All eyes are focused on Japan as it comes to terms with the devastating earthquake and tsunami that have rocked the country, especially the city of Sendai, which was closest to the epicentre of the quake and suffered most lethally from the massive waves that followed
More than three decades ago, Michael Taylor spent six months in the city as a private English tutor and English teacher.
Reading about the tragedy in the newspaper and watching reports about it on the television has brought back fond memories of the six months he spent in the city more than 30 years ago. He shares them here.
I spent six months teaching English in Sendai, Japan, in the late 1970s.
I had been hired by a wealthy Japanese man to teach his two teenage children English during their summer vacation. He paid for my transportation to and from Japan and offered me an attractive salary. I expected to spend three months in the Land of the Rising Sun. In the end, I spent six.
At the suggestion of my mother, I bought a picture book of San Francisco, where I was living at the time, to take the family as a gift. I gave it to the man’s wife the day after my arrival.
Mrs Yamaguchi (not her real name) politely accepted the book, and put it aside, without looking at it. I was a bit disappointed by her reaction. It reminded me of the way Chinese people accepted gifts, putting them aside to be opened after the gift giver has left.
By the Book
That night after Mr Yamaguchi had retired – he always went to bed much earlier than anyone else in the household – Mrs Yamaguchi, who had finally finished her housework for the day, made us both something to drink. She then fetched the book, sat next to me on the floor, and opened the book to its first page.
Rather than flipping through the book as I would have done, Mrs Yamaguchi methodically examined each and every page. If she saw a building or a landmark shown from a different angle that she had already seen in another picture, she would flip back to the first picture and compare it to the second. She would then look quizzically at me to confirm that it was, in fact, the same thing.
Respect and Appreciation
I have never seen anyone treat a book with such respect. And I have never given a gift that was appreciated as much as this one was.
Mrs Yamaguchi didn’t speak much English, but because so many English words have entered the Japanese language, we were able to communicate at a very rudimentary level.
The next morning, Mrs Yamaguchi asked my permission to show the book to her best friend, a Miss Sato (not her real name). I wasn’t sure why my permission was needed, but of course I said yes. She called her friend to invite her for lunch. She then took me to meet her friend, who did speak English, which greatly simplified things.
After we finished eating, Mrs Yamaguchi pulled out the book, and the two women went through it page by page.
Change in Plans
Mrs Yamaguchi and Miss Sato had been planning to vacation together in Paris. They had, in fact, already bought their airline tickets and booked a hotel.
I learned a couple of days later that they had asked their travel agent to cancel their trip to Paris. They had decided to visit San Francisco instead.
In those pre Social Media days, Michael quickly lost contact with those wonderful people he met in Sendai, Japan, more than 30 years ago. He misses them. He hopes they have fared well. And his heart goes out to the people of Japan.