How my grandparents met

It was love at first sight…

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I love the story about how my grandparents met. I think my family is full of very special and unique stories and because we are in Japan right now, I thought you might all enjoy a Japan-related post.

As I told you a few days ago, my grandfather was a Japanese Prisoner of War during WWII. He didn’t really tell anyone about his experiences, but we did know they weren’t good. He went from Changi Prison to help build the Bridge over the River Kwai. Most people went here to die and were tortured along the way.

My grandfather Albert tried to learn the local languages as well as Japanese. He became a translator for the Japanese guards by using his language skills. When he returned to the UK (after another stint working in Asia), he opened up a sweet shop in North London. It no longer exists now, but my father always points it out when we walk past where it once stood.

One day, a Japanese man walked through the door. Albert said “konnichiha” (hello) and after the man got over his surprise, the two men became friends. My grandfather then started teaching him English. Soon word got out and the man’s friends also started using Albert as their English teacher.

Many of my grandfather’s friends were horrified. They too had been Prisoners of War and hatred for the Japanese was not forgotten. There were not many Japanese people in London in those days and my grandfather lost many friends and connections by befriending the people from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Then one day, he met Yaeko.

They spent all their time together and got married just before I was born. They were inseparable. We would visit every weekend and for a while we even all lived together.

When Albert passed away a few years ago, Yaeko came to live with me for a while. She now resides back in Japan, but comes to England every summer and this year she will once again be visiting us in Berlin I hope! :)

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Why Japan?

I am turning Japanese…

222151_504614882803_6530_nEveryone always asks me “Why Japan”? And it seems only fair to tell you all as well, especially as we are there right now…

My grandfather Albert was a Japanese Prisoner of War (PoW) during World War Two. He was captured in the Far East and ended up at Changi Prison in Singapore. He was then transported by cattle trucks for several days by rail to Thailand to build the famous railway to Burma. He volunteered to learn the local languages, dabbling into Malay, Thai, Cantonese and Japanese and was used by his officers as a translator.

After his return to England, he studied Mandarin at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where I actually ended up studying Japanese myself many many years later. Then he returned to Asia, working in Malaysia for a few years, where my father was born and grew up.

After returning once more to London, his wife passed away and he met a Japanese lady called Yaeko. They were married before I was born, and to me, she will always be my grandmother. From birth, she taught me a few words of Japanese and cooked delicious Japanese food. My grandparents would have huge parties in their backyard and it felt like the whole Japanese population of London came and enjoyed summer evenings with us in that garden.

230901_504614962643_103_nAlongside this, I was brought up in West Acton, London – the Japanese neighbourhood of the UK. There is a Japanese school, which pushed Japanese people into the area and our neighbours were always from Japan. My first ever friend was called Megumi, from Tokyo, and I spent more time with my Japanese neighbours than with any of my other friends when I was little.

Then suddenly I was introduced to Mary-Grace Browning. She organises trips for grandchildren of PoW’s to go on trips to Japan, in order to bridge the gaps between the two countries. At first I was interested in a two-week fully-paid trip to eat real sushi and see Mt Fuji. When someone dropped out of an opportunity to live in Japan for 5 months with a host family and go to a local school… well… you know me… I just said yes. A few weeks later I was packing my bags and flying towards the Land of the Rising Sun.

It was a crazy experience – my hostfamily wanted me home at 5 o’clock – at first I thought they meant in the morning… but alas, my freedom of being an adult in London didn’t mean the same for this 18 year-old in Japan. My classmates were 16-17 years-old and very immature compared to back home. But as I adjusted and learnt the language and settled into my new home, I grew to love it more and more. I realised that for the first time in my life, I went home and opened a book to study. I had winged it through school, doing my homework on the bus and revising the day before a test. I didn’t really enjoy school or studying, but all of a sudden I found myself going home and retracing one letter of the Hiragana alphabet after another, for hours on end. When I said “Neko ga hashirimasu” (the cat runs) on my second evening to my host sister when we passed a running cat on an evening walk, even I couldn’t believe it.

