Four Seasons
The Wonderful World of Japanese Writers of English

Intermediate - Advanced

Here's an essay, story, and poem written originally in English.
by Kawaoi Isuzu

Pre-Reading Exercise

Reading Without A Dictionary:
Vocabulary Build-Up
There are many difficult words in "Different", so please study these words carefully as they'll help you to understand the essay better.
Click to find if you are right or wrong.

1. The cat is aware of the dog's presence, therefore the cat is hiding.
Aware lets us know that the cat ...
a. hides its Christmas presents
b. is looking for a mouse
c. knows that the dog is there

2. Because she hadn't done her homework, Hiroko deliberately didn't go to school.
Deliberately means ...
a. on purpose
b. punishment
c. on Friday

3. Peter was confused about his orientation: if he went straight, would he be going east or west?
Confused suggests that Peter ...
a. is bent
b. was not sure
c. is a naughty boy

4. The passengers' greatest anxiety was whether the plane would stay in the air.
Anxiety is the same as ...
a. worry
b. the ocean
c. stewardess

5. Europe's greatest philosophers specialized in rationalization: they understood that there had to be a cause before an effect.
Rationalization is ...
a. a process of thinking something through logically
b. spending a pleasant evening next to the sea
c. drinking a cup of coffee after a glass of whisky

6. Sarah's aloofness is misunderstood: she is not cold-hearted like people think.
Aloofness could be replaced by ...
a. reading a book
b. staying apart
c. not playing tennis

7. The bread is three weeks old, so it is very moldy.
Moldy tells us that ...
a. the moon rises in the east
b. three weeks ago it rained
c. the bread is old and not good

8. There is a lot of tension in the office because it's very busy and the president is coming.
Tension indicates that everybody ...
a. has studied their English lesson
b. is nervous and under pressure
c. wants the president's autograph

9. In the eighteenth century illustrations were engraved in books by a special machine.
Engraved means that the illustrations were ...
a. put into the ground
b. drawn by hand only
c. printed mechanically

10. After the builders had worked all day, they went to the bar for an hour of relaxation.
Relaxation is ...
a. being comfortable and enjoying oneself
b. going home to telephone one's boss
c. wanting to build a bar in an hour

11. Since the freedom of the press exists in Japan, people are not restricted from writing letters to the editor.
Restricted refers to ...
a. the idiocy of most editorials
b. reading newspapers on the train
c. not being allowed to do something

12. The chapter was very long, so the reader skipped over twenty pages.
Skipped over, in this case, means that ...
a. the chapter was very, very funny
b. the reader didn't read 20 pages
c. the pages smelled of cheap perfume

13. The psychological effect of a lover's death can be profound.
Psychological means ...
a. a person's mental state
b. the birth of a child
c. a horse-drawn cart

14. Soupy said that a person's religious beliefs are his own.
Beliefs are ...
a. snakes in my soup
b. thoughts or ideas
c. his own person

15. Mr. Burn's marriage began happily, however there was a reversal of fortunes: next week he is getting a divorce.
Reversal could be ...
a. a change for the opposite
b. a new type of coffee bean
c. happiness for ever and ever

16. The tramp was leaning on the lamppost, so my friend asked him if he was holding it up.
Leaning on suggests that the tramp was standing and ...
a. dreaming about his life
b. holding my friend
c. resting against the lamppost

17. When her teacher said that it was raining, Alexandra contradicted her by saying that it was sunny and clear.
Contradicted means that ...
a. Alexandra said something completely different
b. they were both wrong because it was snowing
c. it was certainly the month of July

18. The missionary insisted that his was the only righteous religion: all the others were wrong, and their members could not be saved because their purpose could not be justified.
Righteous implies that ...
a. the missionary ate raw beef on Fridays only
b. the others had no members and a purpose
c. the religion was correct and could be justified

19. Jack Spratt was so popular that he never was shunned.
Shunned is the same as ...
a. a vegetable
b. hot coffee
c. avoided

20. The prevalent theme in English-language instruction is communication.
Prevalent refers to ...
a. nowadays
b. Genghis Khan
c. eyeglasses

21. Bill's attitude was that he wouldn't work unless he made a lot of money.
Attitude could be replaced by ...
a. ten yen
b. cake shop
c. point of view

22. Mothers were grateful for the presents their children give them on Mother's Day.
Grateful suggests that the mothers are ...
a. beautiful
b. thankful
c. children too

