Yesterday I didn’t do anything—that includes getting out of my pajamas. It was cold and we decided to stay in. Seems The Professor had some work to do. Whatever. I had work, too. Though I didn’t do much more than watch movies on Docclub.com and Netflix.
Since I didn’t visit anything exciting to talk about, I decided to write about how frustrating it is to be illiterate in Japanese when living in Japan. This idea came to me as I looked at our collection of Japanese shampoos this morning. We went to the store to replace the American conditioner I had brought and used up. As European Travel Expert Rick Steves says, ‘When traveling to a foreign country, it’s always fun and an adventure to buy local products. What’s the fun in using what you can use at home?’ Or some such BS. Let me tell you, Rick. Using the wrong product is not fun. While it may be an adventure to scratch your head for three days and wonder why you can’t get the comb through your hair, it’s not that much of a hoot. Why it took me two different tries to realize I was actually conditioning with shampoo is for another story, but it did. I still don’t know the Japanese word for conditioner, but the next time I went shopping, I looked for a package that had the word imprinted in English on it. I’m not making that mistake again, Rick.
We may be washing our clothes in laundry softener, too. I’m not sure. Though the package appears to have clean clothes popping out of the top of a machine, one interpretation could be that they’re just brighter and softer—not clean. I’m really not sure; and they suspiciously smell like fabric softener. I mean, so much so, that my eyes water when I pull the duvet with its freshly washed cover up to my face at night. Though we do add Downey to the wash—because it’s thoughtfully labeled as such—we might also be washing it in the Japanese equivalence.
Sometimes the lack of Kanji knowledge is more important than others. The other day we were shopping and The Professor had to use the restroom. We spotted a door outside the main entrance to the store—the Japanese provide lots of wonderfully clean and inviting public restrooms everywhere. It was obviously a public restroom, but the door was locked. We weren’t sure if someone was in there or not, so we waited awhile. After ten minutes or so, we realized it was empty—or they were dead. Both reasons would mean the restroom should be available for someone else—so our attention then focused on a big doorbell-looking thing about five feet from the door. While the bell was obvious, it only had Japanese Kanji around it, and one English word. That word was push. We weren’t sure—since it was pretty far from the bathroom entrance—if this was to alert people we needed the restroom or whether it was to announce emergencies and summon help. The Professor paced back and forth, then wandered over to see if he could get a store employee’s attention to ask. He didn’t want to push the button for fear it might bring the fire department roaring up.
As I stood waiting for him to get someone’s attention, I stared at the bell, willing myself to find some sort of meaning to the unrecognizable Kanji strokes surrounding the bell. I tried to figure out the logic for what service the bell might summon. I determined that the worst that could happen is a SWAT team would arrive soon after, guns drawn, answering the distress call. The Professor and I would stand with our mouths agape; until I slowly pointed at him, backing away, shrugging my shoulders, and acting like I’d never seen him before in my life. It might work. Regardless, they would know it was just more foreigners pushing ‘that damn button’ again.
‘Put the words in English then!’ I’d shout as they dragged us away for causing a scene.
All of this flashed through my head as I looked up to see The Professor still standing, looking a bit more desperate, and still trying to catch some employee’s attention. I started toward him, waved to get his attention…and then pushed the button. I quickly stepped back, and turned my back. Just in case.
Two minutes later, a nice woman with a key showed up and unlocked the door. Sometimes it pays to be brave.
I need to go out and buy some toothpaste. What are the chances I come home with a tube of caulking, I wonder? At least I won’t have to floss anymore, I guess.