Regarding the story “Trump’s quip on Akie Abe’s English skills causes stir” in the July 22 edition, my sisters and I grew up in Japan, where our parents were missionaries. We don’t remember ever not being able to speak Japanese. And we can’t remember meeting a Japanese person who couldn’t speak at least a few words of English. We realize now how lucky we were to grow up “TCKs” — Third Culture Kids — because there’s really no way to truly learn about a place unless you have lived there.
One thing we learned in Japan was that you never embarrass someone who is trying to learn your language. We were often complimented by folks who would then giggle in defense of their own English skills. We would always respond “Ie, ojōzu desu.” No, you’re good (at it).
I’m sure readers will know where I’m going with this: At a Group of 20 dinner, U.S. President Donald Trump left his seat next to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, because, he says, she couldn’t speak English. And to make matters worse, he discussed this later during an interview with The New York Times.
This would have been the height of incivility in any culture, but especially to the Japanese, where appearances are extremely important — and, 99 percent of the time, respectful and courteous. Anyone from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs could have told the president this.
And after leaving Mrs. Abe, he moved several seats away to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Through an interpreter.
You’re never too old to learn a second language. My parents were in their 30s when they studied Japanese, and my son was in his 40s when he gave a speech, in Pashtu, while stationed in Afghanistan.
I’m closer to Trump’s age than I like to admit, and I’m working on number four (Spanish). So I would have only one question for him: Anata wa nihongo o hanasemasu ka? (Can you speak Japanese?) And if not, may I suggest he learn a few words?
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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