Learning English

I have learned English for over 3 decades. No, actually it’s for 4 decades including my school age.  When I went abroad for the first time in 1986,  I only could speak some terms of everyday conversation such as ” how are you?”, ” how much?”, ” what time is it?”  and so on.

I still cannot believe that I could achieve that reckless trip along the Silk Road in China, Tibet and Nepal with my poor English speaking ability for several months.  Since then, I worked at an international hotel franchise and most of the employees spoke English there. So I learned it through working.

Most of Japanese learn English from the age of 12 to 18 but these 6 years don’t make them fluent in speaking.  They are forced to be concentrated on grammar, reading and composition, which is called “preparation studying” for entrance exams of universities.  Once they enter colleges or universities, they tend to forget most of the terms and sentences they learned in those period of “exam war”.

This is one of the reason that Japanese seldom speak English.

In the end of January, I was in Annaburg, near Berlin and was having a product training of some agricultural machinery. While I was having a dinner with representatives of machine dealers from EU, there were guys from Czech republic and Slovakia.  The job training itself was held in German and it was simultaneously interpreted into Russian and English by two sales persons of the manufacturer.  I was astonished with their fluency and asked one of them how they learned and trained their skills of speaking foreign languages.  On the dinner table, sipping a glass of good wine or two, our dialogues became focusing on the education of second languages in each countries.

I explained them about the education in Japan as mentioned above and the guy from Czech told me that they had quite the same way of learning English in his country. Another man from Slovakia agreed with him and said ” only reading comprehension was the most important things for us when we were students.  And when I graduated from a college, I couldn’t speak English at all. So I decided to learn English again and went to the United States.  Those two years made me capable of communicating with English speaking people”.

I had believed that the grammar-translation method in English-learning is taken only in Japan and therefore Japanese people are not good at communicating in English, but I was wrong. I found that there were not so drastic differences between those EU nations and Japan.

I assume that “how to seize an opportunity” to speak out the terms and sentences which he or she has learned at school is a KEY and the accumulation of these experiences encourages people to speak English in front of native English speakers.

Fortunately, I can write English like this but my composition and usage of terms are obviously the one of non-native’s and my speaking ability must be still in the level of primary-school children.  I sometimes think if my mother tongue were English, my life would be totally different. On the other hand, I admire the beautiful structure of Japanese language and I appreciate living as Japanese on this globe.

Only one thing I want to emphasize for my children is that….

If you speak only Japanese, you can communicate with 0.14 billion people. If you learn and speak English, you will be able to communicate with 1.4 billion people.


These Two Weeks

I have been profound consideration for a lot of things for these two weeks.

The massive earthquakes followed by those tidal waves, the explosion of nuclear power station, increasing number of casualties, missing people’s safety, radiation pollution, tactics of super rescue team of Tokyo Fire Department and Japan Self Defense Force who are coping with those accident of NPS, the tears of the team leader who shows his concern for the teammate, Tokyo Electric Power and its malfunctions of information sharing with the Cabinet, scheduled electricity cut in Tokyo area, current Japanese government and economic crisis.

Watching those tragedies appear on TV screen one after another, we sometimes hear the news that says some people buried alive were rescued a week later and some could meet their missing family members, which make us little relieved but that kind of relief is soon engulfed in much bigger depression because this nation is still covered with a thick gray cloud and we cannot forecast any good future.

There are friends of my brother who have joined antinuclear power movement in this country for a long time. They are medical nurses and a wife and a husband. They used to visit those nuclear power stations and this Fukushima NPS was one of them. Over 20 years ago, the wife and husband went there to have collect signatures of people who turn thumbs down to nuclear power. During the activity, their team had stones thrown by a group of people who are impellers of the NPS. The husband injured on his head. But by an irony of fate, they are now working in the shelters of people evacuated from Fukushima and taking care of sick people wherever and whenever they could.

This disaster not only snuffed out numerous lives of people but also engulfed various ideologies such as right wing or left, antinuclear or supports, favor or oppose constitutional revision and radical left or neo-conservative. Now they are united to restore this nation and a lot of people come to the devastated areas to help those suffering people. And the reality nobody can deny is that the dispatched teams who complete their mental preparation for the danger of being exposed to the radiation in order to prevent the melt-down are the rescue teams of Tokyo Fire Department and the SDF personnel, and that we are provided logistical support of American battle ships dispatched around the coast.

