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Ohayoo gozaimasu to you all. And wishing you Ganbatte as well, Premier

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As all of Australia waits to hear one word – Brisbane – from the lips of Olympic boss Thomas Bach, a bit of Japanese courage and perseverance might also be in order, writes Rebecca Levingston

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Ohayoo gozaimasu means good morning in Japanese.

Wonder if the Premier has mastered the pronunciation yet?

“Ganbatte” Palaszczuk-san! More on that translation later. First, a trip to Tokyo with me…

When I was 19, I put on a backpack and moved to Japan. I was mid-way through a degree in Japanese and decided it was time to get a first-hand language lesson.

I could barely understand the train announcements when I first arrived. People were incredibly kind and it was a brilliant chapter in my life. But when I think back to my time in Japan, it’s like recalling a ridiculous dream.

I lived in Osaka in a multi-level share-house owned by a guy called Fla-Fla. He was obsessed with Flamingos. He turned the bottom floor of our house into a tiny restaurant decorated with long-legged pink birds and served Heineken beer on tap.

Two levels up, a bunch of foreigners shared a kitchen, plunge bath and a dark green toilet with a heated seat. I had several flatmates including a giant Hawaiian dude who threw shakas and shouted “Aloha” every time he entered a room.

His name was Rick. He didn’t get along with our other flatmate who was a tiny flamboyant New Zealander called Trent who frequently squealed with delight. I loved him but he confused our American friend. Trent referred to him as Rick with a silent P.

Just around the corner from where we lived was a bar that could only fit about six people inside. The owner had shiny black hair that he pulled back into a long pony tail and he smoked constantly.

He lit his cigarettes using a mini blow torch. Once I took a huge drag on his cigarette and my head spun so badly, I couldn’t lift it off the bar. It was the best anti-smoking lesson a curious teenager could be given.

My Japanese quickly started to improve and I started dreaming in Japanese. Ironically, I got work as an English teacher. My first boss invited me to dinner and served up deep-fried prawns that were golden and glistening. He ate the prawn head, so I did too. It remains the crunchiest meal I’ve had.

I also worked in a kindergarten where I could hear my tiny students whispering to each other about the colour of my eyes. It was their first experience seeing a blue-eyed foreigner.

They were the most perfect little humans I’d ever seen. They sang to start their day and all wore the same tiny little red hats. I cried when I finished that job.

I remember riding the train home, squished in with punks and school kids and drunk salary men with red, flushed faces. Sometimes they stared at me and for an uncomfortable but valuable lesson in life, I got to experience what it felt like to be “different”.

You could buy beer from vending machines and most restaurants had plastic life-sized replicas of their dishes on display out the front.

I became so accustomed to life in Japan that the morning after too many Heinekens, instead of craving fast food, I’d head to a multi-level sushi train that pumped out American hip-hop while perfect plates of raw fish circled. The only one I never liked was eel. Unagi. It’s still a ‘no’ for me.

Osaka shopping districts were dotted with octopus ball stalls and tiny instant photo booths. Friends would step inside and take pictures then print out sheets with multiple copies framed with cute illustrations. Selfies pre-Instagram I guess. Everyone in the photos was holding up their fingers in a peace sign.

Facemasks were common. Little did know that 25 years later, I’d be wearing one too. Weird, fun memories in a very different world. Here’s one last Japanese word, that I reckon might be handy in 2021.

“Ganbatte” It translates in a couple of ways. Persevere, do your best, hang in there, keep going, don’t give up, good luck.

In Japan it’s used in almost any situation. Little kid trips at the playground “Ganbatte”. Teenager breaks up with a girlfriend “Ganbatte”. Adults going into a work meeting “Ganbatte”. Sad friend needs a lift “Ganbatte”.

Encouragement in times of hardship. The essence of the word revolves around the concept of never giving up, no matter how hard the challenge. So let me send out a global ganbatte.

And let’s hope one day we’ll again be making memories in new places.

 

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