Four Seasons
The Wonderful World of Japanese Writers of English

Intermediate - Advanced

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

"Alice in Nara"
by Noda Fumiko

Pre-Reading Exercise

Reading Without A Dictionary:
Vocabulary Build-Up
The underlined words in the following sentences are taken from the story "Alice in Nara". Go through each sentence carefully, trying to understand the meaning of the words, and circle the correct answer.
Click to find out if you are right or wrong.

1. The colonel walked briskly because he was in a hurry to meet the premier.
Briskly means ...
a. warmly
b. at a fast pace
c. a long jump

2. It was difficult to drive along the meandering road in the mountains.
Meandering suggests that the road was ...
a. very long and straight
b. a complete circle
c. winding with a lot of curves

3. The shop assistant appreciated the customer's patronage, so he thanked him and asked him to come again.
Patronage refers to ...
a. breaking things
b. selling things
c. buying things

4. Our dog was mischievous today: he chased the cat, knocked the garbage over, and barked at the mailman.
Mischievous means ...
a. a little bit troublesome
b. very talkative and bad
c. lonely and quite drunk

5. Mankind has now been able to penetrate Outer Space.
Penetrate is similar to ...
a. sleeping
b. writing
c. going into

6. Kyoto is an interesting city because it has antiquated buildings next to brand-new ones.
Antiquated is another word for ...
a. expensive
b. very old
c. quite new

7. I was thrilled to hear that I passed my English exam.
Thrilled is being ...
a. pleased
b. sorry
c. desperate

8. The young girl giggled when her boyfriend told her a joke.
Giggle means ...
a. to laugh like a child
b. to go swimming daily
c. to eat cream cake

9. Mr. Aoki is very tall and has to duck when he enters a Japanese house.
To duck is the same as ...
a. to stand straight and not speak
b. to lower the top of one's body
c. to take off one's shoes at the door

10. At the United Nations, the ambassador mingled with people from different countries.
Mingled means ...
a. stood alone
b. played
c. mixed

11. The slanted telephone pole is a victim of the typhoon.
Slanted suggests that the pole ...
a. leans to one side
b. is red and white
c. has grown a little

12. Hot and cold are examples of extremes.
Extremes are ...
a. the same things
b. things in the middle
c. clearly defined opposites

13. When she saw the dead body, Mrs. Johnson's scream was hysterical.
Hysterical is similar to ...
a. fearful and anxious
b. very, very happy
c. soft and musical

14. Keiko was astonished by the fact that her cousin wanted to marry her.
Astonished is another word for ...
a. reading
b. surprised
c. intelligent

15. Artists tend to see nature as an aesthetic entity.
Aesthetic refers to ...
a. an appreciation of beauty
b. listening to rock music
c. hitting a grand-slam home run

16. Boys and girls in their early teens go through a period known as puberty.
Puberty is the time of ...
a. becoming an academic specialist
b. learning to write 3,500 kanji and speak English
c. physical change from childhood toward adulthood

17. The boxer clenched his teeth in anger and prepared to fight.
Clenched means ...
a. was a coward
b. pressed together tightly
c. brushed his teeth well

18. Hiroshi claims to be fond of both ice cream and his girlfriends.
Fond suggests that Hiroshi ...
a. is primitive
b. likes them
c. laughs loudly

19. The smell of grilled chicken is delicious.
Delicious in this context means ...
a. unlucky
b. expensive
c. pleasant

20. When the student was being a menace, the teacher frowned at her.
Frowned indicates that the teacher ...
a. was unhappy
b. showed happiness
c. wanted to give homework

21. Because they know each other only a little, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Carter are acquaintances.
Acquaintances means that they are ...
a. members of the same club
b. friendly, but not too familiar
c. frequent drinking companions

22. The customer in the coffee shop beckoned the waitress with his hand.
Beckoned is similar to ...
a. motioned to
b. stood upside-down
c. did nothing

23. In comparison to an elephant, an ant is diminutive.
Diminutive is another word for ...
a. large
b. small
c. bilingual