23. The greatest temptation in the Pink Panther's life was to step on an ant.
Temptation is about the same as ...
a. giant
b. desire
c. heaven

24. Wilma's over-confidence was the cause of her failure: she said that she would get an "A" in her physics class, but only got a "D" because she hadn't really studied.
Over-confidence means that Wilma ...
a. thought she was better than she was
b. went to the beauty parlor instead
c. wanted all the freedom she could get

25. Because the President's peace plan was rigid, the diplomats could not change it.
Rigid tells us that ...
a. presidents are old-fashioned
b. the plan was not changeable
c. diplomats don't work on Sundays

26. People say that the "Mona Lisa" exudes a sense of mystery.
Exudes implies ...
a. gives off
b. dark eyes
c. mastery

27. Salvation is a Christian idea by which a person is rescued from his misdeeds.
Salvation refers to ...
a. temples and shrines
b. Brazil nuts
c. being saved

28. A jury will decide the extent of Oliver's guilt tomorrow: his punishment will depend on how much he broke the law.
Guilt means that Oliver ...
a. should never go to Iran
b. is against the revolution
c. has done something wrong

29. The living room was quiet while the little girl stared mutely at the sleeping cat.
Mutely means ...
a. silently
b. never
c. music

30. Whenever Bobby was told to swim in a cold lake, he would do it obediently.
Obediently suggests that Bobby ...
a. would like to be a fish
b. did what he was told
c. never goes to school

31. Ignorance is bliss. Whatever one doesn't know won't hurt him.
Ignorance is ...
a. a white wedding
b. jogging daily
c. not knowing

32. Because I went skiing last week and broke a leg, I must suffer for six weeks.
Suffer means ...
a. I am foolish
b. to be in pain
c. next week

by Kawaoi Isuzu

I really did not know anything about America before I came here, but then I did not know about any other country either. During the Second World War we became aware of America because of the heavy air raids. After the War, America entered into every nook and cranny of our lives. Even then I did not know about the "real" America, because I deliberately did not take any interest.

But now America, whether I take an interest in it or not, has entered my blood stream. I am aware of this, and I think of myself as a tree that has been removed from its Japanese soil. The roots and leaves draw nutrition from the American earth and air and continue to grow. When I was living in Japan, my leaves took in air which sometimes blew in from other countries, but my roots absorbed the nutrients from pure Japanese earth.

I have now been living in America for two years. In Japan, after the War, old and new customs were mixed together, and our people were confused. I did not know which way of life was better for me then. I did not know which road to follow, the old or the new. I wanted to go to America to get away from the confused emotions of my own people. My anxieties were like wet clothes that stuck to my body and could not be taken off. When I arrived in America, my first feeling was that my wet clothes would dry better than they would in the humidity of Japan.

After the War, Japanese people repeatedly used the words, "dry" and "wet". Dry, to us, means rationalization, aloofness and a feeling that "what must be, must me". The meaning of wet, being the opposite of dry, is almost like the old Japanese feeling of having a strong sense of duty, much kindness and a lot of emotion.

I must dry my clothes because they might get moldy.


The first Sunday I was in Denver, I got on the bus to go to church. It was a soft, fresh spirit that touched me as I looked around at the many different kinds of people. "What different people they are!" I said to my husband in Japanese. These different people did not only display an interest in us, but also shouted "Hi!" as though they knew us very well. This was fortunate because I could observe the people's faces, their customs and their actions. I could imagine their lives, their characters and their thoughts, just as I did when I was a child. While I observed them, I made a wonderful discovery: I could find many Japanese faces among them. I thought, "Am I riding on a bus in Tokyo?" My feelings of tension, that I was a foreigner, were removed. Engraved in my mind was the impression that the human race is made up of many different people but that human beings are the same all over the world. I was able to go home that day and relax completely because I thought American people were just like Japanese people, but this feeling of relaxation became the key to my confusion.


A foreign language is an entry to a strange world. I imagine that almost all students like to study a foreign language. When I was in junior high school, I liked English and always read my English book on the train to and from school. During the War, one day while I was reading my English book on the train, a man looked at my book and said, "Do not read the enemy's language book!" I cannot forget the man's face and his voice because I did not agree with him. I thought a true scholar should not be restricted by anybody's ideas. Not long after that we stopped studying English in school.

