Four Seasons
The Wonderful World of Japanese Writers of English

Intermediate - Advanced

Here's a travel writing piece written originally in English.

"In Search of The Northern Lights Lake"
by Urashima Hisashi

Pre-Reading Exercise 1

Reading Without A Dictionary: Vocabulary Build-Up
The following sentences include words from "In Search of the Northern Lights Lake", a travel adventure in Minnesota and Ontario. Read through the sentences and then pick the correct answer from the choices given. Do your best!
Click to find out if you are right or wrong.

1. In the night sky, there are countless stars.
Countless means ...
a. more than can be counted
b. famous in Hollywood
c. take an umbrella

2. Gravel is often found around temple buildings in Japan.
Gravel is ...
a. hamburgers and French fries
b. small stones and pebbles
c. ten thousand tiny carp

3. Albert Einstein was convinced that his ideas were correct when he found that all of the mediocre scientists were in opposition to his ideas.
Opposition indicates ...
a. three men in a tub
b. medicine cabinets
c. being against something

4. Sandra applied for the job, but didn't get it because they only wanted a man.
Applied means that Sandra ...
a. asked for and tried to get a job
b. only wanted a man's position
c. dressed up like a bandit

5. Although Kenji's attendance is irregular, he still gets top marks because his work is excellent.
Irregular tells us that ...
a. the class meets once a month
b. Kenji doesn't come all of the time
c. homework should be done at home

6. A person with high expectations is often disappointed because goals and talents don't always match.
Expectations are ...
a. rabbits
b. good books
c. hopes

7. As usual, Kenny drank five pints of beer and staggered home.
Staggered means that Kenny ...
a. was killed on the road
b. had difficulty walking
c. let the spirits take him away

8. Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics.
Hosted refers to ...
a. holding an event
b. saying a prayer
c. riding a horse

9. IN 1988 Australia celebrated its Bicentennial: in 1788 the first Europeans arrived and began to colonize the country.
Bicentennial is an adjective for ...
a. 100 years
b. 200 years
c. 300 years

10. Adam is so devoted to Eve that he does the house cleaning, the cooking, and even buys the groceries for her.
Devoted implies that Adam ...
a. is cold-hearted
b. wears a fig-leaf
c. likes Eve a lot

11. Because Mrs. Ericson never tells a lie, people trust her a lot.
Trust might be changed to ...
a. apples
b. believe
c. corkscrew

12. The procedure in getting to the airplane is simple: first pay the airport tax, show your passport and visa, and then show your ticket.
Procedure means ...
a. an organized way of doing things
b. going to France in a ferry-boat
c. everybody does everything his or her way

13. Since there was no reward for practicing the violin, James Bond gave it up as a pointless exercise.
Pointless suggests that ...
a. violins break
b. there was no purpose
c. James Bond is a spy

14. In old Japan, villages were scattered all over the countryside.
Scattered informs us that the villages were ...
a. full of samurai on horseback
b. really in the sea, but nobody noticed
c. not closely grouped together

15. When the death sentence was given, the assassin pleaded for his life.
Pleaded is like ...
a. life's pleasures
b. begged
c. grammar

16. The baseball manager's strategy was to get a run each inning because he thought it would be enough to win.
Strategy means ...
. plan
b. nap
c. wife

17. When Alan made Yolinda pregnant, he was forced to marry her.
Forced indicates that Alan ...
a. had no choice
b. ate a watermelon
c. emigrated

18. Yesterday the T.V. set broke down, but I am so happy because it was repaired last night and I can watch my favorite program this morning.
Repaired tells us that the T.V. set ...
a. had to go back to the factory
b. went to town and slept soundly
c. was made to work correctly

19. When \3,000,000 were missing, the bank manager was suspicious of his assistants.
Suspicious means that the manager ...
a. sailed down the river
b. telephoned Sherlock Holmes
c. had his doubts about them

20. Because Gulliver was a famous person, he only had to pay a deposit of one yen on his apartment in Tokyo.
Deposit refers to ...
a. Indian elephants
b. a necessary payment
c. 100 little men

21. Since the company offered a lot of money, William's mother urged him to join it.
Urged tells us that his mother ...
a. suggested her idea strongly
b. told him to go rob a bank
c. sold used cars for a hobby

22. By most people's standards, a private plane is a luxury.
Luxury denotes ...
a. something that poor people buy for the fun of it
b. flying in a UFO to Mars and back
c. an item that isn't necessary, but sometimes convenient

23. When Dick Whittington heard a big noise in the middle of the night, he was alarmed, but was later relieved to discover that it was his cat chasing a rat.
Alarmed is similar to ...
a. frightened
b. midnight
c. Dracula

24. Paris is usually regarded as the most beautiful city in the world.
Regarded as means ...
a. lover's paradise
b. sending a present
c. thought to be

In Search of The Northern Lights Lake
by Urashima Hisashi

A Lake Is Discovered

It was one day last may that I got a call from Miss Iwasaki in Sapporo. She is a talented woman with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Minnesota and is currently teaching at various private universities in Sapporo. I came to know her through our business connections. I still haven't forgotten her words, "Are you going to sell these?" when I showed her the newly-printed copies of the first edition of Northern Lights.

