Dateline: Tuesday August 1, 1989
JQS and I always stand out, even in a crowd of other foreigners. I saw this crowd shot of the JET reception in the Keio Plaza ballroom and picked us out immediately. JQS is the only kid and he’s wearing a striped shirt. I don’t remember anything about this party except that both the sushi and the alcohol were plentiful and I indulged my taste for both.
|¥700||10 international postage stamps ($5.07)|
|¥300||JQS allowance ($2.17)|
Exchange Traveller’s Checks at the hotel. I get ¥61000 for $442.03.
Notes from 2009
The Exchange Rate
Most of the first year I was in Japan, the exchange rate was about ¥138 per $1.00, or about 72 cents per ¥100. Over the year, I learned to make the yen-to-dollar calculation quickly by moving the decimal point two places and taking 3/4s of it. I got paid in yen, so I thought in yen. To my 1989 mind (I had been making $24,000 a year before taxes), Japanese prices seemed shockingly high. JET was going to pay me $35,000 a year (tax-free) but I hadn’t made the mental adjustment to this pay increase. This first week, the money seemed to fly out my purse at an alarmingly fast rate.
I worried about my budget because I was suddenly required to pay for all sorts of things which I’d never paid for before. For example, JQS and I had only ever stayed in a motel once before in our lives–certainly never in a first class hotel. All of our travel had been restricted to visiting my parents in Las Vegas and one train trip (also to visit relatives) in 1985. This new job required all sorts of fees. For JQS’s elementary school, in addition to a monthly classroom fee and lunch, I had to buy uniforms, his books, sewing and calligraphy kits, and a backpack.
In the spring 1990, the exchange rate becomes a big worry as the yen falls against the dollar. By the time we return in July 1990, I figure I’ve lost about $3,000 in savings over the year…feeling from an economic perspective, that I’m barely breaking even.
Notes from 2019
A Failure to Communicate
At our first breakfast in Japan, we are assigned times and groups in order to handle the huge crowds. I don’t remember much about the breakfast. What I do remember is that JQS wanted something more to drink, milk or juice or water. So I encouraged him to flag down a waiter with “onegai shimasu” which we’d learned from our tapes.
JQS, who had studied at the Children’s Japanese Language school easily new more Japanese than I who knew none. He tried it out. And the waiter ignored him. Whether the waiter didn’t hear JQS, didn’t understand JQS, or simply wasn’t used to paying attention to 10 year old boys, I don’t know. Eventually I had to flag down the waiter.
JQS was devastated. His confidence was crushed. He had worked at his Japanese studies and was caught up with the idea of this adventure and at his first try he couldn’t make himself understood. He was so upset that we had to return to our hotel room where he replayed the incident over and over and cried. It took a lot of me saying, “The waiter was very busy. He probably just didn’t hear you.” before he calmed down. But after this initial failure, he was much less willing to make an effort to practice speaking his Japanese.