Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Wind Phone; a sad story as an English lesson

The National Public Radio program "This American Life" produced a touching story dealing with the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and the Tohoku disaster. The story records very personal glimpses of grieving among tsunami survivors from a small town that was badly hit by the disaster. The program has been repeated on air and is available on the internet.

Below is a transcription of the program. This material is designed to be used as an educational aid when English to small groups of high level students. I have found that it work well with small adult classes.

The audio includes the original Japanese audio from the featured survivors along with English translations.
The original story was reported by NHK before it was adapted for the American radio program.

Included is a QR code which will direct you to the iTunes website that hosts the podcast recording from This American.

“One last thing before I go” - Part 1: “Really Long Distance”
Aired 9/29/2016 on This American Life, from the NPR network.
Listen to the story. Underline new vocabulary words.
The quotes in the story are in Japanese, so listen again and you can hear a hint to some of the English phrases.
➀        The 3/11 Tsunami in Japan        
So remember that tsunami that hit Japan 5 years ago?
March 2011, giant black waves more than 30 feet tall hit Japan.
A guy in a little town called Otsuchi shot this video. You can hear him yelling, “All the houses are washing away!”
Otsuchi had been there for a hundred years, in 30 minutes it was gone. Almost totally flattened. The tsunami and the earthquake that went with it, killed 6 times more people than died in 9/11. Over 19,000 people. Another 2500 are still missing.
In the aftermath, of course, families struggled to figure out how they were going to move forward without the people they loved.
In that town of Otsuchi it lead to this new… I don’t know. “Ritual” is not the right word, but it is something close to that. This thing that people invented to stay connected to the dead.
One of our producers, Miki Meek, has family in Japan and she grew up moving between here and there. And she watched this documentary about this thing that people were doing in Otsuchi on the Japanese news channel NHK and got permission for us to play you some excerpts.
Here is Miki:
➁        Miki Meek with Otsuchi
Of all the areas in Japan affected by the tsunami, Otsuchi has one of th highest numbers of missing people; 421.Today it’s still partly in ruins and partly a construction site as they try to rebuild the town on higher gound.
But a year before the tsunami happened, this guy, named Itaru Sasachi was already dealing with a loss. His cousin had just died and Itaru was having a hard time figuring out how to talk about it.
 So he did something pretty ingenious. He went out and bought an old fashioned phone booth and stuck it in his garden. It looks like an old English style one. It is square and painted white and has these glass window panes. Inside is a black rotary phone. Rusting on a wood shelf. This phone connected to nowhere. It didn’t work at all. But that didn’t matter to Itaru. He just needed a place where he felt he could talk to his cousin. A place where he could air out his grief.   So putting an old phone booth in his garden, which is on this windy little hill overlooking the Pacific ocean. It felt like a perfect solution.
He is saying. “Because my thoughts could not be relayed over a regular phone line. I wanted them to be carried on the wind.” So he named it the wind telephone. “Kaze no denwa.”
The idea of keeping up a relationship with the dead is not such a strange one in Japan. The line between our world and their world is thin. Lots of families keep a Buddhist altar for their dead relatives in the living room. My uncle has one for our family. There are photos on a little platform and everyday he leaves fresh fruit and rice for them, lights incense and rings a bell. It’s a way to stay in touch. Let them know they are still a big part of our family.
So after the tsunami and earthquake happened, word got out about Itaru’s special wind telephone. That he he was using it as another way to stay connected to the dead.
Soon people started showing up randomly on his property and walking right into the phone booth.
This has been going on for 5 years now. Itaru estimates that thousands of people from all over Japan have come to use his phone. A TV station asked Itaru if they could videotape their calls from a distance and put an audio recorder in the phone booth.They wanted to get a sense of how people are still grieving.
I watched their documentary after the fifth anniversary of the tsunami back in March. That whole week all the news programs in Japan were airing memorial programs.
But I found the calls in this particular program, remarkable and moving for just how simple they were.
        Grandma and grandkids
One woman from Otsuchi, named Tsuchiko Okawa, showed up one afternoon.
She is 71 years old and lost her husband in the tsunami.
