Lost in Translation Survival Skills

In the movie “Lost in Translation,” two lonely travelers (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) decided to explore Tokyo together. This romantic comedy touched on the culture shock in a country where English speakers aren’t prevalent.

On my first trip to Tokyo, I decided to visit the famous Ginza district, which has many shops, restaurants and nightclubs. Armed with a subway map, I was greeted by businessmen, school children and other scurrying commuters making their way towards their destinations.

My attempt at purchasing a subway ticket proved to be confounding with the Japanese symbols as my only guide. After a dozen tries, I managed to flag down a man in a suit. He did speak English, and patiently helped me to buy a ticket for a day’s worth of travel.

The Ginza district is an incredible sight to behold with lights, people and noise overwhelming the senses. After wandering around for several hours through the area, I wanted to find a restaurant to quench my thirst and hunger.

A small establishment caught my eye. It featured pictures of rice bowl dishes in the window. I sat down and was handed a Japanese menu. The waiter spoke no other language. Looking around I discretely pointed towards another diner and his dish of chicken teriyaki over rice. The waiter acknowledged my gestures and the food arrived just as “ordered.”

I made a wrong turn out of the restaurant, and had no idea how to get back to the subway station. This necessitated using my wits to return “home.”

I resorted again to flagging down perfect strangers. I found a teenager who knew a few English words. With my new found friend by my side, a cell phone and a helpful hotel staff member on the other end, we collectively solved my dilemma. I was soon headed back to my hotel.

Countries where English is not common can be challenging for visitors. It should not hinder anyone from exploring various nooks and crannies off the beaten path.

To gain the full experience of foreign travel, it requires a bit of common sense and preparation. Below are some of my tricks and survival tactics:

1. Get directions printed off in the local language to your destination. You can get these from the hotel or from Mapquest/Google Maps. 2. Ensure that your mobile phone works in the country you are visiting. Japan, for example, has a different cell phone standard than most of the world. 3. Keep a copy of your hotel’s phone number handy. Most have English speakers staffing the front desk. Call them for translations with taxi drivers, waiters and others. 4. Learn a phrase or two in the local language to get the attention of strangers. 5. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance, even if it takes some persistence. Someone will eventually take pity on you and help. 6. Say “thank you” in the native language to those that aided you.


Bill Murray Interview

Ginza District

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