Japan in the Seventies

Recently, I have been trying to get back into a routine of studying Japanese. I thought I could do with a bit of a grammar refresher course and had a look in my book cupboard. I was sure I must have bought some Japanese books at some point in my life.

I did indeed find a grammar book. It was not one I remember buying, and the date of its publication would suggest I hadn’t been the purchaser. It was first printed in 1973. My edition was the eleventh printing and came out in 1984. ‘Well,’ I thought, ‘grammar doesn’t change that quickly. I’ll give it a go.’ 

The book is called Japanese Grammar and was written by Hideichi Ono, who, it would appear, was an Assistant Professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, a lecturer at Takachiho College of Commerce, and a lecturer at the Association for Overseas Technical Scholarship.

On the back of the book, on his blurb if you will, he promises, ‘the vocabulary, phrases, and sentences contained in the sections drill and exercise in each lesson are practical ones, which the author has specially chosen to enable foreigners to use them correctly…’ He also states that the book is for beginners or those wishing to study at a more advanced level. It sounded perfect for what I wanted. And then I began reading. I soon discovered that Mr Ono`s  idea of practical lessons are far removed from mine . So far removed, in fact, that I am fascinated to discover what life in Japan must have been like for an Assistant Professor in the seventies and eighties.

I first suspected that Mr Ono might be a tad peculiar when I read his sentences designed to show the sentence patterns one might use when employing ni arimasu or ni imasu. They were written in Japanese, but Mr Ono had thoughtfully provided English translations. Here are the first and fourth examples: ‘A patient, semi-paralysed from a wound in his back bone, lies on the bed next to me,’ and, ‘The two-storied foreign-style government sanatorium with yellow walls is on a hill in Meguro commanding a fine view.’

And to think, I almost skipped the early part of the book believing that iru and aru hold no problems for me.

I turned the page and found, ‘I myself would not lead an intemperate life but there are some who waste their energies in dissipation.’ I think I’ll give that one a go down the izakaya tonight.

You can open the book at random and find similar gems. This is on page 199: ‘She had a quarrel with her husband and rushed out of the house. Holding a baby in her arms, she already might have lost her life on a railway track somewhere.’ Well, I tried that one out when my neighbour asked if I’d seen young Mrs Kono of late and, to be honest, he looked at me a bit funny. And lord only knows what was on Mr Ono’s mind when he saw the need for this: ‘She wept upon the pillow after her slender back trembled.’

The book is completely full of these ‘practical examples’. I might not be getting much better at grammar but I am enjoying it immensely!


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10 Responses to Japan in the Seventies

  1. Marie says:

    This is HILARIOUS 😀
    Honestly now, Mr. Ono should seek the help of a therapist!

  2. Nomad says:

    I hope you enjoy the izakaya, but not so much that you end up semi-paralyzed with a severely wounded stomach in the yellow-walled sanatorium while weeping upon Mr Ono’s shoulder. I wonder if he’s still around? PS: I’ve been lurking on your blog for a while. I really enjoy reading it.

  3. Mr. S. says:

    Consider this: Japan’s English textbook are written by the same tools without personal skills, or foreign experience, but excellent at the memorization of irrelevancies!

  4. Jeffrey says:

    “1970s”? Try the 1920s. “Dissipation”? That’s very much a term/concept from between the wars. Ono-senseis probably took equal pleasures in the literature of Tanizaki and Maughm.

    I would imagine that most English speaking Japanese had a better command of the language then (Taisho-jidai) than they do today. It really is no exaggeration to say that the advent of television and, in particular, television advertizing, has devalued both the written and spoken word in general, regardless of the language.

  5. judi(togainunochi) says:

    Once again. you have me laughing to the point of tears. Thanks for sharing and I hope my not so slender back will not tremble. 🙂

  6. Iuri says:

    Hi, I understand this comment is very old, but I hope you can answer a question of mine. I might have the opportunity to buy this book for a good price, I tried to search the whole internet for a review but couldn’t find one, so I wanted to ask: Would you recommend for someone who wants to enforce his knowledge of Japanese grammar to read this book?

  7. No, Iuri, I wouldn’t. It is very out of date, and there are lots of much better books out there.

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