She regularly brings her two young grandsons to the phone booth and you can tell by how casually they talk to him on the phone.
They smoosh into the phone booth with their grandma, wearing matching blue and black striped shirts.
Tsuchiko starts the call by picking up the receiver and saying “hello.”
Her oldest grandson quickly jumps in
“Hi grandpa. How are you? I’ll be in fourth grade next semester. Wasn’t that fast?”
“Daina, my younger brother will be in second grade next year.”
The Tsuchiko corrects him. She say “no, Daina will be in second grade this year. Not next.”
“Yeah, this year.”
A lot of. Alls were just like this. Straightforward updates about life. The kind of quick highlights reel you might give to any family member you were catching up with on the phone.
The boy then tells his grandpa,“Grandma is fine too.”
I’m giving the phone to Daina now. Daina, his little brother, grabs the phone.
“Grandpa, I finished all my homework.”
Sachiko urges him to keep talking.
He says, “everyone is doing fine.” Then he hangs up. Everyone says “goodbye.”
As they are walking out of the booth Daina says, “maybe grandpa will say he heard us.”
➃        The fisherman’s wife        
In another call a woman in a puffy winter jacket, with a fur-lined hood, shows up at the booth by herself.
Her name is Kikue Hirano and she is 66. She used to live in Otsuchi but she moved away after she lost her house and her husband in the tsunami. Her husband was a deep sea fisherman, his name was Miyoji and they used to talk and drink sake together at night.
Now Kikue lives alone, about 50 miles away.
But sometimes Kikue finds herself driving back to Otsuchi and to this booth.
I watched her do this thing that a lot of callers seem to do; you hear Kikue actually dialing the rotary phone, saying some numbers to herself: “425744.”
She is dialing the phone number for her old house in Otsuchi. The last place she knew to reach her husband.
Then Kikue just stands in the booth in silence, holding the phone to her ear.
Sometimes she fidgets around and tilts her head up and concentrates on the ceiling. The same way I do when I wanna cry but I’m trying hard not to. It doesn't work.
Kikue brushes some tears off her face
Eventually, she hangs up.
She lingers in the booth a little longer, hands clasped together in front of her.
Staring at the phone booth door. She walks out.
➄        The farmer
One pattern that the owner of the phone booth, Itaru, has noticed over the years is that more men than women come to use it.
Not surprisingly, this is not a demographic that's known for sharing their feelings. Especially the older farmers. They already have a reputation for not talking much.
In one of the phone calls recorded in winter. A man with grey hair and a little towel hanging around his neck walks into the garden. This kind of towel is part of the uniform of Japanese farmers. They use them to wipe away sweat and clean their hands.
This man opens the telephone booth door.
And under his breathe, you hear him say; “huh, so this is the wind telephone.”
This appears to be his very first visit to the phone booth.
He lost his oldest son in the tsunami, his son’s name was Nobuyuki.
He also lost his house and had to move into temporary housing with his wife. And recently she got sick and also passed away.
He calls her okasan. It means mom in japanese. It is what everyone in the family calls the female head of the house. Even the husband.
It is a very intimate, loving term.
“Hello. Nobuyuki? Is mom with you? Sorry to ask this. Take care of her and your grandma and grandpa too. Mom? I will come again, okay? Mom. I’ll be back. Bye.”
He uses the towel around his neck to wipe his eyes.
➅        Love
One of the things that makes these calls so poignant to me is all the understated ways that people are actually saying “I love you” and “I miss you.”
I never say something so direct like that in Japanese. It’s just not done.
I have only seen people say it in the soap operas. “Aishiteru.” Even saying that right now, feels weird. I have never said that to my mom or my grandparents.
➆        “I’m so lonely”
Take this call. It’s winter. The phone booth is surrounded by snow.
“Hello? Mom? Where are you.”
He is an older man wearing a baseball cap. He also calls his wife “mom.”
His wife, daughter and mother, they all went missing in that tsunami.
It’s so cold. But, you’re not getting cold are you? Are grandma and our daughter, Yuki, with you too? Come back soon. Be found soon. Everyone is waiting for you.
