A rare Festival of Japan including an exhibition featuring Japanese art and culture was staged in Thiruvananthapuram by the Alumni Society of Japanese technical training programmes. I was asked to speak at the inaugural function.
Having learnt the Japanese language up to interpreters’ level 40 years ago, I wanted to speak in Japanese, but I could manage to say only that “my Japanese has got rusted like an unused kitchen knife,” quoting from my text book. I recalled how I could interpret not only for my Ambassador, but also for the Indian Davis Cup team consisting of Ramanathan Krishnan and Jaydeep Mukherjee in 1970.
Tokyo was my first posting abroad in 1969 at a time the song, “Sayonara” was on everybody’s lips because of the popular movie, ‘Love in Tokyo’. Japan was at the height of popularity, preparing for the Expo 70 at Osaka.
My wife and I were very excited to go to Japan at that time and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Our first son was born in a Tokyo hospital though we had to struggle with a different system and culture.
Japan is a friendly country and the Japanese people go out of their way to be nice and kind to foreigners. But the culture shock was as intense at that time as it is today for first-time visitors. I listed the discoveries we made in the first few days.
We realised that we cannot expect black tea with milk and sugar at the famous tea ceremony to which we are invited on arrival, that wasabi paste is not mild like “podina” chutney, but explosively hot, that raw fish they eat is not live fish, but cut and treated with condiments, that geishas are not women of ill repute, that men and women use different words for the same thoughts and things and so on.