Homesick in a Huge Country

Late last year I made my way to Canada for some telemark skiing, and I have just returned home to Japan. Before this trip my travels had only been in Asia, so my arrival in Canada marked my first steps in the Americas.

When I first got there, I was surprised to hear a young guy say he had seen the ocean for the first time just two months before. Apparently, for people living in Canada’s interior, going to the ocean is quite a journey; it made me realize how blessed I am to live on the long, thin islands that constitute Japan.

If you’re in search of forests and powder, then off to the north of Japan you go, while oceans and sun-drenched kayaking are to the south. I’m thankful to live in Kanagawa where both extremities are a short three hours away by airplane.

Having been born deaf, for me the process of gathering information can be a pain. Someone offering to sell a used car or share an apartment usually just provides a contact phone number. Aside from the fact that deaf people like me prefer to communicate via e-mail, I would think people places ads would be more comfortable giving away their e-mail address than phone number.

Luckily, I was introduced to a Japanese person living in Vancouver who would make phone calls on my behalf, thus allowing me to follow up with an e-mail. How in the world did deaf folks get by in the past without e-mail and faxes? Just letters? Intuition, perhaps?

Of the Japanese I meet, many said it was easier to “converse” with me via a memo pad in Japanese than struggle their way through spoken English with people in Canada. Interestingly, I was told that, because sign-language is grammatically similar to English, English-speaking Japanese tend to pick up sign-language quite quickly.

The conversation led to some interesting questions; such as, “How do you express past tense?” or “What about interrogative form?” Indeed, these were questions not often asked in Japan. Upon showing the signs for both past tense and interrogative form, everyone quickly recognized the different uses, and the conversation left me feeling refreshed.