Soon after the War, English studies started again. We had to skip over several psychological steps. Yesterday, we were told we had to stop learning English, and today, we must hurry and learn it again. At the time, my thoughts were confused. When several of my friends killed themselves, I seemed to experience my own death. Our beliefs were being replaced by new ideas, which were a complete reversal of the old. However, I could not agree with them for the more I heard new ideas expressed through many of the new leaders' speeches and writings, the more I needed to look for my own way. Perhaps, because I was young at the time, I badly needed my own beliefs to lean on. I gave up my English studies which were then useful if one was to succeed in business or socially. Instead, I chose to study classical Japanese literature, which I felt upheld my beliefs. I enjoyed studying it because I felt it contradicted the new ideas, and I was looking for my own way to strengthen my beliefs.

Now I have a chance to study English again after about thirty years. I still think of a foreign language as an entrance to a strange world. Moreover, it is an important way of seeking the truth. I began to understand this when I spoke in my broken English to American people.

For instance, I asked an American friend about "righteous war". For a moment she did not answer. After our deep discussion about "righteous war", I could understand why she did not answer sooner. She said, "War is war, and whether it's right or wrong, many lives are lost." Perhaps American people do not use this word "righteous" as we Japanese repeatedly do. When Americans talk to each other about war, they need to explain what they mean because they know that people have different ideas. Our people understand each other's words, without the need to explain as Americans do, because Japan is not a melting pot. It is as if the Japanese people were one family.

When I could not explain a thought in my limited vocabulary, I used the word "special". We often use the word "special" in Japanese conversation. In Japanese, the closest translation of "special" is tokubetsu, toku meaning special and betsu meaning different, divides or separate. Examples of the use of "special" in my conversation are: I have a special thing, my weaving is special, my cooking is special, and so on. My American friends would ask me, "What do you mean by 'special'? How special do you mean?" I realize now that the word "special" only means "different", for everyone feels "special", but it only means s/he is different from others. "Different" is a very important word. Before I came to America, I did not think deeply about it. When I went to an elementary school in Denver to speak about Japan, one child asked me, "Why do all Japanese have black hair and yellow skin?" I answered simply, "God gave it to us." Afterwards I thought, "That was a good question!"

Different people live in this world, and just as we think about others we can think about ourselves.

In my country, the ordinary Japanese like to have the same ideas. These ideas are always in the middle, not on the left or the right wing. If a Japanese person's opinions differ from his friends', it is likely that he will be shunned. We do not like trouble, and because of this we must accept the middle idea. These ideas are not the individual's own ideas; they are just the prevalent ones. Usually, we feel bound to understand another person's ideas before we present ideas ourselves, just as insects feel each other out with their antennae. Our approach needs to be very exact and technical. Someone says, "Yes, your idea is very nice," or only smiles, even though his ideas are different from other people's. Or he may go ahead and present his own idea anyway. In that case he may lose friends, and he will not understand the reason since nobody will tell him why they are avoiding him.

We have a word inginburei. Ingin means politeness and burei means impoliteness or rudeness. The person who can be inginburei is admired. His face has a smile, his speech is very graceful and his attitude is sheer politeness. However, we cannot understand his true thoughts. He may or may not agree with another person's ideas even though he pretends to. I had much trouble in Japan because I presented my ideas just as a child would.

When I came here and answered "Yes" or "No" in English, I found that I was thinking in terms of Japanese culture. I could say "Yes" or "No" only hesitantly because in Japan when somebody says, "Come in," he may or may not really be inviting us in. We always have to guess if the other person is speaking his real thoughts or not. This custom makes it difficult for us to have mutual respect and love each other. Here I can state my opinion and say "Yes" or "No". If my idea is wrong, my American friends will advise me openly. I find this attitude very comfortable. Perhaps here I will not have as much trouble as I did in Japan.

Now, as I write all this, I remember what my mother used to say: "Do not say 'No'! First you must think about the other person's idea deeply, then maybe you can understand why you should not say 'No' quickly." I don't think this has the same meaning as a "yes man". It has a deeper meaning. I could not understand its true meaning, and I could not ask my mother as she died when I was a child.

At that time, I did not want to know the meaning of "Yes" or "No". Why do I remember these words now? I believe we are always unsure whether to say "Yes" or "No". We need to think carefully before we give a quick answer. These two very simple but really important words are the bridge to other people. I'm grateful to my mother for teaching me to express my ideas and be able to listen to American ideas.


I love Denver for its beautiful mountains. I like to drive through the mountains and, well, I do not know how to put it into words! It is extremely beautiful when suddenly the mountain peaks open, and an endless plain comes into view. I always feel as though someone has led us there.

