I love libraries, a fact which may already be known to people who have read our old blogs. I was therefore totally willing to tag along to the Fukuoka City Public Library with our school's teacher supporter Kumi in exchange for her help in registering for a card. This is my first library card for a library not predominantly in English, which is fun, and led to some comical moments when they tried to figure out how to fit my massive 23-letter English first, middle, and last name plus the Japanese katakana transliteration into spaces meant for a name like "山口圭子."
Our school is just a few minutes by bike from the main branch, the exterior of which is pictured at the link above. It's quite large, and has a very good selection, although sadly I have yet to see a Library Cat. There is plenty of work space which I think Justin and I may use as it gets colder so we can do our grading somewhere besides the apartment.
Here's a peek at the gloriously English-subtitled floor map:
...and my section of interest, "International Materials"
If I were a film director, I'd be required to give you an "establishing shot" so you could figure out what this third floor looks like. So here it is, and please remember I had to do this in the middle of a library with my finger mushed down over the speaker on my camera that makes that digital shutter sound effect. The things I do for you...
The international section is sorted, as best I can determine, by region of publication, which does have the interesting effect of separating English-language UK books from English-language US or Australian books. America and Canada can be found together here:
The selection really isn't bad at all, considering this is a small city and English-speakers aren't necessarily the dominant foreign minority (that's probably Koreans; the Korean section is very large). You can see several good "literary" fiction options in the picture above, such as Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red. I, however, am more interested in shelves like these, containing the entire Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse series:
It is to my sorrow that I have to report a dearth of my beloved romance novels. Now, generally, I can spot these babies just by packaging from a long way away, so the books pictured below really got my hopes up. Alas, upon closer inspection: Russian, and perhaps not even romances. If I had to, though, I'd lay money that these are the Russian translations of somebody like Danielle Steele (who is not, believe it or not, actually a romance novelist - but that's an issue for another day). Leslie, any help?
Beyond the International Materials section was a wall display of books related to Fukuoka's sister cities, including Auckland, New Zealand, Bordeaux, France, Guangzhou, China, and Busan, South Korea. On the American side, we somehow ended up with both Oakland and Atlanta. I genuinely don't know what to make of that, but I think it might be an insult.
The library has an excellent selection of nonfiction in English, so a few days later I took my seniors over to do research for their history projects. They, of course, are multilingual. While walking with the Japanese kids through that section, I found the following English books translated into Japanese:
My mother loves the Miss Read books. At one point during my childhood we asked her what they were about, and what happened in them, and she said something to the effect of "Nothing. These are nice, gentle books where nothing ever happens." So congratulations, Mom: apparently the Japanese also like books where nothing happens - enough to translate and stock at least seven.
Final surreptitious shot: library checkout procedure:
Me being me, I lost track of the due dates and returned my first books about five days late. I was sweating when I went to return them, knowing I'd be confronted with universal librarian disapproval and incomprehensible explanations of late-fine procedures. I also don't really know my numbers yet, so I just took a large handful of coins (Japan's largest coin is worth about $5) and planned to hand them to her and trust her not to hose me on the change. This is the same strategy I use with the people who sell us baked goods at lunch.
After I returned the books, though, the librarian nodded at me and smiled for me to go. Puzzled, I held out some money and said, "Late? Fines?" in an appalling dumb American move which makes you wince while you do it but nevertheless is the only thing you can think of. She shook her head and waved at me. So either all new library users get a freebie, or she thought the language barrier would be more trouble than my fine was worth, and decided to give a dumb whitey a break. Hooray for incompetence!