She called to apologize that she couldn't complete the translation which I requested for the second edition because she was too busy after visiting Minnesota and Canada on business. Then she added, "By the way, Mr. Urashima, I happened to see 'Northern Lights Lake' somewhere on the map." I couldn't help asking her, "Where is it?" She couldn't recall at that particular moment but a few minutes later she called me back. "The Northern Lights Lake is located somewhere near the border between Canada and America." Minnesota is called "The Land of Ten Thousand Lakes" and there are countless lakes in the province of Ontario, Canada. I thought Northern Lights Lake might be one of them.

Preparations For My Trip

The trip to the Northern Lights Lake couldn't have taken place without the help of Miss Takai of the Japan Travel Bureau, Obihiro Office. I was greatly impressed by the efficient network of Japanese travel agencies. One map after another was piled on the desk, showing the area around Thunder Bay, the nearest town to the lake and so on. They gradually became more detailed and finally I obtained a road map and a timetable for the bus. I found that the bus runs only once a day from Duluth to Thunder Bay. It leaves at 5 p.m. and reaches Thunder Bay at midnight. There seemed to be no public transportation to the lake from Thunder Bay which meant I would have to go by car which would be difficult because the road was a gravel one.

I'm known as an awful driver among my friends, and although it has been more than ten years since I learned to drive, I still have a lot of difficulty in handling a car. Yet in spite of opposition from my friends and parents, I applied for an international driver's license in Kushiro just before leaving for America.

Japanese Church in Minneapolis

July 26, 1981

I soon found myself flying from Boston, where I had been visiting a friend, to Minneapolis. I was supposed to stay with Mr. Matsuda, to whom I had been introduced by Miss Iwasaki. He had arranged for two of his friends to meet me. Since we were to meet for the first time, I wore a T-shirt with "Hokkaido" written in big Chinese characters. As it happened, however, I was the only Japanese passenger in the airplane so it wasn't very difficult for them to identify me.

Mr. Matsuda's house was set in beautiful surroundings and this immediately gave me a very favorable impression of America. Unfortunately, Mr. Matsuda, a missionary, was visiting Japan at the time and only Mrs. Matsuda was there to meet me. She talked about the "Church for Japanese" which was a new concept to me. According to Mrs. Matsuda, Mr. Matsuda, who was once jut an ordinary 9-to-5 employee, had decided to become a pastor after reading a non-fiction book entitled Five Martyrs, which describes the struggle of Christians in the Amazon. Not long after, he left his job and began his religious studies. To guide Japanese people abroad in the service of God became his dream. That was how they had come to settle in Minneapolis.

To Duluth by Amtrak

July 27, 1981

Minneapolis and St. Paul are twin cities with a combined population of about one million people. It was difficult for me to believe that a place of that size had only five or six trains leaving a day, aware as I was that America is an automobile dominated nation. My next destination was Duluth, a city on the shores of Lake Superior (one of the five Great Lakes), but there was only one train a day between Minneapolis and that city!

It was still dark when I took the 7:50 a.m. train to Duluth. It left from an airport-like station and certainly didn't cast the romantic mood which is often felt in European and Japanese train stations. The train was even slower than those in Hokkaido, and they are considered to be the slowest in Japan. As it meandered through the city, I felt sure that I could move faster myself. Moreover they charged me $16.20 one way, which was somewhat more expensive than the $10 ticket for a Greyhound bus ride. It is no wonder the railway is having financial difficulties. I survived the two-and-a-half hour trip, however, and arrived at Duluth ten minutes behind schedule. I was surprised that the train was nearly on time because I had heard how irregular American trains could be. After reaching the station I soon discovered that one couldn't have the same expectations as in Japan. There were only a few coin lockers and a small shop, and the second floor was used as a museum. I tried to find an information center, but couldn't. I eventually discovered it was some distance from the station. Carrying heavy luggage, I staggered along, my face beaded with sweat. I already had blisters on my feet.

