A Japanese Shaggy Dog Story
by audrey lavin
Academic studies of U.S.-Japanese relations examine the aggression sometimes found in Japan’s history, politics, economics, and religions, but fall short when they fail to include in their examinations the popular texts used to teach English. Some of these school books are rife with unexplored areas of hostility to U. S. values and much that we as clean, decent, dog-loving people stand for.
Perhaps the texts are following the anti-canine tradition noted by Orientalist and author William Elliot Griffis when in 1882 he wrote, “In Japan, dogs are held in very little honor except the ‘chin’ or Japanese spaniel.” Earlier, Scottish naturalist Robert Fortune had written of dogs in Japan, “It was not unusual to meet with wretched specimens in a half-starved condition and covered with loathsome disease.”
Casual observation, though, shows us that all dogs were not created equal. In fact, the six related breeds of the Japanese dog, Nihon Ken, (Shiba Inu, Shikoku Inu, Kishu Inu, Kai Inu, Hokkaido Inu, and Akita Inu) have been named National Treasures and Cultural Monuments of Japan.
It is still possible that contemporary Japanese leaders who first studied English at Japanese schools in the 80s and 90s were indoctrinated with hate and fear of the best-friend relationships cherished by Americans. If we look into one textbook from that period, we see that examples abound. Here are some from Modern English: An Oral Approach-Book 7:
Jill has three dogs on her hands.
Jack was really mad when he saw the dogs.
Both the cocker spaniel and the Dalmatian bit Jack.
Maybe Jack smells funny or something.
Ten other references to people being bitten by dogs or strongly disliking them can be found in this 138-page textbook, published by Seido Language Institute. The lessons ask students to repeat practice sentences such as, “I can’t stand dogs” and “Jack threatened the dog.”
Even the fictive teacher demonstrates an anti-canine bias in her textual conversational gambits that usually combine grammar lessons with pedagogical advice, such as, “You’ll never learn English if you don’t practice.” She follows her sentence, “They’d better get tickets now or they’ll miss the concert,” with the sudden and uncalled for outburst, “I’ll kill that dog if you don’t get it out of here.”
What is the effect of this indoctrination? And does Modern English intentionally foster aggression toward only Western breeds such as the cocker spaniels and Dalmatians mentioned in the text?
Maybe the Japanese students and the anonymous writers of their school book remember our conflicted past. Maybe dogs are used somewhat metaphorically.
Or, just maybe, Jack does smell funny.
An Ordinary (?) Life
by Fred Perlman
Whether it was a big break, a small break, or in-between, I thought the coincidence of my being a witness to this event was remarkable.
In a lifetime, how many change of life events like this do you see, right before your eyes?
Dear members of the Friendship Baptist Church of Pasadina, California. I am Biloine (Billie) Young and I have been looking for the Rev. Marvin Robinson for many years. Here is the story:
In 1951 my husband , George P. Young, and I were hitch-hiking from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Mexico. My husband, George, had just completed a graduate degree, we had been married only a year and were not yet ready to settle down. We had enough money to live for the summer but not much else. I had spent the year prior to my marriage to George in Europe but we could not afford to go there. He had been in Europe during the war in the Navy. I had also spent a summer, while in college, in Mexico, so we decided to go there – and to hitch hike to save money.
We were unlikely hitch-hikers. George wore a white shirt and good slacks, I wore a dress. We had a 16mm movie camera with us and a tripod – as well as our back-packs. In 1951 there were no throughways – just narrow two- lane roads and it took a long time to get anywhere. We were in Louisiana, I believe, after about 3 or 4 days of non-stop hitch-hiking, when a well dressed black man in a late model car stopped for us. There was good matched luggage in the rear. In the front seat with him was an elderly and obviously poor white couple. George and I tumbled into the back seat and immediately fell sound asleep. We woke up when the driver stopped to let the elderly couple out and then he invited us to join him in the front seat.
We introduced ourselves. The driver was the pastor of a Baptist church in the Chicago area and he was driving to a conference in Texas. We found we had a lot to talk about. After a time we became hungry and suggested that we stop for something to eat. George and I always bought the breakfasts or lunches for the people who picked us up. Marvin explained that, in the south, the only way he could get food from a café was to go to the back door. He refused to do that so he fasted when driving in the South. We compromised. When we came to a roadside restaurant, Marvin drove a little way past it. George stayed in the car with him while I walked back to buy us sandwiches and beverages. By this time the three of us had bonded.
Some time later Marvin asked if we would mind going off the road to visit the mother of one of his parishioners who lived in a “dog-trot” cabin about 20 miles off the highway. She would be thrilled to meet her son’s pastor. We were delighted, so we turned off on this dirt road, found the cabin, found the woman. We pumped water from a well and had a cool drink from a tin cup that hung on the well handle. On the way back toward the highway Marvin’s car began to develop a flat tire and just ahead was a rural gas station. Marvin turned to George and said, “ This is your car and I am your driver.” We barely grasped what he meant but the car rolled into the station and we all got out.
No one there moved. Men in overalls leaned against the wall of the garage and did not move or speak. I had never felt such hostility and hatred in my life. It took my husband a long time to convince the men standing around to change the tire. They finally did it. George paid, and then we had enough sense to get into the back of the car while Marvin got in behind the wheel. When we reached the highway Marvin stopped again, invited us back into the front set with him and said, “ If you had not been with me, I would not have come out of there alive.” We both believed him.
Before we finally parted company, later that day , we clasped hands and Marvin offered a fervent prayer for our safety on our trip to Mexico. And we prayed for his.
As it turned out we went beyond Mexico to Guatemala and then to Colombia – returning permanently to the United States in 1958. George corresponded for a time with Marvin and he sent us an article he wrote about the Cicero, Illinois race riots. On a trip home a year or two later, George and I were driving ( in our own car by now) and wanted to stop in Chicago to visit Marvin. We called to ask if we could come but he said he would rather we did not, His wife, he explained, felt threatened by his friendship with Whites, and he did not want her to be upset. Perhaps she feared for him picking up hitch-hikers. In any event, we never communicated again. But we never forgot the brave, humanitarian gentlemen we knew for one day of our lives. I have wanted to find him for some time and be sure his children knew how he lived his life.
My husband, Dr. George P. Young, went on to have a distinguished career in education – and was superintendent of schools in St. Paul, Minnesota for many years before his death in 1991. I am a writer of non-fiction books and live in St. Paul.
I would greatly appreciate your putting me in contact with Marvin Robinson’s children. My only intent is to pass on the story of one day in his life recounted above. Many thanks. Biloine [Billie] Young
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