A little Japanese can be worse than none

Every Wednesday at 1 o’clock I take Japanese lessons. Every Tuesday at 10 pm I talk on skype with Lisa’s brother Yuichi for one hour. I help him with English, he helps me learn Japanese.

Am I fluent? Hello no. But my confidence in speaking out in public places has been growing. The other day I had a brief conversation with a stranger on the train. He wanted to speak in English, and I tried to mimic him in Japanese. He even understood me.

This is leaps and bounds ahead of where I was six months ago when we moved to Japan.

During the first week in our apartment, we had several deliverymen, installation specialists and curious neighbors stopping by. Lisa was gone to work most of the time, so I was the doorkeep, greeting, grunting and pointing.

I simply told them “Nihongogawakarimasen” (I don’t understand Japanese) and shrugged my shoulders, giving them a Steve Urkel “my bad” look. They would nod and go about their business, avoiding any form of communication.

Except for our internet cable guy. When he was here hooking up the web things were going along swimmingly until they started to… sink.

Apparently that particular internet company hadn’t installed any cables to our building, so in order for him to connect us to the internet they needed to come back another day, bringing in a bucket lift to line cables from the nearest pole to our roof.

He tried to point to a map for me, and explained his best in slow Japanese. I was able to get the gist of what he was telling me, but still left it up to Lisa to call the company when she got home to determine what really was the deal with Beezus.

The fact that we couldn’t communicate at all left things rather cut and dry. He knew I couldn’t understand, so he left a note for Lisa. It all worked out in the end.

So flash forward to the present.

The other night I noticed a wet spot on the floor next to the toilet. There was no reason it should be there, except for a leak. Yesterday morning Lisa called the maintenance office for our apartment building, and they sent over the plumber later in the day.

Lisa was at work.

I was the only liaison between the plumber and the toilet.

Thinking that I was the beesknees and all that jazz with my Japanese language skills, I welcomed the plumber into our home. I pointed to the toilet and said, “Toire wa koko desu.”

Then pointing toward the floor I said, “Mizu, migi desu.” (Water, on the right)

We were cool. He went about his business and I sat at my computer pretending to work.

After about 15 minutes the plumber called to me. He gave me a long spiel, of which I was able to translate via his hand motions and the words “pipu” and “ringu.” Then he said “ashite,” which means “tomorrow” and “nijikan” which means “two hours.”

I grasped that he needed to come back tomorrow for two hours to fix the ring in the pipe.

I told him I have to work tomorrow from 1 to 10 pm. “Hakarateidesu, ichiji kara juji made,” I said. Or at least, that’s what I sort of said.

He said something again, that I didn’t understand at all, so I went to get the notepad and paper. I asked him to right down the directions, explaining that my wife is Japanese.

However, I didn’t use the word “write” – kakimasu.

I said “yomimasu” – which means “to read.”

So essentially I handed the guy a blank piece of paper and asked him to read it.

He blinked at me for a second, then took it from me, and appearing as if a lightbulb went off over his head, he wrote something in Japanese, handed the notepad back to me and went on his merry way.

Feeling good about what had just transpired I helped myself to a beer.

When Lisa came home from work later that night I giddily regaled her with the day’s events. She was a proud wife.

Then I showed her what he had written on the notepad.

“He wrote his name,” she said.


“That’s his name. But that’s helpful.”

Bless her she was still being supportive, even though the piece of paper was just as useful as if he had left it blank.

Anyway, this all transpired yesterday.

Today, Wednesday, at 1 pm, Lisa received a call from the plumber. Apparently he was at our apartment ready to fix the toilet, only nobody was home.

He told Lisa, in Japanese, “There must have been a miscommunication.”


Ironically enough, when he was standing outside our locked apartment door, I was sitting in my Japanese class.

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