My Own Lost-In-Translation Moment

puzzle2.jpgLast fall, on my first trip to Tokyo, I lifted the window shade on the plane, nearing the end of a fourteen hour flight, and thought oh. the sky is blue over Japan, too. Never mind that I had no idea what new color to expect of the sky: I had simply expected something different.

My boyfriend was at business meetings all week, while I was navigating a new an unfamiliar city on my own. Because of this, and because we are staying in the hotel that Lost in Translation was set in, I have wondered when my lost-in-translation moment is going to happen. I thought it walking around Ginza. In Shibuya. In Aoyama. In Mukagaoka-Yuen. At the park of minka-en. I even have little thought sentences that attempt to spur on a grand whistfulness about my life, and how the fact that I don't speak Japanese, or read more than 10 kanji, or read zero hiragana or katakana, may be taken as a metaphor that my lover does not understand me. The voice says hey! that was your lost-in-translation moment. But my life is not a movie, or an audition for a movie, and so this moment never happened. It will surely come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that none of the conditions that were documented in the film apply to me. I'm not unhappy that my boyfriend had business there: business is what enables us to visit, and to stay in such a spectacular hotel. I'm not alienated by being the only gaijen on a commuter train: after all, I live in New York, and it's not uncommon for me to be the only Caucasian on a train. I'm not frustrated by not speaking or reading the language: my French is poor enough for me to be mostly mute when I'm in Paris. And again: I live in New York, and it's not uncommon for me to be amongst those who speak no English. I have no desire to meet a washed-up soap actor at the New York Bar and Grill on the 41st floor of the Shinjuku Park Hyatt.

During my visit to the park of minka-en, while looking under a thatched roof, I was trying to ask a little lady where to buy a hon (book) that I liked. She knew exactly what I wanted, and patiently explained to me that I could purchase it in the bookstore where I bought my ticket. It took me a couple of minutes to gather this from what she was saying. During this time, my little voice spoke, assuring me surely, without a doubt, that this right now was my lost-in-translation moment. But I was really Present with how this lady was so extremely polite, and how helpful she was being, and I noticed immediately that she had no trouble at all comprehending what I wanted, despite the fact that I only knew how to say book in her language. I noticed that it was I who had failed to comprehend. Nothing had been lost in translation: it was being lost in my poor listening.

Tokyo understands me perfectly, much like my home. I understand Tokyo less, but I'm aware of the fact that this is my problem, not Tokyo's.


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