When I got home to England, I ended up applying to study Japanese at SOAS, just like my grandfather. During my university studies I found myself studying in Kyoto for a year.

222301_504614972623_724_nI was poor but so happy, cycling around that beautiful city with all my new friends. It was a wonderful and very happy year. When I returned to finish my final year, I realised I wanted to go back to Japan once again.

This time I went back on the JET Programme as a Coordinator for International Relations. I was out in the sticks. A tiny little countryside town in the mountains. A beautiful town. With lots of very old people who were farmers.

226901_504614778013_4726_nThese three years were very different from before. Now I had money and could travel all over Japan as well as Asia. I had a respectable job and many opportunities were available. It was even where Jason and I officially met, alas for one evening only, but that’s another story.

At the end of my three years, I was tired. Being foreign and female is very hard in Japan. I have lots of stories to tell you about those crazy years, but they have yet to be written. For now, I just wanted to explain why I love Japan so much and how it influenced my life. I would never have imagined I would be there again right now, in a place so foreign and alien and yet it always feels like I’ve come back home…

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Friday Links

I want to fly away…

izakaya

So, it’s going to be a Japanese themed Friday Linkies today, because we are off to Japan! OMG – could not be more excited!!

One of our loveliest friends got married a while back. She lived in Japan for many years and went to the same university as I did. She got married last month and another friend of ours wrote about the little Japanese touches that were found at her wedding – lovely ideas!

If you are in London, for the whole of July you can eat at this pop-up Japanese restaurant – YES!!!

Amazing news! The BBC in Japanese! A great way for us all to study Japanese as well as keep up-to-date with the news in the world – let’s hope it starts soon!

 

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Weltmeister!!

We are the champions…

Yey – I have to say we got swept up in the World Cup fever last night. It’s hard not to…

Jason’s parents arrived during the first half… tense moments in the airport. It was hilarious as usually there is a huge push and shove to get to the gates to wait excitedly for your loved ones. But last night, no one was even looking in that direction – all eyes were on the match.

photo 1 (2)We grabbed our guests and rushed into the centre of town to a bar. Even the train tickers were telling us it was still 0-0. We rushed…

photo 3 (1)It was weird. Normally, a load of people drinking would mean a chatty bar. However, it was silent. Not a word. Everyone was watching, barely drinking their beer. And it was a boring match. BORING!

When it went on and on I have to say I was just hoping for a goal from anyone, so we could go home. It was nothing like the giggles of a week earlier when there was one goal after the other. Ah well.

And then… Germany scored in extra time. Just in time as well. The bar literally erupted! Fog horns, whistles, screams, hugs… it was wild! Some guys literally ran outside to set off fireworks, the car horns blared, breaking the silence of the night. Everyone was on the streets, dancing, singing, running around with flags in jubilation! It was such a giggle.

photo 1 (3)If you want to see how wild Berlin was, check out this link.

This morning we had Weltmeister Brotchen (World Champion bread buns) to celebrate. Congratulations Germany – you definitely deserved it :)

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Germany in the World Cup Final

Deutschland über alles…

Well, today is the big day. Germany is in the World Cup Final. I have to say that the general games have been very irritating for me. So to watch Brazil get thrashed felt wonderful. The South American teams “football” attempts have been full of “falls”, “stumbles” and “injuries”. Their exit of the World Cup showed that actually playing as a team and by the rules is the way to victory and it made me want to support Germany. I know, I know, I never thought I’d say it. I feel like my British passport will be revoked or I won’t be let back in at customs, but Germany played amazingly and it was a pleasure to watch the match.

Plus, being in Germany adds a little to the excitement. I had to rush home to watch the match after work. It was eerie, there was not a soul on the streets. Not a car on the road. I was the only person in the whole train. It was so quiet and still. A little creepy in fact. And then BANG BANG BANG – they scored. I heard the screams from the bars outside echoing in the station. Fog horns blared and car horns everywhere beeped like crazy. Every goal sent hundreds of fireworks into the sky. It was hard not to get excited and wish for more goals.

Let’s hope tonight’s match is just as exciting!brazil

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