24. The president telephoned the terrorist in a desperate attempt to save the hostages.
Desperate suggests ...
a. not caring
b. dangerous
c. a last chance

25. As it approached the panic-stricken crowd, the car stopped abruptly.
Abruptly means ...
a. suddenly
b. not at all
c. cute

26. President Clinton was popular but also mysterious because nobody really understood him.
Mysterious is being ...
a. a visitor from another planet
b. a person who does not eat meat
c. enigmatic, or not fully known

27. The gangsters approached the bank in great confidence because they were sure the robbery would be carried out successfully.
Confidence refers to ...
a. happiness and pleasure
b. self-assurance
c. black hats and a big cigar

Alice in Nara
by Noda Fumiko

Yoko Nishimura was a student at the junior high school attached to Nara Women's College.

One day in early April, several days after the first semester had begun she hurried home as soon as her classes were over. She walked briskly along the meandering path through Nara Park, whistling at a couple of tame deer as they poked their noses into the fallen blossoms and faint green leaves of the cherry trees that lined the moss-covered sides of the paths. It was cold, but the sky was bright blue and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. She nodded at the deer as she skipped along and hummed a tune.

Turning into the last path, which ran through a rice field, she heard a fish-seller's voice shouting. "Maidoari! Thank you for your patronage. Everyone, come and have a look at today's fresh fish! Izumi-chan! Irasshai-irasshai! Come on everyone!" Yoko liked Mr Hirata's coarse, playful, mischievous shouting and name-calling.

"Mackerel, octopus, squid and flying fish. Everyone, please come and look!" His powerful voice penetrated through the hedges and pine trees to the rows of antiquated wooden houses. And in an instant housewives in white aprons were making their way out of their houses gathering around Mr Hirata's rusty bicycle which had stopped in front of Nishimura's garden.

"Konnichiwa! Hello," Yoko said, making a quick bow as she passed by the bicycle and the crowd of middle-aged women whom she knew well. Hirata chopped up a squid and its smell began to fill the air. Yoko took a deep, long breath and hoped there might be squid for supper.

She ran to the garden gate, opened it, then pulled the sliding front door of the house and went in. The hallway was full of the aroma of roasting rice-crackers. Yoko took off her white canvas shoes and made her way to the dining room. Mrs Nishimura, wearing her white apron, was waiting there for the children to return and preparing their 2-o'clock snack. She was roasting the crackers over a slow fire in the round ceramic hibachi.

"Ah, I'm so hungry," Yoko said as she put her school bag down on the tatami mat and sat down beside her mother. She put her hands and chin on the warm rim of the hibachi like a wistful puppy might do. Mrs Nishimura felt there something a little odd about her daughter's behavior.

"There seems to be something on your mind."

"I was so excited today."

"Why? What happened?"

"Well, Mr Maeshita, our English teacher, introduced a new teacher to us in class today. You can't imagine how surprised and excited we were."


"She's a real American! Her name is Miss Mora."

"Missu Mora?" Mrs Nishimura repeated what she thought she had heard.

"Yes, Miss Mora. She's going to teach us English once a week," Yoko said, holding the warm hibachi in her arms.

"Well, that's very nice. You are lucky!" Mrs Nishimura said, turning the smoking crackers with a pair of wooden chopsticks.

"Yes, and Mom, I have an American name now," Yoko said, and wrote a capital letter "A" in the ashes of the hibachi with one of the iron tongs.

"American name?" Mrs Nishimura couldn't make out what Yoko meant.

"Yes, she's going to call us by English names. Mom, it's exciting to have another name and not a Japanese one, like Yoko, or Machiko, or Fumiko. Alice! Alice! Alice is my name. I chose it from all the English name-cards she had scattered on the desks. When she called me Alice for the first time, I was thrilled and felt as if I were an American. Now I feel as if I were 'Alice in Wonderland,'" she said smiling.

Mrs Nishimura smiled too, nodding at her daughter as she turned the rice crackers over one by one. "Now then eat up!" she said.