I’ll build a house in the same place. Eat something. Anything.
Just be alive somewhere, anywhere. I’m so lonely.
He never says I love you directly.
➇        Feelings
Real feelings are communicated through small gestures. Especially ones of concern. Like when he asks his wife “are you staying warm? Are you eating?” And then promising “I’ll build a house for us.” These are total heartfelt declarations of love.
For other men the phone booth is a place where they can finally say their complicated feelings out loud. They can voice their regrets. Anyone who has had someone close to them die, knows this feeling.
Like I have kept having the same one way conversation with my dad, in my head, ever since he passed away last year. I just keep telling him all the situation where I wish I had been kinder, more patient.
➈        The father
One call I watched was from a young father with rectangle glasses and a long black jacket.
He lost his family; both parents, a wife named Mine and a one year-old son named Ise.
“Dad? Mom? Mine? Ise? It has already been 5 years since the disaster.
If this voice reaches you, please listen.
Sometimes I don’t know what I am living for.
Ise, please let me hear you call me ‘papa.’
Even though I built a new house...
Dad, mom, Mine and Ise without all of you it is meaningless. I want to hear your reply but I can’t hear anything.”
He takes off his glasses and covers his eyes with his hands.
“I'm sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you.”
➉        “Shinpai shinai” and “ganbatteru”        
There’s a couple of phrases I heard callers tell the dead again and again.
“Shinpai shinai,” “don’t worry about us” and “ganbatteru” which basically means “I’m doing my very best” “I’m enduring.”
In Japan, “ganbatteru,” it's a catch all slogan for slogging through all of life's many challenges. No matter how tiny and vague. From trying to pass a test at school to grieving. You hear it all the time for everything.
In the phone booth, ganbatte and shinpai shinai. These are key phrases to reassure the dead that the living, the people left behind, that they are doing okay. Even if they are not. People don't want to worry Or burden their loved ones. Even dead loved ones. Because most Japanese are Buddhists and generally believe that when someone dies they are not suddenly relieved of all their earthly concerns. They are not automatically in heaven; happy and carefree.
Many people believe that if the dead see a family member suffering they can't let go of their earthly life. They hesitate to cross to the other side and end up stuck in a no man's land.
⓫        Rin Kazaki, a student (15)
I heard these reassurances in a call from a 15 year old kid named Rin Kozaki, to his dad.
He arrived at the phone booth after spending 4 hours on public transportation by himself.
Rin lives in a city much farther north that wasn’t affected as much by the tsunami.
But his dad was a truck driver, who drove all over Japan. And in a last minute schedule change he got sent on a route that took him along the coast when the tsunami hit. He has been missing ever since.
Rin went into the phone booth wearing a red backpack. And what he does in this call, you hear him signaling to his dad that it’s okay, he should keep moving on into the afterworld.
“Dad... the four of us are doing fine. We are ‘ganbatteru.’ You don't need to worry about us, ‘shinpaishinai.’
Dad, are you doing okay?
I do have one question I want to ask you. Why did you die? Why did it have to be you, dad? Why just me?
I’ve always wondered…’why am I the only one who is… different from everyone else?’
Where are you now.
Why did you die? Why did it have to be just me?
Anyways, please be found quickly. Where are you now?
I wanted to talk with you again.”
Rin left the booth. In late February he he came back with his entire family. His mom, younger brother and sister. They all drove down to Otsuchi together.
And when they got to the phone booth At first they kind of awkwardly hung out in front it. So, to break the ice Rin walks into the phone booth and says, “I brought everyone with me today. Bye”
When Rin walks out his family laughs. They say “that was so fast!”
Rin shoots back, “It was just a quick report to dad, that I brought everyone with me today.”
⓫B        Rin’s sister
Next up are Rin’s little brother and sister who are 12 and 14 years old.
They go into the booth together. And the sister is talking and laughing nervously.
“What am I supposed to say? What should I tell him?
Wait! Wait! Wait! Don’t leave me alone in here!”
The sister picks up the phone. And let me just say, the mom told the film crew that this is a girl who has not said a single word about her dad to anyone since he went missing 5 years ago.
