Thursday, September 11, 2014

Words from Berlin

My bible here : "Berlin Guidebook" by Masato Nakamura

So I'm in a hotel room in Berlin, watching local news on TV, munching on chips, drinking grape juice and trying to write a digest of my stay so far. Mike and I decided to come to Berlin and have a little vacation before and after his meetings on Sep 10th and 11th. I had never been to Berlin or Germany before, and my teaching job at a college doesn't begin until the mid-September, so we couldn't think of any reasons not to. 

as I write this blog at a hotel room...

We arrived here last Wednesday, so it's been exactly one week since then. Everything seemed "wunderbar!" the first couple of days; we enjoyed the gorgeous fall weather (coming from muggy Tokyo where it was still the midst of summer), there were no yucky mosquitoes (while Tokyo seems to be suffering from a pandemic of Dengue fever, believed to have been spread from mosquitoes in Yoyogi park), everyone speaks English, we didn't have any problems getting around the town (thanks to the excellent subway system in Berlin), trains run on time and more frequently than the ones in Tokyo—plus it's never crowded even when everyone seems to be heading home. I was like, wow! I could imagine living here! 

First exploration day! Near Kurfürstendamm street, Berlin

On our 3rd or 4th day here though, I was already starting to notice shortcomings of this "wunderbar" city, and this makes me realize how quickly I take things for granted and start bitching about what I miss or what I don't have. For example, I was getting annoyed by not being able to find public bathrooms easily, because there are *always* toilets at the train stations in Japan (though when in Japan, I often complain about the presence of filthy traditional Japanese toilets and how unnecessary they are.) Even if I find toilets here, we usually have to pay to use, so before I know it, I naturally began to rant, "Come on! Who needs to pay to pee? It's the most basic of minimum human rights we should never have to ask for!!"

Subway station, Berlin

In addition to the lack of free public toilets, I began to notice how dirty some streets are here; there's trash littered around in some places even though there are trash bins available (for everyone to use, for free!) at every corner. I often heard people outside Japan saying how clean the streets in Tokyo are, but I'd never thought Tokyo was such a clean city before I came here; I was wrong! Considering there are 20-30 million people living there and no trash cans available on the street, Tokyo does hella good job keeping the city as clean as it is.  

Mauerpark—with some garbage scattered on the grass, in spite of several huge dumpsters in the park

I assure you that when I go back to Tokyo I'll find everything to be marvelous the first couple of days but I will soon find something to complain about; whether it's the humidity or mosquitoes, I don't want to do that! So that's why I wanted to take time to write my reflections while I'm still in Berlin. 

Trying to look pensive at Nikolaiviertel

There are things that Berlin and Germany in general do so well, so much better than Tokyo or Japan do; how they face and handle some of the darker chapters in their history is one. We went to the Holocaust memorial (Holocaust-Mahnmal) just a couple of blocks from Brandenburger Tor. There, you'll see thousands of stone monuments laid out in all different heights. We couldn't find any sign or a board explaining what they are so we decided to walk in the narrow paths in between the monuments. Within a few seconds of being down there, you'll realize what these stones represent and at the same time, you start having some indescribable fear. However, in order to escape from that scary maze, you'll need to continue walking in the narrow paths. The taller the stones get, the scarier it gets; you never know what's going to happen at the very next corner. I almost bumped into someone at the corner who was also finding his way out. 

Holocaust-Mahnmal, Berlin
These stones were laid out pretty close to each other and are a lot taller than us, so we needed to be careful not bumping into other people coming from different directions.

We then found this very insignificant looking sign just a few minutes walk from the Holocaust memorial and learned that it was where Hitler and his wife committed suicide. We couldn't believe how so unremarkable it looked compared to how those Japanese war criminals are treated (as gods) in Japan. There, too, we feel like we eye-witnessed great efforts and commitments of German people, not wanting to repeat that not-so-proud part of their history again, without hiding or turning their back from it. They must not be proud of their dark history during the Nazi regime, but they must be very proud of how they dealt with (and still dealing with) history and accepted and made amends for past wrongdoings. I am amazed and saddened by how hard it is for Japan to do the same. 

