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Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007
WORDS TO LIVE BY
Kazuhiko Hashiguchi, aged 37, is the multilingual owner of 4U Ginza, a tiny hole in the wall smack in the middle of Tokyo's famously expensive Ginza district that is probably Japan's cheapest and fastest hanko (personal seal) and meishi (business card) shop. Hashiguchi is always in a hurry to keep up with the demands of his clients, but at home he adjusts his speed to his children — aged 2, 6 and 8 — whom he adores and whose stamp of approval is what he cares about the most.
A hanko is an impression of yourself on paper, so make it a good one the first time around. Think of your seal as yourself: If you want to mature, grow and succeed in life, you want a beautiful seal to reflect such ambitions. Elderly Japanese usually request a large hanko and they opt for strong materials like ivory or buffalo horn, never wood because it chips easily. Stone is also poor as a material because some parts are so weak that one hit and the seal breaks into tiny pieces.
The languages you know speak volumes about you. I want my kids to understand others, to be understood and to have a shot at being leaders, so we are all studying languages. We also travel, staying at people's homes so we can really learn about their lives. Last year, 130 of my friends went to South Korea and this winter we are off to Russia. Since we speak some Korean and Russian, we have very different levels of communication with the locals than those who expect them to know their mother tongue. I also invite people for short homestays, and so far we had some from Bangladesh, Taiwan, Indonesia and Sweden.
Japanese need to get Japanized. So few Japanese know what Japan and Japanese culture is all about. Most are Asianized, Americanized or Europeanized, meaning that they have adopted the values and lifestyles they assume to be synonymous with those cultures. That is not a problem as long as they do all this international activity on a strong foundation built on their own culture. I want my children to really have a Japanese identity, so I teach them about our country, including taking them to Yasukuni Shrine because I want them to know that all the good we have today is based on the sacrifice of millions who are enshrined there.
Follow your intuition: If something sounds right, it probably is. I belong to a group that believes in linguist Noam Chomsky's theories that there is a Universal Grammar that all languages are built on and that we all have a brilliant Language Acquisition Device (LAD) in our brain that allows us to master languages, just like babies do. Chomsky thinks that intuition is crucial in language acquisition and what we say doesn't need to be grammatically correct. I am all for that. What that means is that, to learn a language, you should behave like a child: just listen and then copy and repeat what you hear. My kids and I are living proof that this works.
Even if someone discriminates against you, stay calm. I went to junior college in Texas. Before departing, I thought that everyone there would be kind to me as long as I was good to them but that was not the case. Some people would not even return my repeated greetings. I didn't give up, though. I kept trying to engage them and many people ultimately accepted me as their friend.
Japan is a world leader in many areas, but definitely not in politics. Japan's contribution to the United Nations is a lot greater than the combined contributions by all permanent members, excluding the United States, yet Japan is still not part of the UN Security Council. It's time for Japan to start contributing only as much as other nations. If we do that, the UN would immediately ask Japan to be a Security Council member.
Going with the flow is easier than swimming against the tide. When I was living in Hong Kong I often went to mainland China on extended business trips and always stopped by the same coffee shop. They knew me well, yet every time the price of my coffee was different. It was like the stock exchange, up and down. I just followed their rules and haggled amicably instead of getting upset. I saw no reason to get mad at anything in China after I saw huge signs in the market warning vendors not to cheat children.
A woman can easily pick up any guy if she wants. I was taking a Mandarin class in Hong Kong and a Chinese girl was always talking to me during the breaks. One day she told the whole class that I had been calling her all the time and telling her how much I loved her — none of which was true. She then announced to the class that she had finally decided that she would date me. I was stunned because I was not attracted to her, but once I saw how bravely she fought for me, I actually became interested. We dated for about six months.
A hanko is a way to carry a loved one around. In olden times, when hanko were all hand carved and expensive, once someone's parents died, their hanko was inherited by their offspring, who would have the characters erased and their own name carved on the same seal. This way they could feel close to their ancestors and also get their help as they made their daily decisions. When you make your mark from your parents' seal, every time you use the hanko, you feel that it is not just your signature but theirs, too.
The birth of one's child is a spiritual experience not to be missed. I was present at my third child's birth, and the moment she was born is the highlight of my life. I was so proud of my wife and so overwhelmed with love and appreciation that the depth and power of my emotions completely shocked me. I didn't know I had such strong feelings.
Losing something can lead to gains that you would have never imagined even in your wildest dreams. When I flew to Prague with British Airways, they lost my luggage. I was free like a bird and roamed the streets aimlessly. It was great fun and by night I figured I should just sleep on a bench. I found a lovely one surrounded by statues and a fountain and slept on it till dawn. Since then in every country I experience the city in this very special way. If I don't see a bench, like in Beijing, I go for the asphalt and see how that feels. That time I ended up in police custody, where I chatted and played ping-pong with the cops all night long. Adventures like these sure beat staying at a luxury hotel.
Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's Out and About. Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/