I wanted to find the place to catch a bus to Thunder Bay and hoped there would be a hotel located nearby. The two old ladies at the tourist information center weren't very friendly or helpful. They probably didn't want to waste time dealing with a foreigner. More to the point, they had never heard of the NTC bus company, which I had read about in the bus timetable in Japan; and although I was given a list of cheap hotels, it wasn't of any use to me because I didn't have a car. I had to book into the first hotel I came across.

As soon as I had settled into my hotel room, I began to check the telephone numbers of travel agencies and call them up one by one, but they didn't know about the NTC either. In the end I almost gave up the idea of going to the lake. I didn't know what to do in a city where I had no friends or acquaintances. I wondered how I could explain my failure to my friends in Obihiro who would be looking forward to hearing my story.

As a last resort I asked the lady at the front desk for help. I didn't try to use fluent English anymore and acted like a helpless traveler. I showed her a copy of Northern Lights and told her that I had come all the way from Japan in order to take pictures of the lake whose name happened to be the same as that of the magazine. She smiled when I said that I was a magazine editor. She advised me to call the Greyhound bus company, which can be found all over America, or try to find the number of the NTC head office in the telephone book.

She was the first person in the entire city to display any understanding or warmth. She discovered that the NTC company ran their business in a part of the Greyhound bus terminal. When I gave her a pack of "Seven Star" Japanese cigarettes to express my thanks, she smiled even more pleasantly. It so happened that her name was Joyce which is very similar to the name of my English school, English House "Joy". On the following morning I was even welcomed by the manager of the hotel and his staff, and they treated me as their first-class guest. That made me feel great.

Meeting Curling Mates

Duluth hosted the world curling championship in 1976, America's bicentennial year. Curling originated in Scotland in the early sixteenth century and is a kind of chess game played on ice. For Hokkaido it is a rather new sport, but it is a national sport for Canadians. My first encounter with curling dated to 1980. It was then that the first official curling seminars in Hokkaido were held. The events were organized by the Northern Regions Center and Hokkaido Canada Society. A special guest was Mr. Wally Ursuliak, the former world champion from Canada. I hadn't devoted myself to any sports as yet, but curling was different. I began to dream of participating in the world curling championship someday.

Mr. Ursuliak always remarked that only good people curl. Trusting his words and expecting to find friends, I visited the curling club while in Duluth, even though it was the off-season. I felt my luck changing for the better when I met Tom George, the owner of the curling lounge. He is one of the players who had just failed to qualify for the world championship final. He introduced me to many of his curling mates and showed me the biggest curling hall in America which had eight sheets of ice. Tom also introduced me to his friend, Bob Nicle, who lives in Thunder Bay.

From the U.S.A. to Canada

July 28, 1981

Finishing my rather late lunch at Tom's curling lounge, I packed up some sandwiches and headed for the bus terminal. Tom and his friends seemed to be very interested in my story, and they all looked forward to my safe return on Thursday.

I arrived at the bus terminal earlier than I had expected, so I had an hour or more to kill there. I could get the feel of American life here, but I didn't experience any of the danger which I was frequently warned about in Japan. When the bus came I hurried to a window seat from which I could see Lake Superior. But the colored glass prevented me from seeing the panorama of the lake. It's the biggest fresh water lake in the world, and it's huge, just like a quiet ocean.

Only twenty people rode the bus from Duluth. There was a young lady with thick make-up on her face, probably going back after a long absence, and also an old man sat in front of me who looked rather tired; he must have been on his way back from shopping in the town. Passengers got off the bus one by one, not at a bus stop but any place. It reminded me of the flag stops in the stories I had read about life in Alaska.

As the bus approached the Canadian border, I could see the customs inspection station. A custom officer jumped into the bus and started asking each passenger questions. He asked me to show him my passport and questioned me about the purpose of my visit, my period of stay, the number of cigarettes I might have, and if I was possibly carrying any armaments. Incredible! I was asked to step off the bus and go to the customs office in order to get my passport stamped. The procedure was simple. It was actually just a matter of crossing a river.

It took me four hours and forty minutes in all to reach Thunder Bay. I was one of two passengers who stayed on until the very last stop.

Even though it was midnight in Thunder Bay, there were many noisy youngsters roaming the streets. From my hotel room I made telephone calls to Tom's friend, Bob, every five minutes up until 1:00 a.m., but it was pointless. I realized that it was going to be more difficult to reach the lake than I had imagined. I felt ashamed of myself for having to rely on others. Besides, time was running out. I could spend just one day in Thunder Bay.

Please help me!

