Lost in Translation


It’s typhoon season here in Japan, so for the past three days the clouds have been heavy. No longer quite as hot as earlier summer rains, but it doesn’t make the country any less beautiful.

Clouds gathering during a nighttime walk along Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park.

Personally, I love the rain so much and the way it sounds (even thunder!!) and how it makes the streets look like oil and even little droplets that miss my umbrella and land facefirst into mine. I never hate it. But I do like it the least when I’m not prepared for it — like if someone brings home pizza when you’re full (Japanese pizza is HEAVENLY in their cheese-to-tomato ratio and masterful handling of crispy thin crusts; you definitely need to try it when you’re here, but again, I digress). Anyway, I fell asleep too deeply on the train and missed my stop. Just by one, and luckily one that was close to my previous stop, so I didn’t think it was too bad if I could just walk over to a nearby bus station. I’d brought an umbrella and enjoyed walking in Japan since there’s so much more greenery around.

Little did I know how gravely I underestimated a Japanese rainstorm. The clouds made the night only dimly lit, which wasn’t so convenient because I was under an unfamiliar industrial bridge that was blocking me from any recognition of my surroundings. Even if I stepped really carefully, my entire foot would be drenched from sloshy puddles. And after a while, my umbrella just started drooping under the weight of all that water, starting one of the saddest walks home of my life.

I kept thinking, “I can take this, I like the rain, I’m fine,” but being lost, cold, and wet really pushed my limits (even with rain) and I called over a taxi in my desperation to get home. The driver yelled, “Daijobu?! (Are you okay?!)”  and I yelled back, “Hai!! (Yes!!)” I got into the car and tried to tell him my address, but I only know it in the English pronunciation so we spent several minutes trying to figure out where it was I wanted to go. Suddenly, I had to make use of any Japanese that I’d learned over the past couple weeks.

Because I’m studying to be a writer, language is supposed to be one of my most important tools. The more I learn about English, the more I cling to it. But here, I have to completely forego everything I know (I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m hesitant to do that). When learning a new phrase, I would think “What’s the English translation for that?” and assign an English meaning to a Japanese phrase. This was kind of problematic because the way I viewed Japanese was only in relation to English. But the experience changed how I viewed learning in that I realized there’s nothing embarrassing about trying.

Normally, the situation with the taxi driver would’ve given me way too much anxiety, but I felt relatively calm. I straight up told him that I didn’t speak Japanese, but tried to pronounce the words correctly anyway. In my desperation to get home, embarrassment flew out the window. My conversation (albeit a very broken one) was adequate enough for me to get home safely, so I’d say that’s a pretty successful start! Only afterwards did I realize that without knowing it, I’d picked up many more Japanese phrases and words than I’d ever thought. This is when I realized I have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable. While I’m still struggling to completely dive into the Japanese language, these days I now find myself having a more Japan-centric mindset. I think about what the words and phrases mean to the Japanese, and they start to separate themselves from English-translated words. No more embarrassment! I just have to go for it! I already look back at this memory as a fond one (and even kind of funny in the way a taxi driver, a stranger, cried over my rain troubles with me).

Clouds looking beautiful over Tokyo the next morning.

Clouds looking beautiful over Tokyo the next morning.


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