The day before we sat down for an interview with Kato-sensei, we had a stroll in the vicinity of the school. Chancing upon an information board at the edge of a butterfly trail, there was a twinkle in Kato-sensei’s eyes as she asked, “where are the butterflies?” We both looked up and saw one with bright yellow wings fluttering by. “Quick! Take a picture!”
At the sound of her voice, we immediately chased after the butterfly with our camera lens. After we took a satisfactory shot, our heads tilted to the side in amused bewilderment. Weren’t we supposed to take photos of Kato-sensei instead? We turned, and there she was, patiently waiting with a beaming smile.
Why did you choose to work at Bunka?
KA: It’s not that I chose Bunka or Singapore. I was applying for a job abroad and Singapore was the first to reply. (laughs)
What do you do on your day off?
KA: I study at home and prepare for my lessons.
What do you miss about Japan?
KA: I’m currently doing my best to adapt to the working life here so I do not miss Japan. Adjusting adjusting…
Where is your current favourite hangout?
KA: I don’t have a favourite hangout but my favourite place is here at Bunka.
What about a cafe or the movies? A place to relax?
KA: I wanted to go to the movies but I have never gone there. But there is a place I want to go to relax: onsen! There’s one in Singapore, do you know where?
Could it be the one at Stadium?
KA: Sou sou sou sou! I saw it in a guidebook.
It’s expensive, though. (laughs)
KA: It’s probably $30 dollars? But I’d go there to relax. (laughs) It would be a problem if I went there every day. It’s okay if it’s just once.
We should think it’s alright to go once every month.
KA: Yes, on pay day!
What are “Singlish” words you have learnt so far?
KA: I don’t know any! Singlish? I don’t know Singlish. I only know Japanese.
What are your favourite and least favourite local foods?
KA: I am currently finding them. I try everything.
What is your hobby?
KA: I used to cook a lot in Japan but after coming to Singapore, I stopped doing that. A new hobby…
What about singing?
KA: Ah! We sang “Doraemon no Uta” in class today! It was a karaoke session. (softly exclaiming) takekoputaa! (laughs)
If I remember correctly, the lyrics goes like…
KA: (singing) Konna koto ii na… dekitara ii na… hai! Takekoputaa!
Of all the countries you have visited, which is your favourite?
KA: My favourite country? (points her index finger downwards)
Why is that so?
KA: Although difficult matters might arise at times, the people here are nice. And there’s no winter!
Ehhh! Wouldn’t it be nice to have winter in Singapore?
KA: You have to wear a lot of clothes during winter. You’d get tired because it’s heavy.
But winter fashion is pretty.
KA: It’s cute, isn’t it? Wearing a cap, a coat and a pair of mufflers. It’s cute, oh, I like boots! Boots are really cute.
She pushes her chair back and sticks her leg out to show an imaginary boot. We nod in agreement, feeling a little downcast because wearing boots in this tropical country would mean walking into hellfire. She settles back in her chair, her eyes glowing brightly. We cast away all thoughts of sadness.
Kato-sensei was born in Gifu Prefecture but she spent most of her time in Nagoya. Upon seeing our perturbed faces at the mention of “Gifu”, she explained that it shares borders with seven other prefectures such as Aichi.
What will you recommend to people who are planning a visit to Nagoya.
KA: Sightseeing? There’s nothing to see. Industrial. Nagoya is known for cars, so there’s nothing but cars there.
You must have experienced some culture shock when you first came to Singapore. Tell us about them!
KA: What is it? People giving up their seats to the elderly in the train. They don’t hesitate. They don’t go, “dōshiyo kana – what should I do?”. “Ojīsan and obāsan have come! Hai!” (stands up). It’s really fast.
Is it not like that in Japan?
KA: We would think first. It would take some time before we decide to offer up our seats. But Singaporeans are swift. The moment ojīsan and obāsan come in, (stands up) “hai dōzo!”
What message would you like to leave to students who are currently learning the Japanese language?
KA: (shows a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson from her phone) “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that ability to perform it has improved.” Never give up! Ganbatte kudasai! I’m here to help!
We wind up the interview and exchanged bows. “It was fun,” she chuckled as we rose from our seats. Yes, indeed.