So she picks up the phone and starts to cry.
She asks her brother again; “what should I talk to him about?
The little brother’s name is Riku and he tells her, “say what you wanted to tell him.”
She says “are you trying to make me laugh Riku?”
Riku says, “No, I am not.”
Then she finally starts talking to her dad.
The conversation is all over the place and she is crying so hard she can barely talk.
“Dad, I’m so sorry I always used to say you were stinky. What happened to your promise to buy me a violin? Now I have to buy one myself.
Her little brother who sticks close to her. He encourages her to keep going. He says, “what else?”
So she tells her dad, “I started tennis in junior high school. I’m not in the top eight. I want to be in the top eight in our last tournament. Please cheer for me.”
“I got hooked on this boy band,the Johnnys, when I was in my first year of junior high. I’m still hooked.”
They both say “goodbye.”
⓫C        Rin’s mom
        They come out of the booth together. Now it's the moms turn. Her kids tell her “iterashai” (have a good trip). Her kids tell her “have a good trip. Good luck.”
Rin, the oldest, bows and waves to her.
She walks up in, picks up the phone and gives out a big sigh.
“Where should I start? I feel like you are still alive, somewhere. We had so many things we wanted to do together.
“Over the phone we always said to each other: ‘Are you alive? Yes, I’m alive.’ “
It was our password between the two of us, wasn’t it?
“I can't ask you that anymore.
Come back. We, all four of us together, we will all be waiting. Bye.”
After she comes out the family lingers outside the phone booth for a while.
This was literally the first time they all talked about their dad together since the tsunami happened five years ago.
⓫D        Rin’s brother
The youngest, Riku, sat quietly on a bench, with his head in his hands.
The night before his dad disappeared they went to a public bath together.
His mom and older siblings tell him, “Riku you don't need to keep your feelings in. Go ahead and cry when you want to.”
Rin, the oldest, gently teases him. “See, you can’t stop crying.”
Mom says “yeah, but... he held back until now. It's okay, because you held back and endured until now.”
“We were so broken.”
The sister then hands Riku her handkerchief.
The mom says to her kids, “We were all about to fall apart. We were so broken. We didn’t think we could make it through. Maybe that’s why we never talked about dad until now.”
“But talking to him on the phone today, it changed something.”
Miki Meek is one of the producers of our program.
Thanks to NHK Sendai who recorded all of this and shared it with us.
Flattened  ぺちゃんこ
Missing  ゆくえふめい
“In the after math” あとしょり
Figure out あぼしgつく
ritual ぎしき
permisssion きょか
(to) air out ~ / reveal, express もらす
in ruins / ruined
(to) have a hard time
てこずる, えらいいめにあう
Ingenious こうみょう
Excerpt(s) しょうしゅつ
Rusting はつせい
(to) not matter といません
“The dead” = dead people
grief なげき、ひたん
Pacific Ocean たいへいよう
Buddhist altar ぶつだん
incense おこう
Stay in touch
“word got out”
~become famous/known
Slogging / to struggle
Remarkable けんちょ
regularly きまって
smoosh ひしめきあう
Straightforward たんてき
Estimate がいさん
Overlooking ふかん
Catching up - sharing news
Show(s) up すがたをあらわす
Move(d) away ひきはらう
Fisherman りょうし
Concentrate on~ 気を入れる
Fidget  そわそわ
Ceiling てんじょう
tear(s) なみだ
To linger(s) ねばる
Encourage はげます、ゆうきつ”ける
stare/ staring みつめる
Reputation せひょう
excerpts しょうしゅつ
Pass(ed) away 死ぬ
Intimate こころやすい
Poignant せつじつ
Understate ひかえにいう
Weird へん
Found みつかる
Alive いき
Meaningless いみない
Vague あいまい
Wipe away~/ wipe off~
Carefree のんき
suffer(ing) くるしむ
Hesitate ためらう
Last minute どろなわしき
Ever since それいらい
Break the ice / start talking
To stick close べっとり
Burden てすうをかける
Hooked on うつつをぬかす
Sigh といき
Literally もじどおり
Clasped にぎる