I was watching Another Sky, a variety program interviewing guests who have a “second home” in a foreign land. Today’s episode was an interview with actress Kojima Ruriko (小島瑠璃子).
For her, she went to Alabama, a place where she did a 2-week home-stay program when she was only 13 years old. Everything looked fine until she told the host family, whom she hadn’t met for 10 years, that she wrote a letter for them. She took the letter out from her pocket and when she said she was going to read it, I felt some discomfort.
For a long time, I’ve not felt that way watching someone read a letter to the person they wrote it for. I’ve gotten so used to it watching Japanese TV programs, it didn’t feel unusual anymore, until I saw it happen with a foreign family.
The Japanese have a very unique practice of reading the letter to the person whom it is intended for. They think it is more touching and makes people cry. Yes, they like to make people cry on TV. But when I came back to my roots as a foreign person, I realised I don’t want people to read to me their letters to me. It is so impersonal that way and defeats the purpose of writing a letter. It also feels more like a prepared speech and I get your notes after you’re done presenting. If you’ve already written it, you should have faith that I am literate enough to read it, unless your writing is very illegible.
There’s this joy I feel when I read a letter someone writes me; when I read it in my own time finding out about their thoughts when they are not around. It feels sweet. Watching Kojima read her letter to the American family was a teeny bit difficult to bear. It looked like she was giving a speech but instead of presenting, she decided read off the notes while taking the joy of reading it away from the family.
All that aside, despite all the technology, the practice of writing letters is still lingering around in Japanese culture, which I think is very beautiful. The Japanese people are outstanding at preserving tradition, although I have something against their insistence in retaining use of the fax machine. I sometimes wish I still receive letters. Even though it hardly happens now, that makes it all the sweeter when I do receive one. In fact, I still have all the letters I received from my friends as a student, all locked properly in my drawer back in Singapore.
If you do write me a letter, please let me read it myself.