Just the thought of a non-Japanese person asking her one simple question takes old lady out of her comfort zone

“I don’t drink coffee I take green tea, my dear.

Despite the vocab being able to be learnt by anyone with a pulse in one minute, and the context being easily understood by anyone who has ever lived in the civilised world at anytime since the Victorian era, 74 year old Masako Shiwahada refuses to get it.

I was doing work experience, for an article, in a rural tofu shop when I encountered Shiwahada. After personally trying to teach her the line, “Does this bus go to Tokyo?” along with the yes or no answer, I asked her bluntly in Japanese what her problem was.  “I can’t speak English.  It’s difficult,” said Masako, before asking, “Do you understand?  You’re not Japanese, so you can’t understand what I’m saying.  Oh…  Why…?  What should I do…?”

Totoro or a foreigner coming here, which would be scarier?

After reassuring the pathetic old woman that my self-assessed Level 3 Japanese skills were more than adequate to converse with her, I set about interviewing other greying locals to see if the whole town was similarly blinkered.  I chatted to six of them who all enthusiastically engaged in my impromptu English lesson.  It was during our chats that I politely enquired about Shiwahada’s problem.  

“Oh… That goose!?” giggled 83 year old Moe Mukashi.  “She’s the type who still finds oversized tennis raquets to be cutting edge humour.”  91 year old Takashi Mukai added, “Get this – she actually believes that World War II ended in a draw!  She lapped up all that stuff about Japan choosing to formally accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, as though there were other rational options available.”

A bus whisking the traveller away to the metropolis

Eager to give Shiwahada an opportunity to get her point across, we sat down with a person who I’d roped in as an interpreter, as Shiwahada still doubted that I could indeed understand her.  Dabbing her face constantly with a handkerchief she faced the interpreter and explained why five words of English were beyond her.  “To be honest, I’ve got no idea when to use ha, ga, de, or ni when I speak Japanese. I just throw them in randomly. So, what hope do I have with another language? 

“I just want to live in traditional Japan adding miso and mirin to everything that I cook. I can also do without any outsiders messing with my wa, yet I’m happy leading a comfortable life thanks to our generous trade deal with America that none of their allies ever got.  Oh… I would, however, still like the Vienna Boys Choir to come here every year, because I still have the right to get sexually aroused in the way I desire.”

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