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2017.11.01 Old: Our guest from Japan

Halloween signals the arrival of guests from the east. Every year at this time, there are a few guests from Japan spending a few days with their host families and getting a taste of American life. Twenty years ago, we had a visitor at our house.

By DAVID GREEN

Ah-hah! Ben is vindicated. Exonerated. Innocent of any odd statements made regarding the Japanese and snakes.

Colleen told the story of Ben’s attempt to get selected for a Japanese exchange program. In the interview process, when he was asked why he wanted to go to Japan, he tried to come up with something different than what everybody else had said.

That’s when he started talking about how the Japanese eat snakes. He saw it on a National Geographic show, and thought he’d like to check that out in person. 

The Japanese person at the interview had never heard such a thing and said, “Must be China.”

Ben figured he was sunk right then and there, but he did get selected and we had our young Japanese visitor over the weekend. That was the first half of the exchange. The Americans go over there in May.

Our visitor was 14-year-old Masakazu Ichikawa, who, thankfully, wanted to be called Icchi. I thought it was pretty neat that he was coming, but it wasn’t until I read the “Hints for Host Families” a couple of hours before his arrival that I became really excited about it. I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve.

Among the hints was the statement that Japanese generally bow rather than shake hands. At home, they would always remove their shoes when entering their house, and they’d wear a special pair of slippers in the bathroom.

Anata no sentaku shimaso ka? That’s what I wanted to ask Icchi every day. Shall I do your laundry? But I never got around to it. None of us ever did. The poor kid. It was just too hectic in his brief stay to attend to mundane matters such as shimaso ka.

The hints said that our guest would probably nod or say “Yes” even if he didn’t understand. I think that went on all the time. It reminds me of when a friend was hitching through the south 25 years ago.

Between the roar of the motor and the southern accents, he didn’t know half of what the two guys in the front seat were saying. 

“How’d ya like it if we took you out in the woods and shot ya?” they might have asked.

“Yes, yes,” Nathan answered with a smile on his face.

On the morning of Icchi’s departure, I finally located an old book that someone gave me years ago called “We Japanese.” It’s a beautiful little volume that closes with an ivory clasp and contains a wealth of information about Japan, circa 1934.

I love the proverbs section with wisdom such as “Don’t count the badgers’ skins before they are caught,” and “Eggplants never grow on cucumber vines.”

There’s a description of The Insect-Hearing Festival when people go out to the park on a late August evening, when the “seven grasses of autumn” are in bloom, and listen to insects. I doubt if that would make it in America, but that’s my kind of entertainment.

But on to the snakes. The report listed is under the title Various Oddities of Japan. In 1934, an estimated 5 million snakes were consumed in Japan. Many considered it a great delicacy and also a very healthful food. Dishes prepared from snake were considered far superior to those made from frogs and turtles.

There were 65 licensed snake dealers in Tokyo in 1934. Eighty percent of the reptiles were sold charred and powdered or dried and pulverized. The best snake-hunting district is reported to be around Lake Biwa, right where Ben will be staying in Moriyama.

I don’t know if he’s going to eat any snake next May, but at least he’s been cleared of his serpent memories. Go in peace, Ben, and may you find plentiful shima hebi—either powdered or pulverized.