One day we drove to the Air Force Academy Chapel. Among deep, green mountains we saw the glittering building with its sharp roof extending into the heavens. When I entered the church, I felt the friendliness of the young men in uniform praying there. "Why are they praying and to whom?"

At that moment, as I thought of the meaning of their lives, I felt as if an immeasurable great power had entered the dark church. "God, who are you, where are you? What do you want from us? Is it our over-confidence that is leading us to war? Are you watching over us silently? Yes. Surely, God's love is not shallow; indeed, great silence is true love," I thought to myself.

I had never thought of love in this way. I had thought of God's love in the way Shakespeare had written of it in the Merchant of Venice: "The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the rain from heaven on the place beneath." I thought of it as sunlight in the spring. Again, I imagined the young men's faces. They, I thought, were innocent because they could pray as young children do and would not question the meaning of war. I remembered the picture of the Vietnamese children who were crying beside their dead mother, or who had themselves been killed in the war. I could not think of them as sinners. In a low voice I said to myself without praying, "Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil."

I think among the greatest of our joys would be to have a child granted to us and the worst disaster would be to lose that child. When our first baby was born, my husband and I could not find words to express our joy, and as we looked at our lovely baby we could not help recall the beautiful story Taketori-Monogatari. The word Taketori means picking bamboo. Monogatari means tale. It was written about one thousand years ago. The story goes that once upon a time an old man lived with his wife. His job was to cut bamboo. One day the old man found a beautiful little girl in a bamboo tree, and she became their child. They were so pleased! They named her Kaguyahime, which means "bright princess". However, one day Kaguyahime, who had become a beautiful, clever girl, told the old man and his wife that she must return home during the next full moon. She had been sent to earth from the world of the moon for a short time only. They were surprised to hear her say this, and the old man tried very hard to keep Kaguyahime from going back. But it was time for her to return. As we sat with our baby, we realized that although we had created a life we must eventually part from her. It was a natural thought, yet I could not stop my tears. For there cannot be a greater disaster than to lose one's own child.

When I saw the statue of Christ on the cross in church, I could not feel close to it as it seemed to me to be a very rigid figure. I am more used to seeing statues of the Buddha and Buddhist saints who, I feel, are exuding love from their half-closed eyes. I like to sit and look at them without thinking or praying, especially Kanzeonbosatsu. Kan, in Japanese means understanding, Ze means world or all and On means sound or seeking the voice of salvation. Kanzeonbosatsu is the saint who is always there to help us in our hour of need. If we have evil thoughts and do wrong but wish to cleanse our souls, we ought to sit in front of Kanzeonbosatsu, and soon our feelings of guilt will go away. If a child is aware of what he has done wrong, he will mutely stand in front of his mother. She will forgive him. His mother might only silently pat his head, but he would then swear to himself that he would never betray his mother's love, though again and again he might have to beg her pardon. The basic idea of Kanzeonbosatsu is to return to our mother's arms, obediently as children. I feel that the statue of the Madonna and Child projects a feeling similar to Kanzeonbosatsu.

I wanted to have a statue of the Madonna and Child in our room so that I could look at it any time, but I could not find one. Finally, I thought I'd try to draw a picture, feeling very confident that I could do so. I began drawing it at the beginning of last year, but it was not until the beginning of November that I found a way to draw the picture of the Madonna and Child which could be depicted as simply as possible with just a few touches of the brush.

One day thinking about Christ, I became aware of how the Madonna differs from Kanzeonbosatsu. The Madonna is the mother of Christ, a man who has suffered on the cross through our ignorance. The Madonna saw her son die. When a mother holds a baby in her arms, she does not want her baby ever to have to suffer. If my closest friends were to lose a child, then there is no way I would be able to help them. Their sadness and torment is something they must live with themselves. The Madonna figure taught me that when we are able to overcome our suffering we can understand true love and share it with friends. Mary, herself, was able to overcome the hardest kind of suffering. I often think about the words, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," and they follow me like a shadow. Sometimes I think we should say, "Lead us into temptation and deliver us from evil," for I feel that trouble and much suffering help us to be better people.

Comprehension Check
Multiple Choice Exercise
Choose the right answer from a, b, and c.
Click to find if you are right or wrong.

