Monday, May 10, 2010

Day Three- Lost in Translation


quote of the day: "To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries."- Aldous Husley

today's destination: Tokyo, Japan

I will never forget the culture shock I experienced in the outrageous city of Tokyo. If there's such a thing as a utopia, this place is the closest I've come to one. A few reasons why:
  • guns are illegal
  • 12 million people in a city and NO ONE gets in your personal space
  • you don't have to hold on to your valuables with a death grip
  • there is no trash on the street!
  • spirituality and serenity are present amidst the traffic and technology with the beautiful parks, temples, and gardens scattered throughout the city
  • people will never approach you to bother you, try to sell you something, or beg for money; however, if you need help, they won't leave your side until they get you to where you need to be
In regards to the people of Japan, I would describe them as incredibly helpful, efficient, and respectful. My family and I went to Japan through a AAA travel package. Everything was scheduled from our hotel check-ins to Mt. Fuji tour. Our itinerary would read "be in hotel lobby at 8:30am" and upon arrival we were greeted by a friendly Japanese man or woman who escorted us to a bus that took us to a train station where we were greeted by another person who had our tickets and took us to the tour company where we were passed off to our guide, etc., etc. Everything was structured and on-time, it was unreal.

Despite the extreme efficiency and organization, we had a very real experience with a local who was not on our itinerary and this encounter revealed how their linear way of thinking can almost be counter-productive...

I had a friend living in Tokyo at the time. He had been teaching English for a couple years and thus, was fluent in Japanese. He wanted to take us to a shop in Shibuya, but couldn't remember exactly which street it was on. So, naturally, he approached a lady on the street to ask for directions... in Japanese. She responded to him (in Japanese) saying she'll be right back; that she will get someone who speaks English. She quickly came back with a friend who spoke very broken English. While she was trying to give us directions with exaggerated gestures and few more words than "straight" and "right," Luke was responding in Japanese to show he understood. However, it never seemed to register that she could speak to him in the language he was speaking to her.

To add a bit of a visual, Luke is probably about 6'2", redhead with freckles- a "sore thumb" on the streets of Tokyo. My mom is Japanese (doesn't speak Japanese). My dad is white. Making my brother and I 'hybrids.' My mom was approached the most, followed by me and my brother, and the two white guys were barely noticed, even when Luke initiated the conversation... in Japanese!

There are many levels of culture shock and they affect all parties involved in different ways. It is most important to be sensitive to these differences while traveling. In addition to hosting and making connections with trippers around the world, don't pass up the opportunity to learn another language! Possibilities are endless while tripping!


  1. Ha, I had forgotten all about that part; all I remember is my embarrassment at not remembering which street the place was on.

    But that sort of thing happened to me all the time, as Japanese people frequently suffered cognitive dissonance when faced with me speaking their language; they just could not square my image with the sounds coming out of my mouth. It even happened on the phone one time after a woman working at a hotel realized from my name that I was a foreigner and told me on the phone while I was making a reservation that there might be a problem with me staying there since nobody at the hotel could speak English - and I had to remind her that we were and had been speaking in Japanese for the last five minutes!

  2. Haha. So crazy. And interesting.

    Can't wait to go back there someday! Any plans to live there again? I'll come visit. :)