Still lost in totally no translation

To resume the situation for the folks who are not paying attention, I was in Numata, Japan, unleashed in the town by myself for the first time, and not having too much success communicating with the natives (despite two absolutely grueling Japanese lessons.)

I had made it to the Tenkeiji Temple through a random act of kindness, but, after a bit of fearless exploring, I needed to find my way back to the house of Ross.


The familiar sight of garden gnomes reassured me a little. A common denominator! Even the Japanese were victims of tasteless decor, how about that?

Soon, I discovered just how cosmopolitan Numata really was…


I considered having Itarian (sic) food at the Itarian restaurant.


But then how tempting was the burg at My Burg since 1997!


I settled on hot Tommy Lee Jones coffee. He was a graduate from St. Mark’s School of Texas where I shoot quite a lot (not when he was there. I must have been not born yet.) Anyway, drinking his coffee made me feel very macho and courageous and hyper for the rest of my journey at the heart of Numata.


I even found a French boutique! The problem with all this cosmopolitanism is that it all remains very Japanese-speaking. It may be an Itarian restaurant but they do not speak a lick of Itarian. Ditto for My Burg. Ditto for the French. Quick on cashing in my hard-earned yens, but a bit short on lexicon help.

So I kept on walking and walking and having another Tommy Lee Jones coffee and walking and walking…


I noticed a barber pole. If I may, I will tell you about barber poles. At a time when barbers were also surgeons (bad surgeons but surgeons nonetheless), one of their principal duties was bloodletting. The two spiral ribbons on the pole represent two bandages, one twisted around the arm before the bleeding and the other to bind it afterward.ย  As I walked by, I peeked, and pretty much, this is what I saw…


Crocodile Dundee san cutting the extremely blue hair of a man. Fabulous, no? Of course, I had to stop and “ask” them for permission to photograph them.


He was all embarrassed but the mama san made him do it. She was laughing her head off looking at her husband posing. She showed me a cup and I understood I was invited for coffee. Many things should have prompted a polite refusal. First, I was wired from all the Tommy Lee Jones coffee. Second, what would we be discussing? Third, there was another client waiting and he, too, was wearing a large hat. I had landed at the hairdresser for weird people!


Well, of course, I stayed. I told them about going to Nikko and Takaragawa while sipping my milkless coffee (another hazard of the language barrier) and in turn they told me stuff too. There was no understanding whatsoever on either side but it was jovial and I ended up spending more than an hour with them, having a jolly good time.


The arrival of a second client brought great excitement to my hosts. They made me understand that he spoke English. Well, that was one big exaggeration! He spoke English as well as I Japanese. He was totally busted in front of his friends! I felt a bit bad for him.

Eventually all good things come to an end and I still had to make it to the house.


The mama san and the non-English speaking dude waived goodbye at the door and hop, I was back on the sidewalk.


I observed many people working in open areas with their back to the street (which is totally bad for photography.) I walked and walked…


When I came across the familiar site of small rented houses, I knew I was finally on the right track.


I also recognized the poster of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda who had announced his resignation a few weeks prior to my trip. I was finally nearing my destination.


Finally, the corner 7/11, rendered famous by Ross’ continuous milk shortage and his understanding of 7/11 food as the ultimate basic food group, came in view. I don’t know about you, but the closest 7/11 from my house does in no way resemble this one.ย  Mine looks like this:


Sad, isn’t it?

Anyway, I had made it back to the point of origin and I was ready for some 7/11 lunch. I generally come back from trips all enriched by other people’s visions and life experience, but in Japan, my conversations being limited to sumi masen, sumi masen, I settled for the warmth and the sense of hospitality of absolute strangers. Upon my return to Texas, I also got rid of all the Japanese language CDs. First, they sucked, and second, if I can get around Japan with sumi masen, I am obviously as well-versed as I need to be.

11 responses to “Still lost in totally no translation

  1. Wow, very very nice photos of Japan! But if you’re a professional that probably isn’t much of a compliment to you ๐Ÿ˜€

    yeah, and what’s up with the blue-purple hair? I see so many old ladies in Tokyo sporting this fashion, it always gets me wondering.

  2. Num;ata is pretty hit and miss for English speakers; but probably all the great ones are hiding at work in the daytime.

    All these places look so much better in your photos than in real life driving by them.
    I’ll have to go into “My Burg” someday and ask them why all their customers are such bad drivers. hee hee!

  3. Pingback: All Things Gardening Store » Posts about Garden Gnomes as of February 26, 2009

  4. Great pictures, per usual!

    The ones with the people wearing hats stood out to me, for some reason.

    Keep up the good work. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I like how you captured the uniqueness of the people and places you have shared with us on your journey! Thanks! Keep up the good work on your blog.*(*

  6. Thanks for your comments!

    Corre: I’d take a compliment anytime of the day! Don’t mind me! I think Japanese senior citizens are very nostalgic when it comes to their past punk days hence the colored hair.

    Ross: Numata was not a hit or miss for me. It was 100% miss! Thanks for your compliment but as a little town surrounded by mountains, Numata has a lot of charm. I totally did not catch your reference to My Burg customers. Should I be concerned? ๐Ÿ™‚

    All things Gardening Store
    : thanks for pinging me. You have a lovely page dedicated to gnome glory. I hope you noticed I was totally dissing them. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    Otto Man: Thanks! These cowboys were a treasure for a photographer! They were completely out of place in these surroundings – and very, very nice too. I hope they were nice.

    Doraz: Very nice of you to visit! I hope you checked out the other Japan stories about life on planetross and bathing with naked men. It was a fabulous trip but waaaaay too short. I hope you come back! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. These are great, Nathalie! It’s the barber series I like most–especially that big ol’ tooth-filled grin shining out from under that hat. There’s a lot of personality in that image.

  8. Agreed. The barbershop pics rule! And for whatever reason I have a hard time picturing Japanese men wearing hats. That seems like such an American thing.

    (I mean, the sorts of hats they are wearing)

  9. You’re still alright in my book NathalieWithAnH!!

    Sorry for taking your comment on my blog the wrong way. Work has been kicking my butt and sometimes I am more touchy than I should be.

    Hope you understand. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Jason, I like the way the dude is grinning too. He acted so embarrassed, but he was very charming.

    , I find all men wearing cowboy hat funny (unless you are a cowboy.) I saw my friend Frank this morning and I swear he looked like Johnny Cash. Decked in black from hat to toe… simply because he was going on a pleasure ride in the neighborhood. I’m still laughing!

    Otto Man
    : no problem. I am not used to being taken seriously! Ever! Unless it is by a very small child. ๐Ÿ™‚
    It’s better to have work kick your butt than no work kick your butt. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Amazing. First off, my best friend is Japanese and he studied it in college and he says it’s possibly one of the toughest languages to learn. So don’t feel bad!

    Secondly, you could take a picture of my big toe and it would be fantastic. Seriously, you are an amazing talent. Do you sell your pictures? If so, where and how can I get a few…?

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