Mr Yamaguchi decides that the best way for his son to learn English is to let him serve as teenage tour guide for his English tutor from the United States.
He decides that the two of them should take a whirlwind trip around the country, traveling by train and bus and staying at youth hostels. The son comes up with an itinerary, and the two of them are on their merry way.
The daughter was class valedictorian, and she didn’t think she needed help with her English because she got perfect scores on all of her tests. So I was left with the son, who didn’t seem to mind being the centre of attention.
He would appear at odd times in the day, with an English book in hand. I never knew when to expect him – first thing in the morning or just before bed time. Sometimes I would simply take him for a walk, describing the things we saw and heard.
One day Mr Yamaguchi announced that his son and I would be making a whirlwind trip around Japan, traveling by bus or train, and staying at youth hostels. He seemed to think that my approach – just talking about the here and now – was more effective than doing stuff from a textbook.
“My wife heard him speaking to himself in English when he was playing,” Mr Yamaguchi said.
“Your approach seems to be working.”
Around Japan in Two Weeks
The son prepared an itinerary, which was approved by the parents. We would go to Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, and several others cities, whose names I’ve forgotten. We spent a total of two weeks on the road.
The ancient imperial city of Kyoto – which was not bombed by the Americans during the war – made the biggest impression on me. There were streetcars – which in Hong Kong would be called trams – traversing the city, which was stuffed full of gardens and temples.
Kyoto was the only city in which we took an organized tour, visiting 14 temples in one day. I remember thinking after arriving at the fourth, “You’ve see one temple, you’ve seen ’em all.”
After Kyoto, I liked Tokyo best. There was the Ginza and Shinjuku, with their tony department stores. We took the elevator to the top of Tokyo Tower, which looks like the Eifle Tower, except it is painted bright orange. We also took the elevator to the top of what at the time was the tallest office building in town. The kid, I take it, liked “bird’s eye views”.
We stayed in the part of Tokyo in which the 1960 Tokyo Summer Olympics were held. I was surprised by the amount of greenery and the large number of traditional Japanese style wooden two storey buildings housing shops, restaurants, and bars.