Kodo Chohai Speech

2013-03-07

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My school as weekly morning assemblies for each grade. I'm in the ninth grade teachers' group, and this week at the ninth grade class assembly, I was asked to give a short speech. The meetings take place in an auditorium called the "Setcho Kodo" (雪頂講堂), and so the meetings themselves are called "Kodo Chohai" (講堂朝拝). I use both Japanese and English.

March Seventh (2013)

Japan surprises me. This morning I walked to school. On the way, I stopped and got a can of coffee. Do you know how many vending machines I passed this morning? Eleven! Why are there eleven vending machines? I don't know. Other things about Japan surprise me, too. In Japan, people don't use staplers very much. In Japan, students often belong to just one club. In Japan, people can eat ramen, gyoza, and rice in one meal. How is this possible? I can eat a lot of pizza, but not ramen and rice. By the way, in December, the 9th grade teachers went to an AYCE steak restaurant. Each steak was about two hundred grams in weight. Who do you think ate the most steak? Ask your homeroom teacher.

Wait a second. Stop. Rewind, please. Let's go back to 2007. In 2007, I studied Japanese for three months, and then I came to Japan. I was in Tokyo for two days at a conference in Shinjuku. Then I took a plane and a bus and a car ride to my new home in Jinego. There's nothing in Jinego. There's no train. There are no buses. Wait, there are buses, but only four a day. It's not so convenient. So the next day I took a walk to the convenience store, four kilometers away. Lawson? Seven-Eleven? Oh, no. There are no chain stores, what are you, crazy? The convenience store is called Conbini Sato. It's owned by Mr. and Mrs. Sato. Their granddaughter is Himawari-chan, and she was my student at Jinego Elementary School. The convenience store opens at 7 and closes at 9. It's not even convenient!

One day I was jogging, and an old woman was pushing her bicycle up the hill. It was difficult for her, so I helped her to the top. The next day, she saw me walking on the street and said something in Akita-ben. I didn't understand what she said, except that at the end she said “待って”. Then she left. So there I was, standing by the side of the road in the countryside in Akita for twenty minutes. Why? I didn't know. What did the people driving by think of this American man standing there? Should I go home, because I don't have any idea what's happening? But she did say “待って”. So I waited. After twenty minutes, the woman came back and gave me some vegetables she'd just gotten from her garden. There were some onions, lettuce, and cucumbers. They tasted great.

Let's return to the present, then. Jinego was a good place. But this is a good place, too. It's interesting to think what made me want to come to Tokyo. Usually you would think going from the countryside to a city as big as Tokyo would be difficult, because they're so entirely different. And yet, this area, this school and this part of Tokyo, has so many trees and parks. I could take a bus to school, and I could ride my bicycle. Sometimes I do, but on days with good weather, I like to walk, so I can spend more time outside. These kind of relaxing everyday things — a nice walk to school or talking to the convenience store owners in the morning — when you can find them, are something to treasure and cherish.

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July Eleventh (2013)

先週今週皆は英会話の授業でスピーチをしましたね。今日は私の番になりました。 Is this revenge?

When you finish school, are you going to the university? Maybe most of you are. What university do you want to go to? Many of our students go to Musashino University, and others go to other places around Tokyo. Most people stay in the area. That is normal here, but for me it was not. My parents are probably not like your parents.

私は18才の時、どこの大学へ行きたいのを考えました。私はなんか興味ある大学のリストを書きました。そして父といいました、「If it's close to home, you can't go there. Don't come home on Saturdays and Sundays.」 What do you think about that? Will your parents say the same thing?

そして大学に行きました。 I went to Colorado College. It was a nice place, and I studied math. 2004年に大学を卒業しました。卒業式は5月でした。大学院の入学式は9月でしたので3ヶ月夏休みがありました。3ヶ月夏休みはアメリカでは普通です。いいね、3ヶ月。ぜひアメリカの大学に行って下さい。私はその夏休み中ハイキングしました。 I like walking. I like nature. I like walking in nature ... which is to say, I like hiking. For 96 days, I walked. I got up, had breakfast, walked, had lunch, walked, had dinner, and went to bed ... for 3500 kilometers. ずっとキャンピングしたので、シャワー又はお風呂はほとんどできなかった。汗の匂いはだんだんやばくなりまさいた。 Wow! まあ、それはハイキングの普通の状況ですよ。

その夏休み、いろんなハイカー…いろんな山行者を会いました。三点を言いたいです。

First, that summer, I met a man who was not nice. I said hello and talked to him for three minutes. I thought, "Hmm, I don't like him." So I took my bag and continued walking. I never saw him again. I don't know his name. It doesn't matter.

