic sounds, so music & languages are right up his alley, and he keeps amazing us with what he remembers from lesson to lesson. He also has an uncanny ability to find "kid" words or wriggle them out of Tomoko. Right now "kusai", meaning "stinky", is his fave but he is making a list of other words he wants to know so he can speak to Japanese kids & maybe make a friend. :) To assist our "ear" for Japanese, we've been watching our Miyazaki dvds with the Japanese soundtrack & English subtitles & I can assure you that "Spirited Away" includes "kusai" in the dialogue (many giggles). I love learning more in depth about Japanese culture from Tomoko & also enjoy reciprocating with US culture. We had a cooking lesson where I learned to make "onigiri" (rice cakes) which is Japanese home-style cooking & something you would not find in a Japanese restaurant in the US. Then Tomoko came over before the holidays to make Christmas cookies, & she took the recipe (& photos of our cooking session) home to Japan & made cookies with her nephews. Thanks to Japanese lessons I have renewed my long-time interest in origami & have been sharing origami with my son's class at school & with the Sunday School at my church. I get a kick out of all the ripples.....

So, Tomoko came over yesterday to share some gifts. Some were traditional New Years foods that her mother had made. There was a traditional bamboo & pine-needle New years ornament that is sitting in our front door-way, in the proper place. She brought B a Totoro lapel-pin & some neat little clips, seals, & coasters for us made from origami paper. Some yummy candy, too &- joy of joys- a book on wrapping things for me. There are paper-wrapping patterns & cloth ones (for furoshiki- something I'd mentioned that I wanted to learn how to do), food wrapping & presentation, flowers, books! I can't read the kanji (I can sound out what's written in hiragana- not really read it yet, though) but the diagrammes are very good & I can't wait to experiment! We gave Tomoko an evening bag I'd made from scraps of kimono silks, which is a hobby of mine (among many). This Saturday we begin Japanese lessons again for the new year. Thanks to having actual lessons, we are planning to go to Japan in spring of 2007, when B is 11 (seems like a good time...), so we should be somewhat conversational by then. I am counting on B's memory to back me up (mine occasionally goes blank & I say dumb things like "excuse me" for "how are you?"). The best part has beenn finding a new friend in Tomoko. Her interest in the US helps me to feel like we are truly sharing our cultures & has made me look differently at my culture & way of life. It's helped me to appreciate some things, like the freedom to be ones-self, that I really hadn't before. And now, when I go to the Asian food store, I can actually read many of the labels & figure what's inside the packages! It's like a mental door has opened & I really like it.


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