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Christmas in Japan
Christmas in Japan
During our first Christmas in Japan we experienced very different sensations than we would have back in Wyoming. Yes, Japan celebrates Christmas as a big commercial holiday with festive decorations in major department stores and on the streets even though Japan is basically a Shinto-Buddhist nation with the lunar New Year being its major spiritual holiday. Back in 1981-1982 I had been selected as the University of Wyoming's first exchange professor of English at Osaka University for a twelve month assignment of teaching American literature and culture (in English, thankfully).
School for Kids and Wife
My wife Maura had to complete a few classes for her B.A. at the University of Wyoming via correspondence classes that she could do from Japan. Our children, Rich, Michelle and Maureen had to go to school at the Canadian Academy in Kobe. The language of instruction was English, but they had to take Japanese. Maura volunteered for library work at the academy. We both took conversational Japanese lessons in our spare time.
All of us underwent "culture shock," especially coming from the wide open prairies of Wyoming that surround the town of Laramie. First of all, none of us spoke Japanese. Second of all our new town of Nigawa Takarazuka-shi had very few people who could speak English. Third of all we all had to commute by rail and each station was identified with kanji characters so we had to memorize our station's kanji to know where to get off as well as the kanji for our destination. Mine was Ishibashi Eki (Stone bridge station) and Maura's and the children's station was Rokko-San Eki (Rokko Mountain Station). Our Catholic church was miles away in Kobe at Nakayamate and required a one and a half hour's train ride and hike uphill in Kobe to get there.
We had to do our shopping in markets where all food products had labels written in kanji. Since we, at first, did not know how to say"summimasen, shio-wa to sato wa desuka?' (Is this salt or sugar?) But we did have much help from friendly neighbors with whom we made friends who spoke English or wanted to learn how. They have remained dear friends ever since. Of course all faculty at Osaka University spoke beautiful English as opposed to my stuttering Japanese; likewise so too did the teachers at the Canadian Academy.
But living in Nigawa and commuting to Osaka or Kobe required our constant attention. We finally learned that "kono densha-wa kara Nishinomiya Juso ni tomarimasen" meant that this is an express train to Juso (near Osaka). Sometimes, when it was pouring down rain and we had bags of groceries to carry, we took a taxi to hear "Dochira?" (where to), and we answered "Taka-maru, san chome, ju-hachi no hachi "(The third block of the high round hill, number 18-8).
All of this was a bit nerve-wracking but nonetheless challenging. But when Christmas finally arrived with light snow showers sprinkling down on orange roof-tiled homes, we took great joy in setting up our Christmas tree decorated with tinsel and Japanese ornaments. We felt not only cheer but also a closeness of family for each of us having adapted to a place so vastly different from the Wyoming prairies. A special treat for our children was seeing that a tree growing next to our house bore the fruit of small but tasty little oranges that we ate on Christmas morning.