Role Reversal! Relying on Our Son

In the rain at Gyokusenji Temple, Tsuruoka

In the rain at Gyokusenji Temple, Tsuruoka

[9th in a series of posts about our recent trip to Japan]

Remembering the first leg of our journey outside of Tokyo brings something to mind besides what we saw. For the first time, we were dependent on Thom, rather than him being dependent on us. It was quite a role reversal.

Thom chatted with our takushii drivers, requested destinations, sought directions, asked about the history of the area, registered us at inns, and ordered for us, all in Japanese.

Everywhere we went, people who could speak English said, in some amazement, “His Japanese is really good.” Watching Thom listen in Japanese, he seemed very, well, Japanese as he “hmm”’d in encouragement.

Americans say things like “ya” or nod their heads to indicate they’re following someone. Norwegians make a lilting “m-m.” Japanese speakers make a more definitive “mm” supported by the diaphragm. Interjected sometimes with “hai.”

Not surprisingly, reading Japanese – especially in new contexts – was a bigger challenge than speaking. The average Japanese college student is expected to know 3,000 characters. Our alphabet is a miniscule 26 letters.

A couple of the restaurants we patronized were higher-end, with more refined cuisine. Thom was familiar with virtually every kind of soba and udon noodle dish in Japan, but imagine this kind of description in Japanese, rendered in not-your-everyday characters:

Mosaic of Quail with Pickled Hon Simeji – served with muscat grapes, sherry gelee, purple watercress salad, young vegetables and mustard greens (courtesy: Daniel)

But Thom persevered. When the menus got tough, the tough got going.

I doubt that we will ever again travel with Thom for such a long period, where we are so incapable of navigating. Which is kind of sad.

Next: A Haiku for Dad

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