Share this page


Small ads

Sunday, 12 June 2016

University of 3rd AgeStranger in a Strange Land


Tod U3A, with speaker Gill Russell


Gill Russell, Chair of the North-West Region of U3A groups, was Todmorden U3A's guest speaker on Thursday, May 19th. In sunshine worthy of the Japanese cherry blossom she so lovingly talked about, 129 members listened to Gill's account of her hugely pleasurable 4-year experience of the country, and some of the cultural misunderstandings she encountered.

Arriving in Japan

One such occurred as soon as she and her children arrived. Gill's husband was on business and had arranged for them to be met at the airport. The Japanese use of the double negative led to their missing picking him up at the bus station. Then they arrived in Yokohama and discovered that their driver did not know their address. Nor did they. They eventually found it because their house had their name on it.

Their address turned out to be 265 – 3 Yamate-Cho, Naka – Ku, Yokohama 231. Being interpreted, this means they lived in house number 3 in road 265 of the little area of Yamate-Cho in the larger area of Naka-Ku in area 231 of Yokohama.

Moreover, road 265 did not necessarily signify that it came after road 264 and before road 266. Roads are named according to the order in which they are finished, not the order in which they are situated.

Modern and traditional

Gill's talk turned out to be a very useful guide to what to expect should you be travelling to Japan. What seemed most to have impressed her was the way in which the culturally traditional and the culturally modern sit so easily side by side.

Thus the kimono and the hakama tend to be worn by women and men respectively on formal occasions, though older and younger women in particular favour traditional clothes. But western dress and habits are equally part of modern Japan.

Similarly, the western department store may often have a Shinto shrine on the roof. And Japanese homes may be westernised for the most part, but tend to have one traditional room in which there are futons and a low table.

Traditional formality is still highly regarded, too. Thus, the conductor on the shinkansen (bullet train) will bow on entering and on leaving a carriage.


One confusing feature of Japan for the western traveller is the language. You have no option but to learn some basics to find your way around, especially in cities which are very crowded. Once you've sorted out the difference between hiragana, katakana and kanji, you should be fine!

Gill was at pains to point out that the relationship between the Japanese and nature is very strong. Thus cherry blossom is seriously celebrated and families and friends will enjoy sitting under it at blossom-time, recalling how beautiful but how short life is.

Gardens and nature

And gardens are differently conceived to look as natural as possible. At tea houses, a stream and bridge and the presence of koi carp are essential; and stone gardens for quiet contemplation are common.

Gill took several questions from members on subjects as diverse as religion, geishas and her favourite cultural objects (which included woodblock prints). She concluded by commenting on how it's much harder for the Japanese stepping into a westernised cultural landscape, and how the nation has therefore learned to absorb quickly things they need to know.

We must thank Gill very much for her time, and to wish her well for when she next journeys to Japan, a more exotic excursion than the Let's Go Group's recent trip to Brodsworth House where members nevertheless enjoyed both the house and the (un-Japanese) gardens, notable for the colour not only of their flowers but also of their trees and shrubs.

Next meeting: living in the Canadian Sub-Arctic

U3A Todmorden's next meeting and AGM is on Thursday, June 16th in the Central Methodist Church at 1.45. Following the AGM, our speaker is Dr Frank Nicholson who will be talking about living in the Canadian Sub-Arctic.

Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk or (phone) 01706 839175.

Many thanks to Anthony Peter for this report


Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

HebWeb News:Life with polio and a career as a TV and Radio presenter. with speaker Jane Shepherd (7 May 2016)

HebWeb News:Small in a Tall Person's World with speakers Hamish Willis and Penny Dean OBE (31 March 2016)

HebWeb News:In the Footsteps of Norbert Carteret (22 February 2016)

HebWeb News:Gallivanting on Public Transport - a Bus Pass from Berwick to Land's End (30 September 2015)

HebWeb News: Magna Carta - A (Mostly) Light-hearted look at 800 Years of History (1 September 2015)

HebWeb News: Summat a' Nowt - talk by Steve Murty (28 April 2015)

HebWeb News: My Convict Ancestors (12 April 2015)

HebWeb News: Aquaponics Lab - A Radical Solution (16 January 2015)

HebWeb News: British Professional Cycling – Tykes and Le Tour de France (11 December 2014)

HebWeb News: Life in La Serenissima, Venice - Kathryn Ogden (9 July 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: The Machine that Changed the World (25 February 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Music and the Deaf (12 February 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Psychology and You - Part Two David Groves made a welcome return as a speaker at the October Todmorden U3A (26 October 2013)

HebWeb News: Hebden Bridge Little Theatre, A Short History was recounted by Ray Riches to the University of the Third Age. (28 Aug 2013)

HebWeb News: John Sheard, retired land agent to the Duke of Devonshire, gave his third talk to members of the U3A, this time on Sir Joseph Paxton, Knighted Gardener (26 July 2013)

HebWeb News: Off Stage Choices: Andrew Rawlinson recounts his theatre experience from Tod Operatic to General Manager of a leading Theatre Group. (18 July 2013)

HebWeb News: The Story of the Hebden Bridge Calendar (April 2013)

HebWeb News: Changing Times in the Press (March 2013)

HebWeb News: Cancer from Both Sides (Nov 2012)

HebWeb News: Steve Halliwell outlined the history of the Woodland Trust (Sept 2012)

HebWeb News: Ray Riches talks on Walking the Pacific Crest Trail (Aug 2012)

HebWeb News: Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison (July 2012)

HebWeb News - Lord Shutt explains the workings of the House of Lords (May 2012)

HebWeb News - Claire Benedict talks acting to Todmorden U3A (April 2012)

HebWeb News - Kate Moreton-Deakin spoke about her day job as Associate Director - Corporate Social Responsibility with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust. (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fair Trade Movement (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fancy a cruise to the Antarctic? (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Gail Allaby, U3A's Queen of the Underworld (Dec 2011)

HebWeb News - September meeting report - Report of meeting about Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

HebWeb News - August meeting report - Bolton Abbey

HebWeb News - May and June meeting report - Keep Learning: Live long and prosper and the role of the Lord-Lieutenant

HebWeb News - April meeting report - Belt and Braces - An Everyday Guide to Risk and Chance

HebWeb News - March meeting report - Growing Old in the Twenty-First Century

We try to make sure that information on the Hebden Bridge Web is correct, but if you are aware of any errors or omissions, please email us.

If you have comments on HebWeb News or Features please make a contribution to our Discussion Forum

More News