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Takumi Shibano Comes to America

by John and Bjo Trimble

Shibano-san: How it all started

We first met Takumi (and Sachiko) Shibano through the "L.A. in '68" WorldCon bid several Los Angeles fans started after Tricon   As part of our bid, we decided to launch the "Trans-Oceanic Fan Fund" (TOFF), designed to bring someone from Japan to the '68 WorldCon.

To this end, we corresponded with long-time SF fan, Roy Tackett, recently returned from military service in Japan.  While there, he had contacted Japanese fandom, so we figured that he might know someone to bring over to the US.  Tackett told us about Takumi Shibano, a math teacher who read English and greatly enjoyed reading American and British science fiction.

It seems that Shibano-san decided to become a fan of Japanese SF, but there was very little of that genre being published   An occasional SF story might be printed in a Japanese detective magazine, but anyone wishing to find science fiction had to read American or British magazines and books.  So Takumi decided that he would have to help start professional SF in Japan.  He wrote letters and urged others to write asking for science fiction to be published in its own Japanese magazines.  Takumi also encouraged fans and writers to produce SF stories for these magazines to publish.  So in his own unique way, Takumi helped create the science fiction field in Japan just so he could be a fan of it!

Our letter was a complete surprise to Shibano-san, and he replied asking first if we were truly serious about bringing someone from Japan to the '68 WorldCon and then if we were really serious about bringing him over.  We reassured him on both points and then had to assure him that he was, indeed, our choice over several others that he listed in case we might want to change our minds.  We exchanged several letters, but with Tackett's urging, we stuck with our first choice, and finally got Takumi's enthusiastic permission to start raising funds to make it happen.  Teachers aren't well-paid anywhere in the world, so a trip to the US was only a dim dream to someone like Shibano-san until we raised his hopes.

We collected things from our own fan library as well as from others, and auctioned them at Los Angeles Science-Fantasy Society (LASFS) meetings.  We also auction or raffled things off at regional cons but there weren't many of those in the mid-sixties.  We published a few copies of a progress-zine titled "Maneki-neko" which is the name of a Japanese cat with one paw held up.  Printing expenses soon proved this was not a feasible fund-raiser.  We even tried to auction things via mail but in those pre-eBay days it was not easy getting anyone to trust that a mail auction wasn't a scam.  We also discovered to our dismay that the USPO had pretty stringent rules and flat out did NOT allow raffles by mail.  But we couldn't give up, because eager letters back and forth over the Pacific showed us how much Takumi was looking forward to this trip.

Funds dribbled in for TOFF, but we began to despair of getting enough for air fare, travel, and other costs.  We couldn't bring ourselves to tell Takumi, because his letters showed us that he was such a worthy person for this idea, if we could only pull it off! Then, part way through 1967, we had another set-back.  Takumi informed us that he was a severe asthmatic, and the only person who knew how to care for him correctly was his wife, Sachiko, so she would have to come with him! That made the funds we'd collected seem even smaller, and we were really worried about making it all happen.

However, unbeknownst to us, events were transpiring that would help these efforts.  Gene Roddenberry attended TriCon in Cleveland, where he brought some Star Trek episodes to preview.  The Trimbles got so well-acquainted with Gene that on a later visit to the Star Trek set, we told him about our fund-raising problems.  Gene offered to round up some props and a few scripts for us to auction at NYCon III, which was coming up on the forthcoming Labor Day weekend.

When we got to New York, we asked about any boxes from Paramount but no one knew anything about them.  OK, so we didn't really expect much from Hollywood, anyway.  Our group set up the Art Show, distributed TOFF flyers and our WorldCon bid material, and tried to get some time on the program schedule for a TOFF auction.  We were grudgingly granted a midnight spot on Sunday night! Then we were told that boxes were waiting for us.  We had to round up help to get several huge boxes from the Star Trek office from the NYCon holding area to our room.

Voting for the 1968 WorldCon went to the Oakland, which was a disappointment.  Especially when John tried to congratulate the winners and was told that he was a loser and to get lost! This made it nearly impossible to put a good face on our loss, and we still had the worries of a ridiculously late-night TOFF fund-raising auction.  Knowing of Takumi's enthusiasm for seeing the US and attending a science fiction convention here, we weren't looking forward to telling him about our very probable failure.

On Sunday, in organizing donated material for the TOFF auction, we finally opened the Star Trek boxes.  Gene Roddenberry had been as good as his word; the boxes were filled with genuine Trek artifacts: used scripts, many of them autographed, costumes actually worn by the actors in known episodes, props taken right from the sets, used "Spock" ears, and some odd little fuzzy balls called "tribbles".  ("The Trouble With Tribbles" had not yet aired, but Roddenberry's secretary had included a script.)  We began to feel more hopeful about the auction, even if it was at such a late hour.