Where Adolf Hitler committed suicide — his underground bunker

Other than having free public toilets at the train stations, perhaps, there are things Japan/Japanese people do so well, too; superb customer service is one. I always thought that cliche "o-mo-te-na-shi" is overrated, but now I have to disagree with myself-then. Of course there are rude people everywhere you go, but Japanese people normally tend to go out of their way to be polite and kind—though not necessarily always friendly—especially to their customers. When you are a customer in Japan, you should be treated like a king or even a god (as in "customer is god" お客様は神様です), but in foreign countries, I'm not god, and I sometimes even feel like I'm actually working for them! 

Monday evening after we came back from Hamburg, I took a short nap. When I got up and opened the curtain, there was "super-moon" gracefully floating in the sky; that same moon that Japanese people enjoyed several hours ago. I realized some things are the same, even on the other side of the world. Everywhere you go, there are pros and cons. No place is perfect—though Sweden or Switzerland seem to be perfect, but I'm sure I'll find something to bitch about once I visit there. So, once I'm back in Tokyo, I promise I will try to focus on the bright side and won't complain too much, for a week or two at least! :)))))

Super-Moon in Berlin! (Monday, Sep 8th, 2014)

More later... 

Photoautomaten is obligatory, isn't it?



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

日本で日本語を教えるという事① Teaching Japanese in Japan 〜Vol. 1

今年4月より、世田谷区にある成城大学で日本語上級クラスを教えさせてもらえることになり、先月末、無事前期の授業を終えることができた。前期と言っても、昨年9月から成城で学んで来た交換留学生にとってはこの学期をもって成城での一年が終わることになる。私はこれまでアメリカの大学院で3年、そしてミドルベリー大学の夏期日本語学校で教えた経験しかなく、日本で学ぶ学生、しかも上級レベルを教えるのは初めてとあって、最初は七転八倒の日々...。それでも学生達はそんな未熟な私に匙を投げることなく、最後までついてきてくれた。ご苦労様、よく頑張ったね、そしてありがとう、という気持ちを込めて、期末テストが終わった翌週、学生達を下北沢にあるメキシコ料理店に誘った。

下北沢にあるメキシコ料理店Tepitoにて。左から夫マイク、米国出身のバックさん、オマーン&フランス出身のヒッシャムさん、オーストラリア出身のベンさん、そして米国出身のアンディーさん。

4月から7月までの3ヶ月は授業の準備で精一杯でブログを書いている余裕がなかったので、これから9月の新学期が始まるまでの間、先学期のこと、日本で日本語を教えるというのはどういうことなのか、という私感を少しずつ書いていこうと思う。


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A new translation of 「夕立の前」 BEFORE THE SUMMER EVENING RAIN SHOWER by Tanikawa

BEFORE THE SUMMER EVENING RAIN SHOWER
 

Stretching out on a chair like a dog and smelling the air of the summer
The sound of the harpsichord, which enchanted me so much only a moment ago,

Began to seem like some outrageous temptation
It's because of this stillness

Stillness sounds from where a number of faint lives resonate
Hum of horsefly, murmur from the distance, a breeze fluttering the leaves of grass


Can't hear the silence no matter how carefully you listen but

Stillness comes to our ears with ease
Through the dense atmosphere surrounding us

Silence belongs to a dilution of the infinity of the universe
Stillness is rooted in this Earth

But I wonder if I heard enough of it
When a woman accused me, sitting in this same chair
Sharp thorns of her words lead to hair roots intertwined underground

There was tranquility lurking in her voice, refusing to fade away into the silence of death  
Lightening flashed from clouds in the distance to the ground 
After a while, the rumbling of thunder slowly drew a long tail

The sound from the time before humans emerged in this world
We can hear still


---Shuntaro Tanikawa
(Translated by Naoko Smith)

Taken from the bridge near Shinjuku Central Park (7/22/14)


夕立の前(『世間知ラズ』より 1993)

谷川俊太郎

椅子の上でからだを伸ばし犬みたいに夏の空気を嗅ぐと
今しがたぼくをあんなにうっとりさせたチェンバロの音色が
何かけしからん誘惑のようにも思えてくる
それというのもこの静けさのせいだ

静けさはいくつものかすかな命の響き合うところから聞こえる
虻の羽音 遠くのせせらぎ 草の葉を小さく揺らす風......