July 29, 1981

I woke up at seven, which is earlier in the morning than usual. Perhaps I was a bit nervous. The first thing I did was to call Bob. He answered the phone and apologized that he had been out with his wife the previous night. He then told me a little about the lake. He stressed that the road to it was only paved halfway and the lake couldn't be reached by any public transportation. After talking with him over the phone for a few minutes, I realized that he was unwilling to offer to take me to the lake in his car. Anyway I said "Thank you" and hung up the phone. There was no choice but to get to the lake on my own.

Thunder Bay, a city of 100,000 people, didn't look like the big city I thought it would be. It is mainly divided into two sectors, North and South, and houses are scattered over a wide area. Because of the misinformation given to me by the Greyhound office, I reserved a room at a hotel in Thunder Bay North, which isn't the center of the city, so I had to take a bus to the South side.

It was 8:20 a.m. when I arrived at the bus terminal in the South, which wasn't so far from the city hall. I thought of dropping in and having a talk with the city mayor, but since there was an information center nearby, I decided that it was better to wait until it opened at 8:30.

Finally a young and beautiful Canadian girl drove up in her car. She worked in the information center. As soon as she opened the center's door, I went in and pleaded, "Please help me!" in unsteady English. This was a common strategy of mine as a way of winning someone else's sympathy. I took Northern Lights out of my bag along with some pamphlets, maps and everything I had collected in Japan, placed them on her desk and explained the reason for my trip to Thunder Bay. I asked if she could find me a driver who would be willing to take me to the lake. She answered that there might be a Japanese student at a nearby university and called the university dormitory. Since I was sitting near her, I could hear very clearly what she was saying. She thought of me as someone who couldn't understand English at all, and that was the reason she was asking for the help of a Japanese student.

We waited for a return call from the dormitory for quite some time. It was almost an hour, and I began to feel a little nervous. Another girl tried to call a different source of help, and she was successful. They said that they would send a student along shortly. But again we had to wait for a while. The lady at the counter was really sorry about the delay and offered me a cup of coffee, and we became good friends as we talked. Since it was the day of the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, I said, "You look like Diana." This made her smile.

It was 11:30 when a Canadian high school student by the name of Kevin came into the information center, which meant that I had been there for almost three hours. I agreed to hire him as a driver for four Canadian dollars an hour.

Rent a Car or Lend a Car

It was the second time I had rented a car in a foreign country. The first time was in Malaga, Spain. Myself and two Japanese friends traveled to Granada, Cordoba, and Sevilla in a rented car. But on the way to Sevilla, the car broke down, and we were forced to walk through the desert under the burning sun. Moreover, we were asked to pay the cost of having the car repaired. We had to go to the police station twice before the problem was finally settled.

This time I had trouble even renting a car. Since the office near the information center had no cars to lend, Kevin and I went by bus to a national highway along which there were several rent-a-car offices. But I did not have a credit card with me, so they wouldn't let us rent a car. They were suspicious that without proper identification, the renter might try to sell the car.

We decided to go to the airport where we found five rent-a-car offices. We tried four times to persuade them unsuccessfully, but on our fifth attempt we succeeded. They agreed to rent us a car on the condition I deposit $150 and would not allow Kevin to drive because he was still under 17 years of age. I agreed and with a shaky hand put my signature to the agreement.

The Road to the Northern Lights Lake

The car which we rented cost $40 a day. It was one of those big American cars, a Ford. Kevin described the beautiful spots just off the road, and he urged me to stop and see them. But my feeling was that I didn't want leave the car, even for a minute. I could only think of getting to the lake, and was unwilling to take even the smallest chance with the car.

In the car Kevin told me a lot of stories about how rough Canadian students are. I was afraid to be with him. I tried my best to become his good friend. I even sang one of the Beatles' songs with him when it played on the car radio. I thought it difficult as an adult of twenty-eight years to relate to someone as young as Kevin.

We hit the gravel road which meant another hour before we got to the lake. I had once considered taking a taxi to the lake, if bad came to worse; but had I done so, I would have needed a fortune to pay for the luxury. Two hours of driving there was just like a four-hour trip in Japan. Actually Kevin drove tremendously fast, and he never slowed down even on the gravel road. "You can rely on me! I'm a great driver, you know," he said to me confidently.

When he stopped the car suddenly, I was alarmed, but he had found the road sign leading to the Northern Light Lake. ("Light" was singular, I'm sorry to say.) In a second I jumped out of the car with my camera. I got so excited that I was tempted to steal the sign. The lake was quite near now. At last I saw the lake with my own eyes. It was 3 p.m. on July 29, 1981. I experienced the most exciting moment in my life.

I took quick shots of the lake. Unlike popular Japanese lakes, I could not find a sign board on which the name of the lake was written. Anyway, I knew it was the real Northern Light Lake. It was a rather large lake and probably a resort, as I saw a few campers along its banks.