In my region, Hokkaido, we spend peaceful daily lives without any inconveniences such as black out, running out of food, water and fuel. I have breakfast with family members as usual and commute to work. It’s really peaceful but I’m a little afraid of these quiet days and feel guilt. I wish I could come to the area and help people. There is a catastrophe only 300 miles away but we are living here in these heated houses. Doing public donations and saving on electricity seem to be only things we can do. It’s frustrating.

A super high level of radioactive substances were detected in some puddles under the building of nuclear power reactors yesterday and they are 10 million times higher than the criterion value that government set. The area is literally getting a place should be abandoned. Some say that the evacuated people will never be able to come back to their towns but I don’t want to believe that.

Anyway, Japan will have to think it over that we really need those nuclear power stations in the future or take alternative ways to get electricity. I guess the idea is equivalent with which we’ll choose, further economic growth or safety of people.

More over, the priority is saving those suffering people and restoring this nation.

We don’t have time to think of the economy at this moment.

The 3.11 (3)

After the earthquake, I received a lot of e-mail from friends overseas.  I want to say “thank you” for their friendships.

I think readers of this blog have already known how things upheld in Japan for these few weeks, so I would like to write what I think of this national disaster.

First, I want to extend my sincerest sympathy to people who lost their lives in this catastrophe.  I believe Japan will conquer this national crisis.

The crisis of this kind either provide an opportunity for governments to exercise strong leadership or they cruelly expose the lack of leadership ability. When the nuclear power plant had a hydrogen explosion for the first time, Edano, the Director-Generals of Cabinet announced that there were subtle  radiation-contamination and it’s not harmful.  But as you can see on current news, despite of  the frantic efforts of fire fighters and self-defense force who are coping with the accident, the radiation-contaminated area is expanding. That is a very productive area of vegetables, rice and livestocks and also of industrial machinery. The necessary expenditure to fund Japan’s reconstruction will inevitably exacerbate its fiscal debt problem. This is another disaster of this nation.

Although government cajole people out of being panic and broadcast straight-laced TV commercials to keep people calm down, there are some people saying that the afflicted area will never be restored because of the radioactive pollution and residents won’t be able to come back their home eternally. The area might be abandoned like Chernobyl and its suburbs. I am not a specialist of Nuclear Power issues and don’t know what’s going on at the site of Fukushima NPS, but it became somewhat difficult for me to trust not only electric utilities but our government.

I am not a pessimist but we are in  a dense fog and cannot see any good future at this moment.

The second weekend came after the disaster.

Isao, JQ2SFZ and I will resume our scheduled QSO from tomorrow morning.

We are going to keep pounding the brass.

The 3.11 (2)

Naoko, my wife called me and asked if I was okay. She works at the welfare office as a nursing care manager. “I tried to call home to ask if our sons were safe but the connections weren’t made. Did you try?” she asked. “Yeah, they were al-right”, I replied. We have a 9-year old daughter as well and her name is Noa, and we were worried if she was OK at school. But I thought if there was something to my daughter, her teacher should call our mobile phones of which numbers were registered at school because the service of cell-phone carriers seemed to be still alive, so we had to believe she was safe.

I saw some photos uploaded on the Internet and especially one of them taken in Enoshima dismayed me. It’s one of the well-known islands near Tokyo and located on the opposite shore of Shonan beach, Kanagawa Prefecture.  The seawater has gone and the bottom of the sea between the island and Shonan beach became exposed while  those Tsunamis were hitting the northeast coasts. Enoshima was no longer an island but a peninsula.  Some feeling like a fin-de-siecle anxiety came to me and I considered it a foreboding of a catastrophe.

“Guys, let’s call it a day. We go home and see what’s going on. I canceled the reservation of tonight’s booze party”, Kazuo said. We were supposed to have a welcome party for a new employer Mr. Oyama who commutes from Shimizu, the next town.

Getting home, I soon found my sons and daughter doing well and watching TV news. As I watched every report, I was getting aware of the gravity of the situation. The Met Office has changed the magnitude of the earthquake from 7.9 to 8.4 and horrible Tsunami videos in Ofunato and Rikuzen-takada have been broadcasted repeatedly.