Yoko gazed at the food, but that was all she did.

"Mom, our class really is a Wonderland."

She stretched her hand at last to a cracker that had been roasted and popped it into her mouth.

"Wonderland?" Mrs Nishimura asked, raising both eyebrows.

"Well, my seat is in front of the teacher's desk, facing the teacher."

"You have to pay attention then?"

"Yes, it has disadvantages. It's sometimes the worst seat for a student to have. I do have to be alert because teachers often call on me to answer questions. I hate that. But the one thing about my seat is that I can watch and secretly examine each teacher's personal habits. It's so interesting I could write a book about it," said Yoko, giggling and cracking the cracker.

"Mr Kita, for example, the math teacher, draws marvelous circles behind him without looking at the blackboard at all. I like him, but whenever he says something, his right cheek twitches a little around the mouth. I cup my hands before my eyes whenever it happens. I can't help giggling, though I try very hard not to."

"You must try to behave yourself," Mrs Nishimura reproved.

"Mom, believe me, I really do try to be a good student. I try to learn everything I can from my teachers, from what they say, and from how they behave," said Yoko.

"This American teacher," she babbled on, "I've never seen such a gigantic figure in all my life! She's taller than those Gls who gave me chewing gum at Aburasaka Station a few years ago. She's much taller than any of the other teachers and boys. She even has to duck when she enters the classroom. Not only that, she has blue eyes, really deep blue!" said Yoko, who could hardly see the color of her mother's eyes at all. "And she has an incredibly big nose and a huge great mouth, so that when she speaks you can see her tongue move back and forth, twisting and wrenching, right to left, left to right as if it were a living, creeping creature. I've never seen anybody's tongue move like that. I mean, no teachers have ever spoken with their mouths so wide open. It seems barbaric, graceless and indecent. Yet, it's funny!" Yoko said, giggling with her hands covering her own small thin-lipped mouth. She began to imitate the way her new English teacher laughed.

"Ha! ha! ha!"

"Ha! ha! ha!" Yoko continued laughing.

"Don't laugh like that, Yoko! It's ugly. It's not a thing a young girl should do," Mrs Nishimura said, raising one eyebrow.

"I've never felt so good, laughing out loud like this. Why don't you try it? You'll feel good," Yoko insisted.

But her mother pretended not to be interested at all and said, "Yoko!"

"No, please call me Alice."

"Well, Ahrisu then."

"No, no. Alice," Yoko said, moving her tongue upward, licking her upper lip, the way she remembered she had been taught in Miss Mora's class.


"Just one more time."


"Yes, that's much better!"

They laughed together, and the sound of crackers being crushed and the loud laughter mingled together and echoed around the hibachi in the dining room.

The slanted shadows of the wooden frames of the windows, together with those of the two figures, projected themselves onto the stiff white paper doors.

Mr Nishimura taught Japanese classics at a local college and was very popular among students for both his friendliness and strictness, his generosity and severity. And at home he was both popular and unpopular with his family because of his femininity as well as his masculinity, his cowardice as well as his bravery. In fact he was a strange mixture of two extremes. He often quickly erupted in anger but then it just as quickly subsided. So before supper there was usually a panic.

"Papa will be back in a minute. Yoko, Nobuo, Shigeo!" Mrs Nishimura's hysterical howl echoed from the kitchen to the dining room as the children hurriedly turned off the TV and began putting things in order and getting rid of the rubbish.

One evening the children had failed to tidy up the room in time. No sooner had they heard their father's feet shuffling on the tatami in the next room, when the shoji were pulled open and lightning flashed.

"What a mess! What a filthy mess!" Mr Nishimura roared like a lion.

Yoko hated her father when he was angry and felt hurt, though she knew that she and the other two were to blame. Yet the next moment the three children raised their heads, trembling with fear and terror, and their father was smiling at them as if nothing had happened. He was sitting cross-legged at the table, calmly reading the evening paper and drinking green tea.

During supper, sometime after this incident, Mr Nishimura, after closely eyeing Yoko for a while, began to talk to her.

