It Pays To Pay Attention In Class

Last summer, I was in Korea and Japan for World Cup 2002. I spent my two weeks there travelling with my best friend Jim, and a majority of our time was spent in Korea. But early in our trip, we found the time to take a short trip to Japan. There, we met up with Yuko, whom we met years ago in England at the Shakespeare Institute. So for four days, we stayed with her and her parents (unfortunately their names escape me).

Yuko’s father was nice. He was a huge Yankees fan, and I recall catching him early in the mornings drinking Kirin Ichiban and watching live MLB broadcasts.

Yuko’s mother was silly. Very sweet woman who spoke some English. But when she overheard me talking to Yuko in Japanese…I was sure that if she wasn’t married already that she would have dated me then eaten me up with a spoon! See, in college I took Japanese as a foreign language, and did quite well. And had retained a good amount of the grammar knowledge although my reading recognition sucks nowadays.

On our last night in Japan, the three of us went to a sushi bar — Yuko’s parents were going to treat us to dinner. It was a small place, and the two of them were waiting for us at the bar itself, with the open seats all to the left of Yuko’s mother. Jim goes to sit down next to Yuko’s mother and she shoos him away: “No! No! Matt! Sits here!” Jim was a little surprised at this and capitulated to her demands. I sit down in my rightful place.

During dinner, we learned alot about proper sushi-eating technique. For example, the Japanese rarely use their chopsticks when eating sushi — instead they will finger-dip by turning the piece upside down and touching just the meat to the soy sauce. This is also repeated for rolls, and chopsticks are reserved for capturing pickled ginger slices.

Also during dinner, I tested the true power of celebrity. Like usual, Yuko’s mother was showing me things so that I might read out the Japanese associated with them. Menus, picture books, etc. The sushi chefs overheard me, inquired with Yuko and her parents, and Yuko informed me that they wished to hear me speak more Japanese. So I straighten up and boom out, “Watashi wa nihongo de hanasu koto ga dekimasu yo!”

Translation: “I can speak Japanese very well!”

Result: Sushi chefs raise their knives high and boom out a cheer. Patrons at the surrounding tables raise their sake cups and join in. I turn left and right to greet my adoring audience. Jim shakes his head in disbelief.

Flashing back to 1993, when I was taking four semesters of Japanese in college, my teacher Randell-sensei asked everyone why they were learning the language. Reece and I told her, “Because we want to be on Japanese soap operas!” She was confused at this.

Would she be confused if she saw me at that sushi bar?