Those reports had me gradually get a grip on reality and I became very worried about my friends who live near the epicenter. I searched for their accounts’ names on twitter but nobody tweeted just after the earthquake except for the buddies residing far from the epicenter. They said, “ It was a quite big earthquake. Are U guys al-right?”, “I’m worried about ~~~ who lives in Fukushima”, or “My trains canceled and can’t go home now” and so on. Actually, some of my friends in Tokyo reported their serious situations on Twitter due to the taking off of all public transportations. They had to walk home taking two or three hours late in the evening or had to choose an alternative way, staying a night at some public facilities such as community centers, public gyms and city halls. Some stayed a night at railroad stations, in hallways and staircases in subway stations.

While watching TV, some aftershocks hit in Fukushima, Chiba and Toyko area. We also felt some shocks but they were subtle.  My mobile phone rang in my pocket in the late evening of March 11th and it was Charles, my friend in France. “Hiro, are you Okay? I tried to call you several times but I haven’t been able to reach you since this morning. Is everybody OK?”  His voice was shaking.  And Tomas, OK4BX in Czech gave me a message to ask me if I was OK.  Chuck, W5PG near Dallas was also worried about me and I replied on his FeceBook comment. I tried to sleep around 2 a.m. but I couldn’t.

All TV stations in Japan stopped broadcasting TV commercials and kept reporting of this most tragic disaster for 24 hours a day.  The weekend has been shot with watching those Tsunami-ravaged towns and villages and we were passively announced the report that saying the death toll from the earthquake and Tsunami. It was initially 200 to 300 but was getting bigger day by day.  Seismic fire at some oil refineries in Tokyo bay-area were reported and most shocking videos for us were those Tsunami-hitting scenes, which washed away whole towns and villages.

On Sunday afternoon, March 13th, I found most of friends near epicenter were safe on a web site of FISTS East Asia and an information that Sugi, JK7UST got on the air with his Elecraft K1 using external batteries and had QSOs on FEA CW Net. Later we realized that he wanted to demonstrated to Radio friends that he had been alive and safe even though he had no electricity, water and gas at home. Thanks to the coordinator of FISTS East Asia Nao, JO3HPM, we could see some goings-on of those friends on the bulletin board of the website.

However, things were getting worse by the minute.

We were told there was an explosion in the facility of Fukushima Nuclear Power Station.

<To be continued>

The 3.11

On March 11th, after a lunch break, I was sitting at a desk in my office and translating an operation manual of an agricultural machine made in Germany. A regular drowsiness in the afternoon came and I was about to stand up to go to a vending machine located at the corner of the office and grab a can of iced-coffee.

“You got a phone call from Singapore on line one,” said our receptionist.  I soon recognized it was Keng Wah, the marketing manager of Asia and Pacific region of JCB. We were now placing an order of a Fastrac, a big tractor which is capable of running on the public highway with 80km/H and have been discussing with Keng what kind of essential and optional features on the tractor will suite for the customer since that morning.

While we were talking on the phone, Fumi, one of my co-worker and a daughter of my company’s president, shouted “An earthquake !?”.  I didn’t feel anything at that moment but in a few seconds, I felt the floor of the office start rolling. Initially, it provided an illusion that I was having dizziness but I soon realized some drawings and photo frames were swinging on the wall.

“Keng, we are having an earthquake here”, I said.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Are you guys alri……..”, he replied but the line broke up.

Kazuo, the president stood up and said “ Isn’t it very big?” and I replied, “No, it isn’t”. We all thought it would stop soon, but the rolling was gradually getting bigger and bigger.  Having experienced being hit by countless of small and medium earthquakes, we Japanese can immediately weigh the differences between “Big” and “Small” by feeling what type of shock we are having.  The rolling didn’t stop and got much bigger. “No. It’s big!” I said to the president as I supported a bookshelf behind my desk.

Everybody in the office stood up and one of them said “ Look at those trees out side!”.  Street-side trees were swaying and I could see some people getting out of the opposite building. “It’s really big, isn’t it”, said Kazuo and “Yeah, and it’s long”. I replied. We felt the shock last for over two minutes.

I became to be worried about my co-leagues who were working in our stock facility and went into the building, which is connected to my office room by a door.  There are tons of machine parts and huge tires accumulated on the shelves and I thought they might have crumbled and my buddies may be buried under those stuff. I shouted “ Are you guys OK?”.