"How is Miss Mora doing, Ahrisu?"

Yoko was astonished that her father had called her Alice and felt pleased that he seemed interested in what was happening in her life.

"Did you hear about that from Mom?" she asked.

"Yes, I know everything that goes on in this house," he said confidently. Yoko thought to herself how little he really did know. He seemed completely unaware that she had started to menstruate, for example, and she did not know what to say when he urged her to take a bath on those days. She had been wondering why a man of a romantic, aesthetic turn of mind could be so insensitive and indifferent to a girl undergoing the trials of puberty.

"You seem to be interested in English, don't you, Yoko?" he asked.

"Well, yes, that's true, but that's partly because I'm interested in Miss Mora, my American teacher."

"I liked English too when I was young, and yet I didn't like Americans."

"Why not?" Yoko looked him straight in the eyes.

"Because during the Second World War they bombed our house in Chiba to the ground. God damn them!" he said, clenching his fists. But he soon calmed down and said, "Still all the same, I like English as a language."

"Really?" Yoko asked. She could not believe that he actually did like English. She remembered his horrible pronunciation when he read to her from an English textbook a year ago: "pusshy catto, pusshy catto, where habu you been?"

"I know more English words than you do," he said, pleased with himself.

"But I'm sure I can make myself understood better than you, Dad," Yoko said with her head a little on one side and not looking at her father.

"No. I'd beat you any day! I've got a bigger vocabulary," he said triumphantly.

"Well, anyway, Yoko, since we are both fond of English, what would you say to going over to Miss Mora's next Sunday?" he suggested.

"Yes, that's a good idea! Let's just hope the weather is fine," Yoko said, watching the iron sukiyaki pan that her mother had set on the clay, charcoal stove in the center hole of the round short-legged table.

"I hope so too, Yoko," he agreed, adding some sugar and soy sauce to the well-done, thinly-sliced beef on the hot pan. White smoke, a hissing sound and the delicious smell of the meat filled the room.

The sun was already high. The loud voice of an udon noodle peddler was calling from nowhere. "Udon no tamma, osoba no tamma, oage-san ni tempura! Udon no tamma, osoba no tamma ...." Yoko heard the voice far away in the distance, in her dream. Then she was suddenly awakened by a faint vibration. She rubbed her eyes and sat straight up on the futon. "What is it?" she wondered. "I must be excited," she thought. Several seconds later she felt another shock and realized that it was an earthquake. She jumped out of bed, climbed to the window sill and jumped into the garden in her bare feet.

"Ouch! Oh, my God, ouch!" She had landed on a broken piece of porcelain. Blood began to trickle from one of her toes. "Ouch! Help! Help!" She ran into the house through the front door and came across her mother making tea for her father. Her mother frowned at her.

"Calm down," she snapped. "It's all right, Yoko. Why don't you be more careful? You ought to remember the old proverb, 'Look before you leap!'"

Later that day, after a simple lunch, father and daughter went out together. They said little to each other. Yoko, in her dark blue school uniform, followed her father a few steps behind. He wore a dark spring coat and carried a little parcel wrapped in a purple furoshiki cloth in his arm and a camera slung from his shoulder. They walked in silence through the rain of falling cherry blossoms in the park, through the huge wooden gates of Todai Temple, by an ancient pond around which a few deer were taking a walk and on into the dark, thick, moist forest of cedar and pine until they reached an old wooden house.

Mr Nishimura stopped in front of the door. It creaked as he slid it open.

"Gomenkudasai! Excuse me! Gomenkudasai!" His sharp, loud voice echoed in the deep, dark wooden hallway.

"Tadaima, I'm coming." A middle-aged woman in kimono, with straight hair in a bun, was hurrying down the hallway.

"Ah, Nishimura-san! Miss Mora is waiting for you," she said smiling at him. "Is this your daughter who wants to talk with Miss Mora?"

"Yes, that's right. Yoko, say hello," Mr Nishimura urged.