いくら耳をすませても沈黙を聞くことは出来ないが
静けさは聞こうと思わなくとも聞こえてくる
ぼくらを取り囲む濃密な大気を伝わって
沈黙は宇宙の無限の希薄に属していて
静けさはこの地球に根ざしている

だがぼくはそれを十分に聞いただろうか
この同じ椅子に座って女がぼくを責めたとき
鋭いその言葉の棘は地下でからみあう毛根につながり
声には死の沈黙へと消え去ることを拒む静けさがひそんでいた

はるか彼方の雲から地上へ稲光りが走り
しばらくしてゆっくりと長く雷鳴が尾をひいた
人間がこの世界に出現する以前から響いていた音を
私たちは今なお聞くことが出来る

(Any copyrighted material on this website is included as "fair use," for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis of literary translations only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday, June 6, 2014

梅雨入り the rainy season has begun in Tokyo

夜通し降り続いた雨
今朝も懲りずに
ベランダのバジルの葉を濡らしてる

梅雨どき生まれの私は
雨音を聴くと心躍り
そして落ち着く

今日もお気に入りの
グリーンの長靴履いて
東京の街を闊歩するのです




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Without Saying Good-Bye

It was a nice warm spring day today.
Mike and I went to take a walk in the park in the evening.
The cherry blossoms were all gone, 

As if they never even existed to begin with.

We went to look for "our" cat, Non-chan,
Who's missing for days now.
No luck.
Neither of us wanted to articulate 

What that's supposed to mean.
Sometimes it's better
To leave things vague and unfinished.

I thought about my uncle again.
He's gone and nothing is left, 

Like those cherry trees in the park.
But he lived in this world.
He certainly did.
 

It was a long cold winter. 

When the spring finally came to Tokyo,
Without seeing cherry blossoms,
Non-chan and my uncle decided to go, 

Without saying good-bye.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

廣之おじさんのこと

伯父さんは、廣之おじさんは、奥沢の線路沿いにある
陽の当たらない小さなアパートの台所の床で、冷たくなっていた
おまわりさんが駆けつけて来るまでの間、マイクと抱き合って
声を上げて泣いた
目の前で起きていることが信じられなかった
この目に映るもの全てを、信じたくなかった

その夜お父さんが東京へ来て、警察で遺体を確認した
変わり果てたおじさんの姿に、動揺を隠せないでいた
私はそれを見て、陰でまた何度も泣いた

次の日、お父さんと一緒におじさんの部屋を整理した
買い物をしたレシートを見てみると
イチゴ、とあった
おじさんは苺が好きだったのだろうか
明日、棺に入れてあげようか
私はおじさんの事をまったく知らない

おじさんの携帯電話の電話帳には
ひらがなで名前が二つ、登録されてあった

いしくら たきお
いしくら ゆきひさ

二年前に亡くなったもう一人の叔父さんとお父さんの名前
おじさんからすると、ふたりの弟だ
おじさんは結婚したことがなかったし
友達もいなかった
おじさんの小さな世界には、頼れる人はお父さんしかいなかった

私はおじさんの存在すらもよく知らずに育ち
よく知ろうともしなかった
こんなに近くに住んでいたのに
一度も会いに行かなかった
会おうと思えばいつでも行けたのに
でももう遅い
おじさんは寒い冬の夜
ひとりで逝ってしまった

警察のひとが検視をしているあいだ
私はマイクと等々力渓谷に行った
おじさんが好んで散歩をしたコースらしい
そこを歩いて、等々力不動のベンチで
マイクは疲れた、と横になった

私は膝枕をしてやりながら
彼の首筋のぬくもりを確かめていた
さっき触ったおじさんの頬は
まるで氷のようにひんやり冷たく硬かった

生きているということは
それだけで本当に尊いことで
毎日誰かがどこかで命を落とし
それでも世界は動き続ける

今週末には東京でも桜が満開になるだろう
おじさん、もう少しで桜が見られたのに

悔やんでも悔やみきれない
春の冷たい雨の降る、三月最後の木曜日