I found a liquor shop by the lake and rushed inside. On entering it, I couldn't help shouting, "I'm from Japan! I came to see the lake!" The people there probably regarded me as a very strange Japanese indeed. One by one various people approached me, and I explained the whole process of getting there. I was a big star. I probably was the No. 1 customer for the shop that season. I bought everything with "Northern Light" written on it that I could lay my hands on. I spent $65 Canadian on T-shirts, cups, maps, bottle-openers and spoons.

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

1. The author learned of the existence of the lake from ...
A. Mr. Urashima
B. Ms. Iwasaki
C. The University of Minnesota

2. The author was greatly impressed ...
A. with the efficiency of the Japan Travel Bureau
B. to know that he could fly to Canada quite cheaply
C. that the Japan Travel Bureau agreed to hire Ms.Takai

3. Although the author learned to drive ten years ago ...
A. his friends and parents always drive him to work
B. he still has a lot of difficulty in handling a car
C. he decided not to apply for an international driving license

4. As the author wanted Mr. Matsuda to easily identify him, he ...
A. decided to fly directly to Minneapolis
B. wore a T-shirt with "Hokkaido" written on it
C. did not allow any other Japanese on the plane

5. Mr. Matsuda gave up his 9-to-5 job because he ...
A. decided to become a missionary
B. did not want to struggle like a salary man
C. wanted to become a tour guide in America

6. The author got the impression that the train stations in America ...
A. were romantic like those in Japan
B. were brand-new and exciting
C. were not romantic like those in Japan and Europe

7. The author says that American trains are ...
A. known to be always on time
B. known to be often late
C. those that are to be found in America

8. In order to get the front desk lady to help him the author ...
A. spoke to her in broken English
B. invited her to his country
C. gave her six copies of Northern Lights

9. Even though the author had never taken part in any sports he wants ...
A. to try curling
B. to play chess in America
C. to become the world's best skier

10. The author couldn't get a good view of Lake Superior because ...
A. it was rather late at night
B. of the colored glass of the bus
C. he didn't get out of the bus

11. The author was surprised because the customs officer asked him if he ...
A. was carrying any guns
B. was a heavy smoker
C. had more than two arms

12. Several years ago in Spain the author and his friends ...
A. bought a car and sold it at a profit
B. rented a car but it broke down
C. brought the car to Japan with them

13. The author deposited $150 and promised ...
A. to allow Kevin to drive
B. not to allow Kevin to drive
C. to hire Kevin for seventeen years

14. The author and Kevin couldn't get along because ...
A. Kevin talked a lot about his studies
B. the author didn't like music
C. there was a big age gap between them


1. How did the author learn of the existence of the lake?

2. What is Minnesota also known as?

3. What does the author think of the Japan Travel Bureau?

4. Why did the author assume his host would easily be able to identify him?

5. What was it that created a favorable impression of America?

6. What was Mr. Matsuda's job prior to his conversion?

7. What did he do after his conversion?

8. Where in Japan are the slowest trains likely to be found?

9. What is the name of a famous American bus company?

10. What is a national sport in Canada?

11. Dose Mr. Urashima's remark about curling players appear to be true?

12. What is the biggest fresh water lake in the world?

13. Where in Japan do you have flag stops?

14. Why was the author surprised at the customs officer?

15. What was a common ruse of the author?

16. How long did the author have to wait before Kevin's arrival?

17. How much did the author agree to pay him?

18. What unfortunate incident had taken place in Spain several years earlier?

19. What were the two conditions the author had to fulfill before he could rent a car?

20. How much does it cost to rent a car for a day in Japan?

21. How much time did the author spend in Thunder Bay?

22. Why didn't the author succeed in getting along with Kevin?

23. Who is Princess Diana?

24. Why didn't the author want to leave the car even for a moment?

25. Why does the author suppose that the people at the lake must have regarded him as a very strange Japanese man? What is your opinion?

26. At what time and date did the author arrive at the lake?

27. Which moment does the author believe to be the most exciting in his life?

28. How much is $65 Canada in Japanese yen?

Urashima Hisashi was born in a rural town in Hokkaido. After studying at the Otaru University of Commerce, he worked for Matsushita Electric Co. Ltd. in Osaka. He writes; "After working for two years in Osaka, I was convinced that I am a 'Hokkaidonian'. So in 1977 I established an English school named JOY in Obihiro. I then started publishing Northern Lights - a journal with an editorial policy focused on the life, climate and culture of the North. It is also the main interest in my life...."
"In Search of The Northern Lights Lake" by Urashima Hisashi 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.