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Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Letter From Noboko

Let's step back a week or two... in 1993... back to a letter written by my girlfriend Noboko to myself on August 28th and received by me in Toronto sometime after I arrived back from Japan three weeks later...

Well, yeah... I had to come back to Toronto after... it was only a three-week vacation after all... further plans regarding our relationship would be made depending on the success of that mission.

I love her, and she me. Her mother and father want her to get married, sure, but her mother wants her to be happy as well. Her father is not keen on her being involved with a foreigner, as that 'stink' could wipe out his plans for world-domination and future job promotion within the Japanese education fraternity. Noboko is unsure if she should marry me and hurt her father, or hurt myself and herself and agree to the maniacal  whims of Japanese society. After three years in Japan, my contract with the JET Programme was up... I had to leave my home in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken and return to Toronto, Canada. Before I received this letter, I was already winging my way back to Noboko in Japan.

There... we're all up to date with the recap, so... 

Here's what Noboko wrote:

Dear Andrew

O.K. Let me try to explain the poem I told you on the phone. It's written on the postcard with a sketch of weeds (Andrew here: I have no idea what that means, but there was no postcard in this letter).

I = Weeds

"Because I'm small (little?), I'm trod.
Because I'm frail, I can't be broken in two.
Even if someone treads upon me, then if I have time I can rise slowly looking up at the sky."

I don't know if you understand it all and I don't know if I understand all of it myself. I guess this poem is quite Japanese.

As my way of thinking - I think - it says that ... when times get rough, don't complain to anyone else. Don't be disappointed in yourself. Take time and raise yourself slowly...

I think it's a good idea to be aggressive for taking a chance. And, it's also important to have patience.

I know many friends who are aggressive, but few friends who have real patience.

For myself, I'm easy to grumble.

That's why I love this poem.

What do you think of it?

My mother and I, by chance, talked about senility.

She said, "I want your father to live long."

To be honest, I didn't believe in love of husband and wife... especially the love between my parents, because I know of their life. (I'll tell you about it later - maybe).

Do you know? In Japanese, we have two words that express love. These are Koi and Ai - look up these words in your dictionary.

Maybe they have the same meaning in English.

I've been thinking about the difference between them... wow... it's really difficult.

My brain seems to be 'natto'. This expression is used in confusing situations.

Good expression, eh?

I should turn in now.

Oh! Do you miss natto? You can eat as much as you want soon.

I miss, Andrew!

Love Noboko.

I love finding things like this letter... hidden away for decades... and poof... just when I need it... proof positive that someone loved me like this.

It's nice to know... to be reminded of.

Patience versus aggression? 

I have patience... but how much patience must one have before aggressively going after what they want? I'm not Japanese, but Noboko is... so for her... I am patient.

Me heading right back to Japan one month later after three years there? That's not very patient... but it's me showing her that I'm not going to let our love fade away - at least not without a fight. 

Considering English isn't her first language, and aside from myself and the students she taught... how would she develop such a fine sense of humor in another language?


She knows I used to eat natto - just to prove that a gaijin (outsider/foreigner) could eat a food that even most Japanese find repulsive, owing to its consistency, smell and looks. Natto, if you will recall, is rotting/fermented soy beans.

So... her joke... it has multiple meanings... a warning to me not to eat natto... or simply that she misses Andrew, and not the confusion I bring to her.

Just a brilliant turn of phrase that I only fully 'get' now in 2015.

I only wish I had received this letter BEFORE I went back to Japan in early September!

Now (2015) as then (1993), (I assume), I pulled out my Japanese to English dictionary to check the definitions of Koi (恋) & Ai ((愛).

It's the same wonderful book! However, both definitions merely state the translation to be 'love'.

I can't recall if I went a little further to see if there's a subtle difference, but 2015 me did.

The word 'ai' is used to refer to love of friends or family.

The word 'koi' is used for your true love.

The 2015 me NOW and only NOW understands that Noboko was trying to determine which love was more important to her.

Ai or Koi.
Ai-yi-yi! Don't be coy, love... which love do you mean for me? Ha! It's koi, of course.

But which way will it turn out for her?

Stay tuned.

Andrew Joseph


  1. Hey dude I keep reading your "Noboko and Andrew" posts, but could you maybe group them together somewhere? It's a big ask, I know, but I'd like to start from the beginning :) thanks ( even if you don't do it)!

  2. Hi... yeah... a big task - I think. To be honest... I'm unsure how to do it... I mean, YES, I can gather them all easily enough... that's not the problem... the problem is how to present it.
    ONE giant blog release? OR... when I'm done... re-release them individually on another blog I create?
    In the mean time... JUST under the Rife photo of the tree and bridge at the top... there's a white line... a search bar.
    If you were to type in Noboko, perhaps all possible blogs would show up? I have no idea... it's supposed to.... type in your search word and hit Enter... not 'Search'...
    Hmmmm it worked for me... try that.
    Thanks for reading and asking.
    I've always said... as long as there's ONE reader, I'll keep writing.

    1. Hey dude, thanks for responding! Yeah.. I should have tried that first before asking. Silly me. Thanks again!

  3. No worries... it's not exactly something that STANDS out. I wasn't even sure it worked!

  4. So is Noboko your wife? I'm new to your blog and I'm a bit confused about your love story... or is it a romance fiction you write? Or should I just keep reading? XD

    And one more thing... Noboko doesn't seem to be in good English. At least not as good as a native speaker. How come that in your description she is good at language?
    Anyway, love your story. :)

    1. Hi bonbon2 - thank-you for all the comments! It is much appreciated. No... Noboko is not really as good as a native speaker - but she's close. Or as close as I was going to find in Ohtawara! LOL! Perhaps I have pumped up that aspect of her abilities! Still, her comprehension was excellent, with only a few words needing to be explained by my self.... I just did a crossword - and certainly wondered at some of the English words I had to use, so not being perfect, it's easy for me to give her that level of English ability.
      Is this fiction?
      No. This all really did happen to me and her.
      Is it a love story? Yes, I suppose it is.
      Should you keep reading to see what happens? I hope so.
      Writing about this part of my time with Noboko is both inspiring and difficult, because I see (NOW) all of the struggles we had to overcome... but did we? Did one of lose faith or hope? Or, does love conquer all?
      You know what? With regards to my time in Japan, there... well, that would be spoiling everything... :) Thanks again, bonbon2.