So, I started working in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, and found a great deal of interesting experiences there just by walking the streets of the town. One time, a sign that said “Judo lessons” caught my eye and I went in. There were about 20 people in judo uniforms practicing. While watching them, the instructor came up to me and asked, “Do you practice judo?” I answered “I don’t do judo but I do karate.” He asked me “Can you teach us karate?” Never one to pass up an opportunity like this, my answer was yes.
I used to practice karate when I was in high school and I had taught when I first came to the US from Japan, in Seattle, where my broken English was just enough to teach karate. In Yverdon-les-Bains, I didn’t have any knowledge of French, though! Still, I managed to get through. Thinking back now, I don’t know how I did. Several weeks later, a local newspaper reporter came to the judo training hall and he interviewed and photographed me. I felt as if I were a celebrity for a while after I appeared in the local newspaper.
Shortly thereafter, a sign that said “free English lesson” caught my eye while walking around Yverdon-les-Bains. I thought it was a great opportunity that I could learn English for free. There were two teachers from America and two students, a man who looked slightly older than I and a woman who looked about my age. The teachers came to Yverdon-les-Bains as Mormon missionaries but they also taught English for free.
This was another interesting opportunity; I knew nothing about the Mormons or their church, but they invited us for a picnic and church service. I must confess I couldn’t understand a thing because the service was held in French. When everyone was singing hymns, in order to fit in I pretended that I knew them and kept humming the tunes.
Seeking some comfort in familiarity, I was very excited to see that there was a local cinema playing Japanese films, so I eagerly attended. Initially, the film seemed to present an ordinary scene of men and women at a bar, but there was something strange about it, it seemed. After a moment, I realized almost everyone held their drink or cigarette in their left hand.
In the next scene, there was a jazz band playing, but it seemed like they were all left-handed. The piano and its player also seemed quite odd. The piano keys were supposed to be laid out with the lower pitch notes to the left and the higher pitch notes to the right, but for some reason it seemed to be reversed. For a moment, I thought this might be some kind of bar specifically for left-handed people, with left-handed musicians playing specially-designed left-handed instruments. This, of course, seemed strange.
The mystery was finally solved when Japanese text appeared. All the characters were backwards! They were reversed as if they were copied off the reflection in a mirror. I realized the film was mistakenly set to the projector in reverse, and wondered if anyone else in the movie theater noticed it. Perhaps the people of Yverdon-les-Bains just thought all Japanese people were left-handed?