I was five year old when my father gifted me with my very first dictionary. One evening after supper, he said that we were now all going to go to the bookstore to buy a Japanese dictionary. It was rare for us to go out for shopping that late, so I got very excited.
“What is a dictionary?” I asked eagerly.
“It’s something useful when you read a book. You’ll see!”
The four of us – my mother, father, little brother and I – hopped onto the car and headed to the city centre, which was only 10 minutes away. Once we parked the car, I followed my parents into the familiar bookstore. At the time, there were not many large book stores in town, and we always went to the same one. But that evening, my father led me not to the usual children’s books section but to a shelf where many thick books were displayed.
In front of my curious eyes, my father took a few thick books in his hand, flipping through the pages as if comparing them, then decided on the one with an orange cover.
“This should be good!” He said cheerfully and ushered us all to the checkout.
I couldn’t have told any difference between these thick books, but I liked the fact that the one my father had chosen had a bright cover and it was slightly thicker than others. I was a big fan of thick books because it gave me a lot of satisfaction to flip through the pages!
As soon as we got back in the car and my mother started driving, my father finally showed the book to me.
“So, Sweetie, this is what’s called a Japanese dictionary. You can look up the meaning of a word you don’t know in this book. This dictionary is designed for young children, so you’ll be able to use it, too. Let’s see…”
My father opened a page and placed the book between us. With the help of the street light from outside, we could read what was written there.
“For example, I’ve just look up the word a ‘bowlful of rice’ (yamamori gohan in Japanese). Let’s see what’s written here.”
He read out the description aloud and pointed to an illustration next to it. It was an illustration of a bowl full of rice. In fact, the bowl was so full that the rice was towering over it like a little mountain. I gazed at the illustration intently. I was impressed by the amount of rice served in the bowl. But my father quickly closed the book.
“It’s not good for your eyes to read in the car. Wait until we get back home.”
That’s how my first Japanese dictionary came into my life. Unfortunately, it was almost never used for its proper purpose since I was too lazy to look up words even when I came across a word that I didn’t know the meaning of. I preferred to imagine the meaning myself.
However, the dictionary did receive a lot of attention both from me and my brother if not for the right purpose. I loved carrying it around with me, flipping through the pages and enjoying the fragrance of the fresh paper, and my brother loved using it to mimic my father whenever he was found lying on the couch reading a book. And the word ‘bowlful of rice’ was always to be remembered with the memory of this dictionary and of the night when it came into my life.