"Hello," Yoko said. She did not know who this woman was, though she knew from the way they spoke that the woman must be some kind of an acquaintance. A moment later the woman called in a loud but clear, thin voice, looking up the steps, "Mora-sensei! Mora-sensei!"

Yoko waited, feeling isolated beside her father. She did not know what she was doing here and felt like just running off home on her own. But just then one of the fusuma glided open, and at the top of the steps a huge, towering figure appeared.

"Oh, hello, Nishimura-san, please come in!" she said, beckoning with her hand.

Mr Nishimura urged Yoko to take off her shoes, and they made their way upstairs. Bowing, the two of them stepped in. Yoko did not know what to do or say and just waited to see what her father would do. At the same time she was taking in the room around her.

There was a large, wooden, short-legged ebony table; in the tokonoma alcove a bunch of colorful tulips were arranged in a blue vase. The drab fusuma, yellowish tatami, black table, lackluster gray walls combined with the familiar rustling sound of the pine trees which were to be seen through the window. Sitting on the zabuton cushion, Yoko enjoyed the strange contrast between this large human figure and the diminutive Japanese-ness of the things that surrounded her.

She turned to her father. He was still bowing his head, sitting straight on the tatami beside the cushion which Miss Mora had put out for him. He was trying very hard to say something to her, repeating "ahsukueiku, ahsukueiku, ahsukueiku ..."

In spite of his desperate efforts, Miss Mora could not make out what he was trying to say. Yoko could see the cold beads of sweat on her father's forehead and turned away to a gray wall where she noticed a number of pictures of various people that had been pinned up. There was a smiling middle-aged couple, the man's hand on the woman's shoulder. A smiling young man. Smiling girls. Yoko wondered how Americans always managed to smile when they had their pictures taken. She had never seen Japanese couples so close together, or men's arms on women's shoulders in photographs before. She could hardly imagine her father and mother touching each other. She could not see why those people in the pictures were all smiling or what they were smiling about.

"Oh, I see! You mean earthquake!" Miss Mora said at last. Yoko's father was scratching his head. Then the two of them burst out laughing. Yoko, wondering what was so funny, laughed politely. She prayed that her father would stop. She wondered how he could carry on the conversation in that horrible English of his and began to feel restless again.

"Jisu izu purezento," he said, giving a little box to her.

"Oh, that's very kind of you!" Miss Mora said, very pleased, and then she abruptly began to tear at the wrapping paper instead of carefully unfolding it. The thought that Americans opened a present in this way somehow disappointed Yoko. Having opened the box Miss Mora exclaimed, "Oh, what a nice present! It looks so delicious. Thank you very much, Nishimura-san."

"Why don't you try some yourself?" she said, picking up one of the colorful, sweet jelly-beans between her big thumb and finger without using the toothpicks in the box.

"Yes, yes, thank you," Mr Nishimura said, just nodding his head.

"How about you, Yoko-san?" she said smiling at her.

The two adults began chatting again. But Yoko had no idea what they were talking about. Miss Mora urged Mr Nishimura to have some more. He repeatedly bowed his head, and then, without looking at Yoko picked up a piece with his thumb and index finger as Miss Mora had done. Yoko dutifully followed her father's example.

A long silence fell until Yoko broke it and asked, "Do you like omochi cake?" She looked Miss Mora in the eye.

What mysterious eyes! They are not blue, they are a mysterious mixture of green, gray, gold, silver.... "They're beautiful!" she thought. Yoko wondered if her English had been understood, but Miss Mora, still munching away, replied, "Oh, yes, I do. I like it very much. How about you?"

"Yes," Yoko answered, in a very faint voice but now with a renewed pride and confidence. "I didn't have to repeat what I had said! That's more than my father can do! Game, set and match to Yoko!" she thought, as her father continued to repeat what he was trying to say.

On their way home the two of them walked side by side in high spirits. Mr Nishimura did not believe that he had lost because he had been able to continue the conversation. Yoko believed she had won the contest. But neither of them spoke about it.

