My presence in Japan can sometimes be likened to that of ‘a bull in a china shop’. I of course always do my best to respect and uphold the cultural and moral ethics of the society I live in, but I will never fully assimilate into life here. I will not and can never be Japanese. The fundamental reason for this (apart from the obvious) is that I lack the ability to euphemise my words and carry out interpersonal relations with the polite distance Japanese people do.
Unlike the Japanese people I live amongst, I mean exactly what I say…and I voice my opinions often. So unfortunately, the Lost in Translation phenomenon works in reverse when applied to me. When Japanese people should be taking my words and actions at face value, they read into things so that meaning is Gained in Translation…
What I said: Nothing.
What the old Japanese man on the street heard: ‘I am a devil, with blond hair and blue eyes. I have come to invade your country and terminate the Japanese race.
What I said: ‘I don’t have a boyfriend, I don’t want to get married and I don’t want children.’
What my female students heard: ‘I hate my life, I am so lonely without a husband and I desperately want children.’
What I said: ‘I’m going traveling with a friend during spring vacation.’
What my teacher heard: ‘I am filthy rich and I like to waste money on frivolous things like travel.’
What I said: ‘I’m from Australia.’
What my students heard: ‘I’m from America/Canada/England/Germany/France.’
What I say every day when I leave school: ‘Osakinishitsureishimasu’ (Sorry I am leaving before you).
What the teachers hear every day when I leave school: ‘See you later suckers, I’m the foreigner so I’m outta here while you have to work another three hours!!!’
What I said: ‘My company gave me a lease car to use.’
What my students heard: ‘I bought a brand new car because I am so rich I have money practically falling out of my pockets.’
What I said: ‘I don’t drink milk or eat dairy products and I don’t really eat red meat either.’
What my karate sensei heard: ‘All westerners are vegetarian and none of us eat dairy products either.’
What I said: ‘I don’t really like Japanese pop music.’
What my students heard: ‘I kill small, cute and defenseless kittens in my free time.’
What I said: ‘I really like my school, my students and the teachers I work with. I want to continue working where I am, please don’t let the Board of Education move me.’
What my boss heard: ‘Pay me more money and I’ll go wherever you want and do what ever you want.’
What I say: ‘I’m cold.’
What the entire Japanese population hear: ‘I’m not Japanese.’
What I said: ‘I like tennis, but I can’t really play that well.’
What the tennis girls think I said: ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I am actually a pro player training for the US Open this year.’
What I say: ‘I do origami/taiko/karate.’
What the Japanese population hears: ‘I love everything about Japanese culture and I want to live here the rest of my life!’
What I said: ‘I’m studying for the N3 Japanese exam in June.’
What my principle heard: ‘My Japanese is actually better than yours these days.’
What I said: ‘JJ is just my friend. He’s like a little brother.’
What all the kids at school hear: ‘JJ is my boyfriend, we are madly in love and plan to get married tomorrow.’
What I said: ‘I know, Yuji.’
What Yuji heard: ‘I love you too, Yuji.’