1. The writer says that after the War, America ...
A. did not know that the writer lived in Japan
B. did not know about any other country in the world
C. became a big influence on the Japanese lifestyle

2. The writer's roots and leaves nowadays draw nutrition from ...
A. other countries
B. America
C. pure Japanese soil

3. The writer says that after the War, in Japan ...
A. people were refreshed by the new customs
B. old and new customs are mixed together
C. most Japanese wanted to forget about the old customs

4. The writer says that she was able to go home that day with a feeling of relaxation because ...
A. she looked at the many different people on the bus
B. so many people shouted "Hi!" as though they knew her well
C. she thought that American people were just like the Japanese

5. The writer maintains that before the War English was ...
A. studied in junior high school
B. forbidden by the Japanese government
C. certainly the language of the enemy

6. The writer says that a true scholar should ...
A. not allow another person to control his/her thinking
B. stop studying English from junior high school
C. always read one's English textbook on the train

7. The writer studied Japanese literature because ...
A. the new ideas were the same as in Japanese classical literature
B. it seemed to strengthen her personal beliefs and opinions
C. the study of English did not help a person to become successful

8. The writer compares the people of Japan to a family and ...
A. so all the ideas must be explained clearly
B. therefore they don't need to explain ideas so clearly
C. so Americans can understand Japanese ideas easily

9. If a Japanese person's ideas differ from his friends, it's likely that the person will be ...
A. shunned
B. liked
C. respected

10. The writer claims that a person is admired for being inginburei because he ...
A. can gracefully pretend to agree with someone's ideas
B. is really a liar and his only goal in life is to be successful
C. does not have any personal opinions and ideas of his own

11. The writer says that she had a lot of trouble in Japan because she ...
A. expressed her ideas openly
B. was a child and could not think clearly
C. never expressed her ideas openly

12. The writer maintains that the custom of having to guess if the other is speaking his or her real thoughts makes it difficult for ...
A. Japanese to have mutual love and respect
B. foreigners to understand Japanese culture
C. Japanese to become good speakers of American English

13. The writer says "Yes" or "No" are two simple but important words and are the bridge to other people, and so we should ...
A. use them cautiously
B. give our answer quickly
C. never invite guests to our house

14. The writer thought that God's love is ...
A. leading us to make war with other countries
B. not deep enough because God is only watching us
C. watching over us silently and thus is true

15. The writer thinks that the greatest disaster in the world would be for ...
A. parents to lose a child
B. Kaguyahime to return to the moon
C. a child to be lost on the moon

16. The writer maintains that the statue of the Madonna and Child projects a feeling similar to that of Kanzeonbosatsu because ...
A. we can understand both the Buddhist and Christian religions
B. like children we should return to our mother's arms
C. both statues are made from stone and look alike

17. The writer could draw ...
A. rather easily a picture of the Madonna and Child
B. a successful portrait of the Madonna and Child several months later
C. a successful portrait of the Madonna and Child rather easily

18. The writer says the words "Lead us into temptation and deliver us from evil" mean that we ...
A. can understand true love only after we have overcome our suffering
B. should never overcome our torment and suffering
C. should always try to seek after as much temptation as we can


1. Would you have gone to America if you were in the same predicament as the author? Give reasons for your answer.

2. Explain which means more to you: "dry" or "wet".

3. In what way is a foreign language an entry to a strange world?

4. Can you understand the feelings of the man who said, "Do not read the enemy's language book"?

5. Why do you think several of the author's friends committed suicide after the war already came to an end?

6. Are the Japanese people a race? Give reasons for your answer.

7. Are there any suitable words for the Japanese tokubetsu other than "special" in English?

8. What does tokubetsu mean to you?

9. The author thought, "That was a good question!" Why did she think so?

10. "His face has a smile, his speech is very graceful and his attitude is sheer politeness. However, we cannot understand his true thoughts." What does this mean?

11. Why is a Japanese person shunned by his friends and colleagues if his opinion differs from theirs?

12. What do you imagine could possibly be the greatest disaster in your life?

Kawaoi Isuzu was born in 1929. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother. Her husband is a professor of pathology. When she visited the U.S.A. in 1971, Ms. Kawaoi could hardly speak a word of English. Nowadays, she continues to study English after a break of many years, and thinks that today's students have many more opportunities to study the language than those of her own generation.
"Different" by Kawaoi Isuzu is from Four Seasons: An Anthology of Original Writing by Japanese Writers in English edited by John Pereira and the late Prof. Eugene O'Reilly and published in 1984.