Fortunately, Mamoru, the parts manager and another staff have already got out of the building and they were waiting for us outside.

Mamoru was smoking and said, “You should immediately get out of the building when an earthquake like this hits!”.  “Yeah, you’re right.”  I replied to his smiling face. Workers of the other offices have also got out of their buildings with a troubled look.

Anyway, the earthquake has gone.

Getting back to the office desk, I was about to resume my task, translating.

Suddenly, Fumi, next to my desk said, “It was near Sendai and its magnitude was 7.9!”.  Kazuo and I took a look at her computer screen. It was a website of Met Office Japan.

“ Gosh! It’s massive”, Kazuo said.

I was worried about Sugi, JK7UST lives in the city of Natori just south of Sendai and thought there might have been a lot of casualties.

There was no TV sets and radios in our office so we couldn’t figure out the situation in the area located about 500Kms south of our island.  But Fumi kept gleaning information on the Internet accessing Twitter, Facebook and other news sources.

It seemed to be worsening every moment and we held our breath for fear when Fumi showed us a photo, which was uploaded on Twitter.

We weren’t sure where it was taken but there were a lot of vehicles engulfed by Tsunami. “No, way! It must be a Computer Graphic.” Kazuo said. I stopped my work and concentrated on seeking news on the Internet.

As I surfed websites of Kyodo News Service, NHK Breaking News, Japan Met Office and Yomiuri Breaking News etc., I become to feel rather strongly that the photo was a real one and it was actually a massive disaster.

“I wonder if Takumi is al-right”, Kazuo mentioned about his first son resides in Tokyo and tried to call him several times. But at that time, we recognized most of the mobile phones in main Island were not reachable and even some fixed phones in town were inaccessible.

After the several trials, I could reach my son Taiga at home.

“There is no damage and trouble at home and I switched off the oil heating”, said Taiga. “Good. But be aware of aftershocks and get out of the house when big one comes”, I advised him and he said “ OK, dad”.

I was relieved a little.

<To be continued.>

My New Year Holidays

My family reunited at my parents’ home that is located 10 minute-walk-away on December 31st. My wife Naoko and my mother prepared some special dishes for the evening of the New Year’s Eve. It was a great meal as usual and we had a pleasant time talking about a lot of things.

Every year on New Year’s Eve, NHK broadcasts its Year-end Grand Song Festival. This long-running program is still hugely popular throughout Japan and receives audience ratings of around 50 percent. The program is named “Kohaku Utagassen” which means Red and White Singing Contest. My daughter and nieces kept their eyes glued to the TV because their favorite singers were on. But my sons came home soon after the meal to play their favorite computer games and I assumed it’s because they found it somewhat annoying to be with those bobby-socks.

As we feel the alcohol, my brother, father and I started talking politics and wives were chatting up some celebrity gossips, fashions and school grades of their children. It seems to be common family conversations and we always spend the night like that.

But these years, I sneak out of the party and walk back home when they dry up and started to be concentrated on watching TV because I want to watch Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on another NHK channel.

Listening to the solemn music, I wanted to get ready for the coming New Year.

This year, Helmuth Rilling conducted NHK symphony orchestra and it was great. I sipped some glasses of whisky as I watch it and went back to my parents’ home again to countdown the New Year with them when the concert program finished.

Most of the people eat buckwheat noodle while they are waiting for the New Year and we did the same. Eating it means making a wish to a god to live a long, frugal life like the noodle. Of course it’s a folk belief but a small bowl of noodle is a sort of ideal meal after the long time chat and watching TV programs. 🙂

It is a good holiday season to tighten our family ties.

A Snowy Xmas

We had an extraordinarily heavy snowfall yesterday and couldn’t drive my son to high school because my car was stuck in the snow just in front of my house.  So I asked one of my friends to pick up my son and he made it in time of a mock exam.

We have had tons of snow these years and I assume it has a cause-and-effect relationship with the global warming.  Fortunately, it was a holiday of the Emperor’s Birthday, and we didn’t need to commute to our offices. But this small town was completely snow-trapped in the morning hours and even if it were a weekday, we couldn’t have come to the office until afternoon. Although the town government dispatched all of their snow plows and a lot of farmers and construction offices were also asked to deploy their tractors and snow removing machines, every streets didn’t become normal again until evening. I remembered the story of ” A QRP Christmas” by Jeff, KE9V when I was staggered with the snowy view out of the window.


