Just sayin’…

April 12th, 2024Just sayin’…

A long, long time ago, just after the dinosaurs disappeared and the wheel was invented, I lived in Japan.

By Donna Kelly

A long, long time ago, just after the dinosaurs disappeared and the wheel was invented, I lived in Japan.

It was a very different world. There was no internet, well there probably was but I didn’t know about it, no Facebook, no Snapchat, no email, no Instagram.

We communicated by writing aerogrammes, filling every tiny piece of the very light, and light blue, paper to make sure we got our money’s worth. You could also make a phone call but they were incredibly expensive so you wrote everything down you were going to say so there were no blank bits or ummms and ahhhs.

Anyway, I had been to uni and got a BA or Bachelor of Arts, which my Dad also called Bugger All. I like to think he was joking and it was the days when the government paid for the degree. But still not sure. He was an engineer after all.

And then I found work at a newspaper as a cadet journalist in Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula. My career was going well and over the next two years I moved to Frankston and then to the Mornington Leader where I was the editor.

Yep, at the grand old age of 22 I was chatting with MP Peter Reith as part of my role.

And then Mum found a newspaper advertisement. The Ministry of Education, or Mombusho, in Japan were looking for teachers of English. You needed a degree but no Japanese. I applied and missed out.

But about a month later I had a call from the Ministry saying a position had come up, about an hour out of Tokyo, and would I like it?

The next minute, or so it seemed, I had said farewell to a boyfriend of six years, told Mum to come and visit and I was on a plane to Narita Airport.

I was picked up after a nine-hour flight by four, very stern looking, Japanese men, none of whom spoke English, and we spent the next couple of hours sitting awkwardly in a limo before I was dropped off at my apartment in the smallish town of Ome.

They told me, in a sort of mime, they would pick me up the next morning at 7.30am and take me to the Board of Education, and promptly left.

I think I was pretty much in a state of shock. I had never lived away from home, spoke no Japanese and had left a fun journo job for the unknown of Japan.

I looked out the balcony at the snow covered mountain over the road, turned on the television, watched as Arnie sold some products in halting Japanese, turned it off, and looked around the two rooms which were my new home.

My new employees had already pulled out a futon mattress from the cupboard, and popped sheets and a duvet on top, and I think they left me a loaf of bread, being a foreigner and all, for a breakfast of toast.

Luckily I had a Western-style toilet and there was a lovely deep bath.

The next morning I got up early and was ready and waiting for my ride. We went straight to the office, no sight-seeing going on, and I met all the managers and took part in my first all Japanese meeting. It only went for three hours.

If you think Australian office meetings can be dull, try it in a language you don’t understand.

I also asked for the bathroom and nearly cried when I saw the Asian-style squat toilets. I decided to hold on until something better turned up but after a few days realised I could do some internal damage if I only peed at home.

The next day I started at my first junior high school where the students spoke no English and neither did the English teachers. It was a bit of a struggle at times, especially when the students asked if I was a virgin.

“Yes or no,” the English teacher prompted. Hmmm. I said “no” but I am from Franganistan, where a woman in her 30s is generally the grandmother. Only Frankston people can make these jokes.

What’s a woman in a white tracksuit? The bride. But I digress.

Japan turned out to be the biggest, most fun adventure of my life. I stayed for three years, made loads of friends, learnt the language and ended up being a tour guide back home in Cairns and on the Gold Coast.

I have so many fantastic memories and until Covid hit pretty much found my way back there almost every year, dragging Kyle along after we met in the 90s. And he loves it just as much as me, although you do need to visit to really “get” the place.

It’s all odd and fun and exciting at the same time. And sometimes scary. I was followed home a few times by strange men, had a few others on trains doing things under newspapers that are quite illegal, and worked for a friend in a “hostess” bar where I thought I was just serving drinks but some of the patrons had other ideas.

Mum loved it too. Kept turning up every few months to outstay her welcome – she didn’t care. The last time we went together was when she turned 80.

She had been really crook, almost gone, and then pretty miraculously recovered. We went during cherry blossom season, rented a tatami mat and sat on the ground drinking Asahi beers.

Mum laid down on her back and sighed. I asked if she was OK and she said she was just enjoying the sky and the trees.

I am in Japan this week and missing her so much. She would have loved one more visit. Love you Mum. Just sayin’…

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