A Visit From the Japanese

This week, I had an opportunity to meet with a delegation of Japanese who had traveled to Yosemite for training with the National Park Service. Led by Prof. Takeshi Kobayashi from the Gifu Academy of Forest Science and Culture, the seventeen group members, many who work in Japanese national parks, attended a week-long seminar entitled, “Integrating Research with Interpretation in National Parks.” Chris Stein, Chief of Interpretation for Yosemite, was kind enough to include me in the training knowing that I’d benefit from the chance to try out my Japanese.

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Mike Tollefson, Yosemite’s Park Superintendent, hosted a fun welcome gathering at his home for the group for their first evening. Although I was humbled immediately by my inability to understand any of the sentences the translator uttered, I did try to impress the group by saying the Japanese word for “dog” (inu—the one word I have absolute confidence in pronouncing), whenever possible. After we completed our introductions, we sampled excellent saki in Yosemite themed shot glasses and exchanged gifts in the Japanese tradition.

The absolute high point of the evening arrived when two young men from the group inquired about one of the fine pieces of artwork in Mike’s home—beautiful carvings on a “tusk.” What animal did I think the tusk came from? An innocent enough question, but when I checked with Mike for answer, he began chuckling. “It’s the penis bone from a walrus,” he replied. That’s a word I had not yet learned. In the spirit of providing good and accurate interpretation, however, I bravely conveyed the truth back to the students, trying not to blush. Sign language definitely helped bridge the language barrier in this instance.

On Thursday, I spoke to the group about the role of our cooperating association in supporting education and interpretation in the park. The portable backpacker’s bear canister was an object of fascination and interest; apparently the bears have been learning from their American counterparts and food hung from trees is no longer safe. I told the students how the NPS and YA had focused on visitor education to help keep human food away from the bears.

What a great group! I enjoyed their enthusiasm and look forward to visiting some of my new friends when I am in Japan.