2つ目。お年寄りの2人を会いました。その2人はどちも82歳でした。82歳でもハイキングを何ヶ月やっていました。普通考えると80何歳の人は何千キロメーターを歩かないでしょう…と思いましたが、その2人は全然平気でした。 And I thought, wow, that's amazing. They're so cool. I want to be like them when I'm 80.

I want to talk about the nice people I met. That summer, only two people I met were not nice. Only two. Almost everyone was very nice and friendly. Why is this? I think it's because hiking is a hobby. If you go hiking, it is because you like hiking. If you don't want to go, you can stay home. The hikers I met were there doing something they really really enjoyed. It's a wonderful feeling, I think, to do something you really enjoy.

Thank you.

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December Twelfth (2014)

Last month I talked to you about Akita. One thing I learned in Akita was some Akita-ben. Do you know any? The classic is, of course, 「んだ」. That's great. I know some more phrases, like 「どぉさいぐべ?」 Do you understand? In regular Japanese, you can say, 「分からない。」 In Akita-ben, we say, 「わがらねぇ。」 And instead of 「分かりませんでした。」, we say, 「わがらねがった。」

「どぉさいぐべ?」 means something like, 「どこかへ行きましょうか?」. Also, in Akita-ben, the sound for 「す」 and 「し」 is the same. So, the word 「寿司」 becomes "suh-suh", and if you want to have sushi at seven o-clock at night, it sounds like, "Suh suh suh-chuh ji ni ku sa?".

Some phrases in Akita-ben are different in Standard Japanese. In Akita, you can say 「おめえ」 or 「おまえ」, and it just means 「あなた」. But not in Tokyo, oh no. Actually, many words have multiple meanings. For example, 「やばい」 can be something bad, but it can also be something good. 「財布忘れた。やばい!」 「かれダンスやっべえ!」 How about 「びみょう」? It could mean "delicate", or it could mean "not good". If you ask your friend about last week's kanji test and she tells you it was 「びみょう」, she's not saying it was delicate — she's saying it sucked. Here's another one. Usually, 「難しい」 means "difficult" but sometimes it just means, "no". If you ask your mother to make cheesecake for dessert and she says, 「ちょっと難しい。」, she doesn't mean it's difficult — she just means it's not happening.

Other words change meaning depending how you say them. If you're playing with your friends, you might laugh, smile, and say, 「ばか」, but if you say that to your mother or father, who the hell knows what will happen? The meaning of the word can change just because of who you're talking to and how you say it.

I was wondering, what does the word "cool" mean? In English, it could mean a cold temperature, a relaxed person, or something that's fashionable. The Japanese, 「かっこいい」, has another sort of ambiguity. What do you mean when you say 「かっこいい」? For example, if I say that Ms. Kitamura's sweater is cool, do I want one like it? Do I mean that it's a popular style these days? Do I mean that some famous performers have similar sweaters? Do I mean I like the color? We don't really know. The word "cool" is vague. We know it's a good thing, but we don't really know much more than that, do we.

Sometimes we say things that mean something to us but not to the other person. When I was a student, every night my mother asked me, "How was school today?" And every day, I answered, "OK...". Don't you say the same thing? 「今日学校どうだった?普通。」 But my mother didn't go to school with me, so even if I said "OK", it didn't mean anything to her.

Some words are just not as good as others. In 2008, there was a drunk man in Chiyoda who was arrested. He was swimming naked in moat (sotobori) of the Kōkyo. I saw it on the news, and they said they arrested this gaikokujin. Good, good, but the obvious question to me was, "What country was he from?" That was the obvious question, but they didn't say on the news. Later we found out the man was from England.

There's an obvious message here. Two, actually. The first one is that communication is difficult. The above examples are just a few everyday examples of how communication can go wrong. But on the other hand, most of the time we communicate successfully. That's because we're all very good at speaking and listening! Can you think of anything you practice as much as listening and speaking? Maybe reading, if you really really love reading. But is there anything else that you practice as much, every day? Maybe not. That's really cool, don't you think?

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