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Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009

BILINGUAL: KEYES' POINT

Aki aki: fed up with Japan and seeking a new start


"Can I help you, young man?"

The lady behind the desk smiles. She does not mean her brisk manner to be intimidating (kowagaraseru tsumori wa nai, 怖がらせるつもりはない), but the "young man," uncertain and anxious (fuan, 不安), instinctively (honnōteki ni, 本能的に) takes a step back.

"Am I really so frightening?" she asks. "You see, if people knew what a soft heart(kokoro ga yasashii, 心が優しい) I have, they'd take advantage of me (watashi ni tsukekomu, 私に付け込む). That's why I come on so strong (kyōretsu na inshō wo ataeru, 強烈な印象を与える). Sit down and tell me your name."

"Peter Keyes."

"I'm new here, or I'd have known, wouldn't I? There aren't many foreign students at Wakaba Junior High School, after all. Are you from America?"

"No, I was born in Japan. My father's English."

"Bilingual? Bicultural?"

"I guess so. (ma, ne; ま、ね)."

"I envy you (urayamashii, うらやましい)! When I think how wide your world must be compared to my own . . . "

"I wonder if . . . could I . . . is Mr. Sawamura free (hima, 暇)? He said I could drop in anytime (itsu de mo tachiyotte ii to itte kuremashita, いつでも立ち寄っていいと言ってくれました) . . . "

"He is, I believe. One moment." Into the intercom she says, "Mr. Sawamura? There's a Mr. Peter Keyes to see you." Almost instantly, it seems to Peter, Mr. Sawamura is standing before him. "Mr. Peter Keyes!" Sawamura is a big man, bluff and jovial. At last year's Christmas party he was Santa Claus; he hardly seemed to be acting, the role suited him so well.

"Well, Mr. Peter Keyes!" He is not Santa Claus now but a school guidance counsellor (shidō kyōkan, 指導教官), and this role, too, it seems, he knows to perfection. Even a somewhat timid (odo odo shita, おどおどした) boy like Peter immediately feels at ease (ki ga raku, 気が楽) in his presence.

"I was wondering . . . could you help me . . . you see, I was thinking I'd like to go to school in the United States . . . "

"Fed up (aki aki shite iru, 飽き飽きしている) with Japan?"

"Yes. Not only with Japan."

There are people who possess a rare (mezurashikute, 珍しくて) and mysterious (shinpitekina, 神秘的な) gift (才能, sainō), incomprehensible even to themselves — the gift of genuine, unforced sympathy (dōjō, 同情). Sawamura has it, and Peter's natural reserve (hikaeme, 控えめ) is soon conquered.

"I'm fed up with my life, my family, myself. I want to make a new start (atarashii shuppatsu wo shitai to omoimasu, 新しい出発をしたいと思います)."

"How old are you, Peter?"

"Fourteen."

"Fed up, you say."

Emotions too long bottled up (nagaiaida osaerareta kanjō, 長い間抑えられた感情) come pouring out. Fighting back tears, he tells of feeling like a stranger in his own home, of being overshadowed by a younger sister whose easy charm and natural grace make his own awkwardness (bukiyō, 不器用) all the more conspicuous, of the feeling he has that his mother resented him for some dreadful crime he may have committed in infancy but has no memory of now . . . "Mother in any case has her hands full with Grandmother, who has Alzheimer's (Arutsuhaimā ni natta obaachan ni te wo yaite imasu, アルツハイマーになったおばあちゃんに手をやいています), and with my father . . . He used to teach Japanese history at a college, but he lost his job and . . . I don't know how to say it exactly . . . he's not himself lately . . . "

Sawamura still seems in no hurry to break the silence, and so Peter goes on: "I'm not what I seem, you know — not what I look like."

"No, I can see that you're not."

"You can?"

"Well, I had that impression (ma, sō omotta ne; ま、そう思ったね)."

"My parents don't."

"Well, parents are the last to know."

"My father, maybe. He understands me, I think. He says I'm just like him."

"Where in America do you think you'd like to study?"

"Hisashi-kun and Yu-kun in my class are going to New Hampshire next year. I'd like to go with them."

"And what do your parents say?"

"That's just it. My mother gets angry whenever I try to talk to her, and my father . . . "

"Is not himself. Suppose I have a talk with them."

"Oh . . . would you?"

"Of course. I'll call them later today."

"I envy you (urayamashii, うらやましい)! When I think how wide your world must be compared to my own . . . "

Fiction series "Keyes Point" appears on the first Bilingual page of every month.



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