I was supposed to go Xmas shopping with my wife but couldn’t.  We went out to remove some snow instead but it was like using a small  ear-pick to scoop and eat gigantic ice-cream.  The snow was wet and heavy and we easily became to give up. I telephoned one of my friends to ask if he could come to my home with his big tractor and he replied he was busy shoveling snow in the other areas of the town at that time but said he would be able to come in the evening.

Mikio, a farmer and a very nice drummer of a popular rock band in this town and also my student, came to show us his miracle  operation of the loading shovel around 7 o’clock.  He looked like a guardian angel for us.  Thank to him, most of the snow walls in front of the house was removed and the access to the front street became very easy and smooth.

While my wife was cooking dinner, I went to buy a software of Nintendo DS which is supposed to be a Santa Claus’s present for my daughter.

Merry Xmas, everyone.

My Son Returned Home

My son Taiga came back from Tracy, CA after midnight of last Friday.

Having a jet lag, he sometimes falls asleep in the afternoon but he enjoyed the weekend with us.  When he opened his suitcase in the living room, my daughter Noa said ” I can smell of America!” but my wife and I couldn’t feel any smell :-).   My family and I have hosted 5 people from Tracy for these 7 years and my children always mentioned about the fragrance of the US and they said they loved it.  Once Patrick, one of the student delegations of Tracy stayed with us, I talked about it with him and he said it may have been an aroma of the detergent which is used in his country.

Anyway, Taiga bought a bunch of T-shirts for us and I got a nice present from the host father, Mark Landon.  It is a book of great American short stories and I’m very pleased to receive it.

The 5 days with the Landon’s and deepening the exchange with American students through some educational activities in Tracy seemed to be a great experience and he said he didn’t feel like coming back to Japan. He misses the US a lot.

The most impressive word he mentioned was a question for me when he started off by saying ” Dad, why do people in Japan have so  expressionless faces?  While I was in CA, most of the people smiled at me and said ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’ even though they were all strangers to me.   When I arrived at the airport in Tokyo, I felt  somewhat queer about it. American people are so breezy.”

I answered ” Now you found some differences of people and cultures between the US and Japan.  It might be interesting for you to study it.  The culture in one country really acts on the behaviors and lifestyles of the people there.”

He took over 800 photographs with his digital camera and my family and I enjoyed seeing them.

I saw a lot of my acquaintances whom I met with through the sister city project on the photos and I was glad to know they are all doing well.

Once again, I really want to say “Thank you” to people in Tracy for their support and hospitality for the students from my town.  In May, the student ambassadors are coming to our town and we would like to welcome them!

Get away from Cellphone Sphere

If you ride a train not only in Tokyo but all over Japan, you will see so many people staring at their liquid crystal screen of their mobile phones without enjoying the scenery and having conversations with their accompanying friends.  In fact, I have been feeling somewhat weird to see this aspect for over a decade.

They play some games, surf the internet and write text messages to friends or co-workers using their cellphones.  It’s really handy to liaise with people directly whenever and wherever you are.  But don’t you feel it’s something like a ball and chain which were given from your wife and family or your peers?  Actually, I do.   My wife comes home from office to have lunch with me every day but when I am out of home at noon, she sends me a text message and says “Where are you now?”.  Of course, she means no offense but when I have an important meeting with my clients, I feel like I’m being bothered.

I’m not a business man in time-sensitive situations and occasionally call and e-mail only to my friends, students and family members. As a matter of facts, I access twitter, social network services and my favorite internet sites with my cellphone, but  I guess I can have time to browse them with my computers at home.

As to the cost billed me every month especially, I think it has no value for me to pay over 150 dollars a month.  I searched for inexpensive ways to keep my cellphone but  in vain.

So, I am going to get away from this sphere and go back to 2 decades ago 🙂

Time I have spent on the LCD on my mobile phone will be applied to reading more books, listening to good music and having more time to watch the radio bands.

I am ready to enjoy my slow life.

Sister City Program

I made a video of the adult exchange program of our sister city project between Tracy CA and my town, Memuro.

We visited Tracy and stayed with the members of Tracy Sister City Association in 2006 and 2009.