Maybe a few dozen fans at least would leave convention parties to show up for the auction.  To our pleased surprise, the room was so full that people were standing against the walls and sitting in the aisles! They enthusiastically bid on everything, but especially on the Trek items.  John auctioneered himself hoarse, and about five hours later, there was enough money to bring both Shibanos to the WorldCon and pay their expenses while they were here.

It was a wonderful moment to let Takumi know that he would, indeed, be coming to the US for a major SF con, even if it wasn't to be one in Los Angeles.  Letters and phone calls mounted as we tried to coordinate travel and medical needs for someone we'd worked so hard to bring over.  By now all sorts of fans were looking forward to meeting the Shibanos and helping to show them around.

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Learning the Language

So with fandom's combined efforts, the Shibanos arrived in the USA.  We were excited but a bit worried because though Takumi wrote beautiful English, we had no idea how well we were going to communicate in spoken English.  Also, we had been informed by Takumi that his wife spoke no English at all.

The first problem arose because Bjo talks so fast.  She has to get her ideas out while she still remembers them, so her standard mode of speech is about twice as fast as anyone else's.  This is even more amusing when you know that all of Bjo's relatives are Southern and speak a nice, slow drawl.

After we'd met them and were taking them to our home, Bjo enthusiastically outlined our plans for their entertainment.  Both Shibanos were silently watching.  When Bjo paused for breath, Takumi said politely, "Please, I don't understand what you just said."

We could see Bjo reviewing the whole speech in her mind and she was puzzled.  Takumi looked very apologetic.  Sachiko just smiled.  So Bjo launched into a review of what she had just said, and got the same answer from an even more apologetic Takumi, who was distressed that we'd had a communications breakdown so soon.

Finally, it dawned on us that Bjo was talking too fast for Takumi to listen to in a foreign language.  When she slowed down, it was easier for Takumi to translate and answer.  It only remained for John to continually remind Bjo not to verbally charge off in all directions.

We had already learned from several foreign visitors that much of our so-called native English doesn't make much sense to people who have learned it from a good teacher.  So we expected from some language problems, but we found entanglements in some really unexpected places.

We learned that one country's euphemisms did not always translate into another language.  When a Trimble family member said discreetly that they were going to the bathroom, we got a startled, "You are taking a bath now?" from our visitors.  When we resorted to a delicate "We have to go," the question was "Go where?" We began to realize that our own language had many pitfalls!

At one point, we took the Shibanos to a Western-style restaurant for barbequed ribs.  Takumi left the table to find a toilet but he returned very quickly and sat down.  He didn't say anything, so we thought nothing of it until John decided he had to go.  When John got up from the table, so did Takumi, and they went down to hall toward the toilets.  There John discovered why Takumi had been unwilling to open a door.

The restroom doors were marked "Cowgirls" and "Cowboys."  Simple enough for those of us who understand our odd language, but very confusing to someone who had never run across these words.  As Takumi explained to us, "If it is cow-girls, should not the masculine be bull-boys?"

Earlier we had run into the little problem of "restrooms" which does seem to indicate that one needs a short nap.

Of course Bjo had a difficult time slowing her rapid-fire speech pattern enough so Takumi could translate in his head while she was talking.  So several days into the Shibano's visit, when there had been a particularly trying time in communication, Sachiko suddenly spoke up.  She turned to Takumi and told him, in Japanese, what Bjo had just said.

There was a moment's silence, then Bjo said to Takumi, "I thought you said she didn't speak English!"

Takumi turned to his wife and said something in Japanese that was obviously, "I thought you didn't speak English!"

Sachiko smiled and calmly answered, "I learned from our children, who learned English in school."

"But... but!!" sputtered Bjo, "Why haven't you spoken up before this?"

Sachiko smiled shyly and said, "I was worried that my English was not good enough to say it aloud."

Well, that opened up new avenues of communication! It turned out that Sachiko could listen almost as fast as Bjo could talk.  It must be something females can do because John and Takumi would often look at one another and shrug while the two women got along famously from that point on.

Sometimes Takumi would solve the language problem for us.  We took the Shibanos to a Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) meeting, where everyone was happy to meet our Japanese visitors.  We're not sure how much of the fannish puns and silly remarks were understood by the Shibanos, but they seemed to enjoy themselves.

During the business part of the meeting, Takumi listened intently to the fan politics being discussed, and asked John what had been going on.  John tried to explain the inner workings of US fan politics, especially in LASFS.  As John floundered around trying to find the right words, Takumi suddenly understood the situation.

Smiling, Takumi exclaimed, "Ah, they are immortal storming!"

It turned out that Takumi had read Sam Moscowitz's memoirs, The Immortal Storm.  This seminal book about which mostly New York fandom contained a great deal about fan politics in the 1930s and 40s, especially those surrounding the first WorldCon in 1939.

"Immortal storming" became a popular method for Takumi and the Trimbles to describe some US fannish actions that would have otherwise been very difficult to explain.

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