Saturday, February 28, 2015

lost in translation

I loved our experience in Japan. I went knowing that Dave was going to be our translator and I would have nothing to worry about whatsoever. Although he says he is rusty, when I hear him  speak Japanese he sounds very fluid and very fluent,  As the days went by, Dave found himself quickly remembering and re-learning the language and becoming more and more comfortable with what he used to know so well. He was even complimented on his Japanese. However, even as fluent as a missionary is, there are certain topics and certain words they never used. Their days were filled with talking about gospel topics. Fortunately for us on this trip, missionaries also become very good at finding addresses and navigating around public transportation. However, Dave's Japanese skills were all verbal. Missionaries, of course, never learned to read kanji. We ran into problem when we were asking direction to a place we wanted to visit. We were doing pretty well navigating our traveling, but this particular museum seemed to be on the outskirts of town so we wanted to verify because we had limited time that day. So we asked the hotel clerk for some directions. She jotted down some directions and this is what we got.

"Ok, thanks, We will spend the rest of the day at the train station looking for a sign that 
matches this one."

There was a vending machine in the hallway of the hotel. It looked like soap for the laundry, but it wasn't near the washer/dryers. It was closer to the snack vending machines. I put in money and wasn't sure if I was buying soap or cigarettes. And if I was getting soap, I was hoping it was packaged and not just a spout that we had to catch the detergent in a cup, or in our case we were ready with the palm of our hands. I have definitely taken reading English for granted.

 We also wanted to drop a letter in the post office. We searched for somewhere to buy some postage stamps for quite a while. People kept telling us the post office was right around the corner or right down the walkway. We couldn't find it so we'd try again the next afternoon, carrying this letter around with us for 3 days. If you are not familiar with the logo of the post office (an orange T) it is hard to find. I was subconsciously looking for a red white and blue eagle logo. When we finally found some postage stamps, the clerk sent Dave outside to the sidewalk to drop it in the mailbox. He walked down the sidewalk several minutes before coming back. The clerk walked out with him and pointed out the very obvious "snowman?" postal drop box.

 There was quite a few businesses that were familiar, of course - McDonalds, Gap etc, and many billboards. Johnny Depps movie posters were everywhere.

 I absolutely loved the English translations on many signs. It was clear they used Google translate and trusted it to be accurate. "Please stop the act to feed a fish and a bird"

and "It is off-limits of the graveyard this ahead excluding parties concerned"

There were many signs that had helpful English translations thankfully, but still had to be interpreted to an extent. "Please go backward"

And then surprisingly, after being frustrated all day trying to figure out products and packaging, there are the products in full English labels. How are their Japanese customers at the hotel going to figure out which one is shampoo?

We were stumped at the laundry mat. It was a little neighborhood laundry mat with lots of washers and dryers, but there were 4 styles of machines so we weren't sure which were washers and which were dryers, but by the process of elimination we decided on a machine we would try. It clearly had a water sealed door and a locking latch, but the sign taped on the front for an English translation said: "Instructions for using a Dryer" and in other labels at the bottom it said "Please don't put detergent absolutely". So we were questioning if it was just a dryer. But the cost was about $9 so it didn't seem like it would be the right price for just drying. Actually there were several cost options, $9, $7, $6 or $1 Very confusing. (Read the photo below "How to use a Dryer" . See of you can figure it out!) And no one else was there doing laundry so we were on our own. 

Finally, someone else came in and Dave asked for some instruction and help. The machine will wash AND dry in the same machine, and you don't put detergent in because the detergent is automatically added. The choices were heavy wash, light wash, dry only, or a quick dry. Simple!

I have to say though, the funniest conversation I heard him work through was a situation regarding the jacuzzi at our resort.  We were staying in a Japanese style Onsen. I thought this word meant village or resort, but I later learned it means hot springs, and sometimes used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. This would have been important information to know because Dave and I brought our swimming suits because the Japanese website (translated into English) said the resort had an outdoor heated pool and jacuzzi. How awesome would it be to sit under the snowy trees in a hot jacuzzi? I was picturing something like this:

When we arrived and realized how Japanese traditional styled it was, Dave decided he'd better verbally investigate the "pool" because there were also signs for the bath house - a very different concept than what we were going for. He asked a someone at dinner and the conversation went something like this (to the waiter who spoke broken/limited English):
Dave: Is there a pool here in this hotel?
Waiter:  . . . ? . . .
Dave: A pool, for swimming?
Waiter:   . . . ? . . .
Dave: Is there a bath house in the hotel?
Waiter: there is a bath in your room and there is a bath on the second floor.
Dave: The bath house on the 2nd floor, is it a swimming pool where you can wear a swim suit in the water?
Waiter: A suit? in water?
Dave: No, In the public bath rooms, downstairs, do people wear swim trunks?
Waiter: . . . trunks? . . . ? . . .
It went on and on like this, as Dave realized there are no translations in his vocabulary for swim trunks, co-ed, segregated, family friendly, jacuzzi, nude, swimming pool etc etc. Hilarious.
Sadly, there was no jacuzzi under the stars for Dave and I to enjoy. There was a beautiful sauna and hot tub and steam room - segregated for men and women -  but if you are an American and planned to wear a swimsuit, you would not be welcome there.

Then one last thing -- this little boy was sitting next to us eating lunch at the festival. Dave and I were just talking and this little boy kept staring. Finally Dave turned to him and said something friendly to him in Japanese. I don't know what he said, but we clearly look American. The little boy's eyes got real big and he turned to his mom and said (in Japanese)  "I CAN UNDERSTAND ENGLISH!!"  


Madeline Wagner said...

So - was it soap?

Cynthia said...

Yep - a packaged box of laundry soap.