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

1. Yoko ...
A. attended a junior high school
B. was a senior high school student
C. was a student at a women's college

2. Yoko appears excited because ...
A. her teacher's name is Alice
B. her teacher knows American names
C. her new English teacher is an American

3. According to Yoko her class is a Wonderland because ...
A. a lot of interesting things happen there
B. her teacher is going to tell them Alice's story
C. her teacher speaks with an American accent

4. The new American teacher has blue eyes and is ...
A. a former GI who has taken up English teaching
C. taller than the students and other teachers
C. interested in going to Aburasaka Station

5. Yoko told her mother to laugh loudly ...
A. because she wanted her mother to speak English
B. so her mother would also feel good
C. because she wanted to teach her mother English

6. Yoko was happy because ...
A. her father appeared to take an interest in her life
B. her father was not interested in her life
C. he had poor pronunciation in English

7. Yoko could not believe that her father liked English because ...
A. he always read a Japanese newspaper
B. he didn't study English daily
C. he had poor pronunciation in English

8. As Yoko and her father liked English very much ...
A. they decided to visit Miss Mora
B. they decided to eat sukiyaki together
C. they decided that the weather should be fine

9. Looking at the photographs on the wall ...
A. Yoko thought that her father and mother should never smile
B. she wondered why Americans smiled when their photos were taken
C. she could clearly see the beads of sweat on her father's forehead

10. Miss Mora had difficulty understanding Mr Nishimura's English because ...
A. he used difficult words
B. of his poor pronunciation
C. he also used Japanese words

11. Yoko was disappointed because Miss Mora ...
A. ate all the jelly-beans immediately
B. didn't unwrap the gift in a refined manner
C. did not share the jelly-beans with her

12. Mr Nishimura used his index finger and thumb to pick up the jelly-bean because ...
A. it is a Japanese custom
B. Yoko had done so
C. Ms Mora had done so

13. Miss Mora could understand Yoko because ...
A. Yoko was eating jelly-beans
B. Yoko spoke with a clear pronunciation
C. Yoko was a junior high school student

14. On the way home neither Yoko nor her father spoke because ...
A. both of them thought that they had won
B. both of them knew that they had lost
C. Yoko and her father knew that she had won


1. "Mr" and "Mrs" do not need periods after them. Is this in American or British English?

2. What is Nara Park famous for?

3. What is "squid" in Japanese?

4. How would you describe a hibachi to a foreigner?

5. What is the reason for Yoko's excitement?

6. Do you think it's a good idea for teachers to give their students English names and use them during class? Why or why not?

7. "Mom, our class really is a Wonderland." What does Yoko mean?

8. Were any of your high school teachers eccentric? If so, in what way?

9. Why do you suppose that Yoko enjoyed laughing at the top of her voice?

10. What is the average height of a Japanese man or woman nowadays?

11. How would you describe Mr Nishimura?

12. Why was Yoko so surprised when Mr Nishimura enquired about her American teacher?

13. Why couldn't Yoko believe that her father really liked English?

14. How large of a vocabulary does one need in order to communicate effectively in English?

15. When did the Great Kanto Earthquake occur?

16. What is a furoshiki?

17. Explain the difference between an "acquaintance" and a "friend".

18. How are Americans and Japanese different when posing for a photograph?

19. What did Yoko think of Miss Mora's eyes?

20. Mr. Nishimura did not seem at all worried about his poor accent. What do you think of his attitude?

21. What is your impression of Miss Mora?

22. Why do you suppose that neither Yoko nor her father spoke about the outcome of the contest?

23. Who do you think won the contest?

24. How would you re-title this story?

A winner of the 1983 Tokyo English Literary Society's poetry award - a contest open to native speakers of English - Noda Fumiko has also won several awards for her fiction. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Niigata University, and an M.A. in creative writing from Norwich University. In 1982, Ms. Noda participated in the writers' workshop held at Rochester University in New York. She says that Malcom Cowley's words still ring in her ears: "Read a great deal, write a great deal, and get published."
"Alice" by Noda Fumiko 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.