Lots of work goes into producing the Bulletin Geppo. Before managing editor John Endo Greenaway puts it all together, Japanese editors Sleepless Kao (aka Kao Kasai) and Kazuho Yamamoto are working on the Japanese section, Advertising Manager Anne Jew is working with our advertisers, and Administrative Assistant Mitsuyo Okamoto is receiving the information of loved ones who have passed so we can remember them in the Milestones section and she is also pulling together the names of our wonderful supporters who are making donations so we can recognize them. We also receive the updates and event information for community organizations. John is also busy interviewing people and writing about the people, events, and history that make up our Nikkei community. The editorial board also receives and reviews submissions from writers inside and outside of our community who want to contribute to our monthly journal about the Japanese Canadian community, history + culture.
I am also one of the writers. I write my monthly president’s message and occasionally an article of interest. I am grateful to have volunteer translators who take my message in English and translate it into Japanese. Unfortunately, my language skills are limited to my first language English, high school Parisian French, rudimentary Japanese, and the ability to say hello in a handful of other languages. I think this is fairly typical of a yonsei (fourth generation) Japanese Canadian.
My memory for languages does improve when I am immersed in the culture and hear the proper pronunciation. If one has the resources to travel and stay in the country where you can learn a language, then you will learn it more quickly. Also, you will have the benefit of learning the culture to give you a much richer experience which will also help you with your language proficiency. When I was visiting Japan for the first time, I was surprised to have French words pop in my head. My synapses were activated and started to retrieve what I thought were forgotten words from long-term storage and moved them into my working memory. After French then came Japanese. “Hai, wakarimashita.”
But when I am home in Surrey and surrounded by English, I struggle to recall the vocabulary and grammar. When my grandmother was alive, I did pick up some terms mostly about food and traditions. My mother who had the benefit of going to Japanese language school improved her conversation skills with the help of some of her Japanese Canadian friends, and she could read some simple language, mostly hiragana which is the basic alphabet. She was a Sansei (third generation) so she wasn’t familiar with a lot of the Japanese customs and practises.
However, we did eat noodles on New Year’s Eve, clean the house and prepare Japanese food for New Year’s Day, and celebrate Girl’s Day, Hinamatsuri, on March 3 and Boy’s Day, Tango no Sekku, on May 5. My grandmother would make me three different manju (confections baked, steamed and with mochi), adzuki (red bean) rice and other treats. I would put out dolls to display, but Canadian style because I didn’t have the set of ornamental dolls that you see on the tiers of red rows. On Boy’s day we would have colourful Carp (fish) streamers. When I was older and researched the days, I discovered that May 5 was designated by the Japanese government in 1948 as a national holiday, Kodomo no Hi, Children’s Day, and it’s a final celebration in a week of celebrations known as Golden Week. Hinamatsuri became more commonly known as Doll’s Day.
Girl’s Day and Boy’s Day trace their origins to the Heian period (794-1185 AD). My mother’s side of the family came to Canada in the 1800’s so the traditions they were familiar with would be from the early Meiji (1868) and then Edo period (1603-1868 AD) and earlier. It is interesting how Japanese Canadian culture and language evolved from when the Japanese first settled and started their families. And that could be a topic for another month.
Do you have any tips on learning Japanese? Email me at gvjcca “at” gmail.com I’m a fan of apps on my phone so I’ve been using Duolingo, but I would like to hear about your favourite tools or techniques.
I hope you enjoy some treats on Doll’s Day, Hinamatsuri on March 3, and for those in Metro Vancouver, I hope to see you at the launch of the GVJCCA film, Discover the Stories of Japanese Canadians in Surrey on March 4, and at the GVJCCA Annual General Meeting on March 24. Details are in the community calendar in this edition and on our website gvjcca.org.
Thanks to Tony Matsumoto who responded to last month’s president’s message and shared his ikigai which include his grandchildren, golf, and helping people.
We go to press just after the GVJCCA Community Bowl-a-thon takes place so we will have our long list of thank you messages in the next edition. Thank you for your support!