The Story of Our Founder – Part 5

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?

The Story of Our Founder – Part 4

Soon after my arrival in Edinburgh I spend a few days at a youth hostel in Paris. There I met another Japanese traveler who told me about his experience working at farms in Switzerland in exchange for a daily wage as well as room and board. At that time I only had a vague image of Switzerland as a place known for fine timepieces, chocolate and beautiful landscapes. The notion of delicious meals, soft feather pillows and a decent wage caught my attention, so I decided to make Switzerland my next destination. I didn’t have any particular destination in mind in Switzerland, so I rode around on the train checking out different stops until I liked what saw in the town of Yverdon-les-Bains, and decided to begin my job search there.

In Yverdon-les-Bains was a disco full of people dancing to the music, so I figured it would probably be a good place to look for work. I approached an older man who looked like a manager, and in my broken English I told him I wanted a job. The man then took me to his car and drove me to a hotel on the outskirts of town. There the man spoke to a pudgy lady, and then he left, leaving me there alone with the woman. She only spoke French, so I couldn’t understand a word she said, but she seemed to be telling me I could work there at the hotel.

After that, the lady took me to the laundry room to pick up a towel and bed sheets, and she then took me to a room inside the hotel where I could sleep at night. She showed me where the bathroom was and other parts of the hotel. Finally she gave me the key to my room.

The next day I would start in the hotel restaurant washing the pots and pans, peeling potatoes and cleaning the kitchen. I was relieved that I had woken up in Paris that morning, but by the end of the day I had secured work and a place to stay. That night I slept soundly on the feather bed in my room.

I didn’t know how long I would stay and work there, and I didn’t have any concrete plans at that moment. All I knew was that when I got some free time I wanted to get a bite to eat at the restaurant at the top of the mountain near the train station in town where I first got off.

To be continued…