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The night Hideo Takeuchi danced the `go-go'

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 13, 1986



Dallas

When Hideo Takeuchi cast aside personal trepidations and his family's mother-henning to accept a year of college study in the United States, the 85-year-old Japanese businessman, nutritionist, and English-language buff prepared himself for what he assumed would be a year of surprises. But nothing quite prepared him for the ``go-go.''

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``I was so surprised that a young girl would ask me to dance,'' says Mr. Takeuchi, recalling his first social outing in America, a sock hop to help his fellow freshmen at the University of Dallas get acquainted.

``In Japan the older generation is not accustomed to dancing,'' he says, ``and I thought boys and men asked ladies to dance. But the girl came over to where I was leaning on the wall, and the dance was a go-go -- you know, boys and girls today dance the go-go,'' he adds in a matter-of-fact aside.

``And so I danced a go-go, and that news was broadcast all over Japan. My family sent me a letter asking, please not to dance so much. Your heart will give you an ache. After the dance the girl hugged and kissed me, as Americans do, and that was another surprise. But it was the last dance for me.''

Hideo Takeuchi may have given up the ``go-go,'' but he is no wallflower. Although family and custom told him that people his age should stick close to home, Takeuchi left his small city near Osaka last August to study English here in Dallas, and to learn about another country's way of life.

He is almost certainly the senior member of this country's 1986 class of 342,000 foreign students, spread across all 50 states, in hundreds of colleges and universities. His reasons for coming are not unlike those of many of his colleagues: ``Those of us who come here estimate the higher education system very highly, and want to experience it,'' he says. ``In Japan, almost all students are enthusiastic to come to this country. It's a good place to learn English, which has become the international language.''

Where he may differ from his fellow foreign students, however, is in the most important lesson he says his year in the US has taught him. Takeuchi says he has learned to discount the limitations that others would place upon the elderly.

``The ambition to study more and to cultivate our hobbies in our old age is very helpful to the aged person,'' he says. ``I dared to come here, and that desire has left me healthy and vivid.''

Takeuchi was awarded a year of study at the University of Dallas, a small Roman Catholic college situated on a rise west of the city, after he won an oral English contest for businessmen in his home prefecture of Hyogo. He credits his victory over 55 other contestants -- all of whom were under 40, he says -- to the variety he has cultivated in his life, and to his passion for learning English.

A math and science teacher until he was 40, Takeuchi joined a textile firm until he ``retired,'' as Japanese law dictates, at 55. As a licensed nutritionist, he then became director of Hyogo's Better Diet Association, a post he still holds. Along the way, at age 62, he decided to take up learning English.

Takeuchi says his family was not pleased when he won the school year in Dallas: ``They all told me not to go so far. They said, `You need not to study English at your age.' '' But he left behind a wife, four children, and seven grandchildren to join the 325 other members of the university's freshmen class. He has followed a typical freshman-year curriculum of history, philosophy, and economics, with oral English study thrown in.

Rather than hit the beaches during spring break, Takeuchi visited New York and Washington, and he speaks highly of an earlier trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he was allowed to don an astronaut's helmet. Before returning to Japan later this month, he will visit the West Coast.

Yet Takeuchi says one of his greatest pleasures, and fondest surprises, has been meeting American families. ``Husbands and wives are loving each other here, and they exhibit that affection,'' he says. ``That is an important factor in running a home.'' By contrast, he says most Japanese are ``taught to be stiff, not to express emotions.''

Studying in a foreign country at 85 or taking up a new language at 62 may be uncommon, Takeuchi says. But judging by the response he's had, he adds that there must be many elderly who would like to follow in his footsteps.

An article about him in Asahi Shimbun, Japan's largest daily newspaper, led to so many inquiries that Takeuchi has published a pamphlet, entitled ``Never Too Late to Learn,'' in which he explains how he learned English.

He has also received many letters from ``aged ladies and gentlemen'' in the US, he adds, who say, `` `We are encouraged by your fighting spirit.' ''

Those letters are especially important to him, says Takeuchi, ``because it tells me I might have given something in return.'' Reflecting a common desire among foreign students, he says, ``Perhaps in that small way, I could dedicate something to this country.''