by Frank Lev, Apr 18, 2001 | Destinations: Japan / Kyoto

I visited some Japanese folks the other day. The husband was gone and I was talking to the mother and the daughter. I asked the daughter what she was doing and she said that she was studying to be a pharmacist.

"You must be very intelligent." I complimented her.

"No, I'm not." the young woman said.

"No she isn't." the mother added.

This is the Japanese way. You must always be modest. I expected the young woman to deny being intelligent even though she obviously was. What is interesting is that it would be considered boasting if the woman admitted that her daughter was intelligent.

In the US, I believe the daughter would feel hurt if the mother said in public that she was not intelligent. The sense of me-ness extends to cover one's family in Japan.

The mother had just baked some bread. Good bread is hard to find in Japan. The Japanese word for bread is pan. The same as the Spanish and Portuguese name. This is no coincidence. The Japanese didn't have bread until the Portuguese came to visit in the 1600's. So they just adopted the Portuguese name for it.

You'd think in 400 years they'd have learned to make it. No. Japanese bread is even more artificial and tasteless than Wonder Bread. Being a real whole grain kind of guy, you can imagine my delight to get some real home baked bread.

I praised the mother. "You are a great bread maker."

"No I'm not." said the mother.

"Yes she is." said the daughter.

The daughter had praised the mother in front of me. I noticed the difference right away and asked the 2 women about it. The mother was a bit embarrassed by her daughter's behavior and sighed.

"This is the younger generation."

As if to say, look what is happening to them, they are becoming degenerates and losing the old ways. This, even though the daughter had just stuck up for her.

So things are changing in Japan. I didn't mind either way. While they were sorting it out, I just kept eating the delicious bread.