We sometimes feel as if people in a country faraway live in our town, thanks to the spread of the Internet and e-mail. We can get information as soon as we need it, and can even share our feelings online. We can travel around the world wearing our everyday clothes, and talk with people of other races. By communicating with people from other parts of the world through the Internet, we can sometimes resolve our historical differences. In contrast, we sometimes discovered our differences.
I'm glad that the people called "returnees," who have lived abroad and then returned to Japan, can accept different cultures, and can get along in Japanese society today. Japanese society now accepts returnees, unlike before. I think this is because Japan has become an information-oriented society.
Over forty years ago, the situation was quite different.
I returned to Japan from Germany in 1957, when the word "returnee" was not commonly known. I was 11 years old, and didn't speak much Japanese. There were no Japanese schools or Japanese restaurants in Germany, and my parents were busy entertaining guests from Japan, and couldn't have enough time to teach me correct Japanese. There was no information from Japan for Japanese children living abroad. I knew German, but not much Japanese.
Sr. Eucharistia was a Japanese nun, and the teacher of the first class I was enrolled in after returning to Japan. She must have had a hard time dealing with a pupil who didn't speak Japanese, and she probably had no information, language manuals, or experience in teaching such a student. She gave me three pieces of paper with Japanese characters on them, alongside Roman alphabets that showed how to pronounce the characters. I didn't understand what the characters meant, but at least I learned to read them.
One day, Sr. Eucharistia brought me to the school auditorium. She handed me a manuscript, and told me to read it from behind the curtain on the stage. I didn't understand why she had me do this, but she made me remain at school after class everyday, and trained me strictly using this method.
Since Japanese language doesn't have any spaces between words, like in English or German, I couldn't recognize where one word stopped and another began. "No, no. Don't cut the word there!" she sometimes told me. But for me, reading Japanese was like reading a foreign language, the meaning of which I didn't understand at all. I wanted her to understand how I felt about this. But I didn't have enough vocabularies in Japanese to tell her my feelings, or to ask her questions about the meaning of what I was being asked to read. Sr. Eucharistia was a chubby lady who sweated easily. When she worked with me, her face became red and sweaty. She always kept her handkerchief in her hand, while she continued to have me read sentences one by one, and repeat them. You can imagine how long it took, and what a laborious job it was, to read a half page of the manuscript.
Sr. Eucharistia tried to invent good methods to help me read better. She put lines between words. It made them much easier to read. I came to be able to grasp the rhythm of the words. I tried to repeat the rhythm of the words that I learned each day during the two hours I spent daily going home on the train. This was extremely challenging, because it was easy for me to miss the stations where I had to change trains. I changed trains four times on my daily journey. Because I couldn't understand the announcement in the train, which came on to announce the next station, it was hard for me to change stations at the right place. I wasn't able to read the Japanese letters written at the stops, either, and had to do my best to read the Roman alphabet written below the Japanese letters. I always stood near the door so I would be able to see the station name, and practiced reading the manuscript my teacher had given me.
In my classes, I couldn't understand at all what the teacher said or what the pupils were studying. After class every day, Sr. Eucharistia trained me strictly. I had just been in Japan half a month at this point.
Despite the short time I'd been in Japan, I soon came to be able to read the manuscript fluently, thanks to Sr. Eucharistia.
One day, she told me, "Memorize all of this." (in Japanese.)
"Me-mo-rize?? What?" This Japanese was unfamiliar.
"Learn it by heart." I couldn't realize the meaning of this word.
"You say this without seeing the paper." With her gesture I finally could understand this foreign language.
Ah ha! I thought I might be able to do that. Thanks to Sr. Eucharistia's strict training, I almost memorized the manuscript. Of course, I didn't understand the meaning at all. I just memorized the rhythm.
As practice, I tried to recite from the stage, without looking at the paper. Because of this, I was able to see Sr. Eucharistia's eyes, and the expressions that passed over her face, which I hadn't noticed before, since I had been so intent on looking at the manuscript. I felt at ease when I saw my teacher's generosity. I felt that she really understood me.
One week later, a show was held by the pupils.
What I had memorized was the Japanese narration of the English play, "Sleeping Beauty." When I stood on the stage, I was introduced to the audience as "A pupil who just came back to Japan, and who doesn't speak Japanese. She practiced this piece everyday." The audience kept silent during the play.
I don't remember if I made any mistakes or not.
However, I do remember that I received a storm of warm applause after the play. I felt that the audience really understood my Japanese.
"It was good, it was good!" Sr. Eucharistia welcomed me behind the stage with tears in her eyes.
Many years later, I heard that there already had been a pupil who was assigned to be the narrator. But Sr. Eucharistia gave the role to me, a child who had just came back from abroad. Each pupil had a role on the stage, but the narrator was one of the biggest roles, as the voice the whole audience would listen to.
As a result of this role, I became friends with the other pupils, and grew confident in my life in Japan. Sr. Eucharistia kindly answered all my questions, no matter how small. There were always new things to discover, and I truly enjoyed going to school each day.
After one year, I got a new class teacher. I didn't have any chance to meet Sr. Eucharistia in class, but whenever I met her at the school playground or in the corridor, she talked to me. Somehow, she always knew my latest news. "You got good marks at the last exam! Great!" Even if I got low scores, she always gave me a pat on the back. I wanted to make her happy, and did my best in my studies. She never missed any of my accomplishments, and she always expressed her admiration of me.
I did my best, even on the university entrance exam, to make her happy.
If there is someone who admires your efforts, you will be encouraged to do your best, and you will be happy.
I was moved to see Sr. Eucharistia's tears when I passed the entrance exam for the university. I felt she really thought highly of me.
My gratitude to her grew as I started to work and see the world. I often talked about her to others, whenever I had the chance.
One day, 20 years after my graduation from high school, there was a phone call.
It was from Sr. Eucharistia. I was quite surprised. I hadn't had any chance to see her for 20 years. She said, "I was working in Taiwan for a long time, and came back to Japan because I had something to do. But I have to go back to Taiwan again tomorrow. I heard you have always talked about me and thanked me, and I came to want to hear your voice."
I immediately went to meet her. She had become elderly, but her smile was the same.
She quietly said, "I'd like to apologize to you. After living abroad for a long time, I think I finally understood what you felt at that time. I feel ashamed as an educator that I didn't fully understand what you felt. I think you suffered a lot. I'm very sorry... I'm glad to be able to tell you what I have felt for a long time. I'll pray for the happiness of you and your family wherever in the world I may go."
She had understood me enough, and had given me a great deal of courage. Still, she apologized to me. I learned again from her humbleness, and I was happy that I had been thanking her for a long time.
I think she was a true educator, because she gave so much courage and gratitude to me. Schools at that time seem to have had many troubles that people today can't believe.
This is the era of the computer. If information, technology, and heart are harmonized, I think we will never lose precious and important things.
I can't help praying that young people today will meet such "true" teachers, who will influence their hearts.