Friday, 17 January 2014

Little Tokyo

Not long before moving to Tokyo I watched Lost in Translation. I wondered whether it was a good idea for me, then pretty nervous about the move, to watch a film about feeling alienated in my soon-to-be home, and whether soon it would be me sitting in a hotel room feeling isolated in the huge city.


I arrived in September, speaking little to no Japanese; just enough to say 'good morning', 'good evening', and 'thank you.' (I recently found the notes I made in my first Japanese lesson - a hesitant and misspelled collection of nouns, with nothing yet to connect them):

Despite this people were friendly and patient, even when I must have sounded quite rude. I approached strangers and said, in what I then thought was polite Japanese, things like: 'Eki wa doko desu ka?' Later I found out that this is pretty blunt, along the lines of: 'TELL ME WHERE THE STATION IS', and that much better would be: 'Sumimasen, watashi wa eki e ikitai desu ga...' - 'Excuse me, I'd like to go to the station but...', leaving them to fill in the directions part.

Nothing has made me feel more at home than the convenience store (conbini) where I live. It is so close to the flat that it has sort of become an extension to our living room, where we pop down in slippers if we fancy an ice cream or ball of fried octopus.

There is an oldish man who works there. Once I went in with a big camera around my neck and he pointed, chuckling: 'Cam-e-ra man?' It was the first time he had said anything other than the usual welcomes, thank yous, etc, and so I let the dubious implications for my appearance slide. Before Christmas he appeared with two satsumas: a present. He'd realised that I live with the other gaijin who I sometimes shop with, and so gave one for me and one for Jim, too. Shortly after Christmas I asked whether they had any apples, and was told, literally, 'it is not excusable but we do not have apples.' Today, two weeks later, he came up to me and said, almost conspiratorially, 'ringo', pointing at some apples. I was more happy that he remembered than about the apples, and somehow emitted a high-pitched 'ooh', which he imitated before walking away laughing.

This is just one of many unnecessary, kind things that people have done since I've been here, which have no doubt helped to stave off the culture-shock and isolation promised in some films and forums. Our wonderful koto teacher, when I mentioned that I liked sweet things, the following week gave us this:

The waitress at a local cafe remembers that I like coffee with whipped cream, and helps with my homework; back in September our estate agent spotted a group of us having lunch and used a considerable amount of his own break to come into the restaurant and translate its menu for us.


I can definitely recognize *some* aspects of Lost in Translation in Tokyo. Happily these aren't isolation and alienation, but kareoke bars, and cringy adverts featuring aging western celebrities. Here's Ringo Starr promoting apple juice:

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