Todmorden U3A: A stranger in a strange land

editorial image

Gill Russell, Chair of the North-West Region of U3A groups, was Todmorden U3A’s guest speaker on Thursday, May 19.

In sunshine worthy of the Japanese cherry blossom she so lovingly talked about, 129 members listened to Gill’s account of her hugely pleasurable four-year experience of the country, and some of the cultural misunderstandings she encountered.

One such occurred as soon as she and her children arrived. Gill’s husband was on business and had arranged for them to be met at the airport. The Japanese use of the double negative led to their missing picking him up at the bus station. Then they arrived in Yokohama and discovered that their driver did not know their address. Nor did they. They eventually found it because their house had their name on it.

Gill’s talk turned out to be a very useful guide to what to expect should you be travelling to Japan. What seemed most to have impressed her was the way in which the culturally traditional and the culturally modern sit so easily side by side.

Thus the kimono and the hakama tend to be worn by women and men respectively on formal occasions, though older and younger women in particular favour traditional clothes. But western dress and habits are equally part of modern Japan.

Similarly, the western department store may often have a Shinto shrine on the roof. And Japanese homes may be westernised for the most part, but tend to have one traditional room in which there are futons and a low table.

Traditional formality is still highly regarded, too. The conductor on the shinkansen (bullet train) will bow on entering and on leaving a carriage.

One confusing feature of Japan for the western traveller is the language. You have no option but to learn some basics to find your way around, especially in cities which are very crowded.

Gill was at pains to point out that the relationship between the Japanese and nature is very strong. Cherry blossom is seriously celebrated and families and friends will enjoy sitting under it at blossom-time, recalling how beautiful but how short life is.

Gill took several questions from members on subjects as diverse as religion, geishas and her favourite cultural objects (which included woodblock prints).

We must thank Gill very much for her time, and to wish her well for when she next journeys to Japan, a more exotic excursion than the Let’s Go Group’s recent trip to Brodsworth House where members enjoyed both the house and the gardens.

U3A Todmorden’s next meeting and annual general meeting (AGM) is on Thursday, June 16 in the Central Methodist Church at 1.45pm. Following the AGM, our speaker is Dr Frank Nicholson who will be talking about living in the Canadian Sub-Arctic. For more details visit or email