Lost in translation? I know the feeling

Fifteen years on, the memory of that Tokyo nightmare still brings me out in a rash

Share

Everyone I know has seen, loved and is now urging me to see a film called
Lost in Translation about a couple of Americans feeling disorientated in Tokyo. All right, all right, I'll go, though why I should want to relive an almost identical personal experience heavens knows.

Everyone I know has seen, loved and is now urging me to see a film called Lost in Translation about a couple of Americans feeling disorientated in Tokyo. All right, all right, I'll go, though why I should want to relive an almost identical personal experience heavens knows.

Occasionally when we play that old one-upmanship game about how many countries in the world you have been to (when the children were small I heard them playing a slightly different version that went "how many countries in the world have you been sick in?") I always count Japan, but feel slightly guilty when I do. It counts because I have actually been to Tokyo. The guilt comes because I hated it so much that I checked out after less than 24 hours. The circumstances were bizarre to say the least - throw another log on the fire and I'll tell you the story.

Back in the bad old days before bird flu and cheap flights, when people still enjoyed good food instead of all this fusion stuff that's foisted on us now, Thai-style haggis with Yorkshire pudding and linguine, the big airlines set great store by the standard of their in-flight cuisine, especially for first-class passengers. They vied with each other, chequebooks in hand, to persuade top international chefs to do their menus in the same way that they hired Paris couture houses to design the staff uniforms. So anyway, British Airways signed up Anton Mosimann, the then legendary chef of the Dorchester Hotel, to create a dazzling new menu for its first-class long-haul flights. To promote it they invited a dozen journalists to dinner in a magnificently appointed private penthouse dining room at the hotel to sample a five-course banquet which, as far as I remember, was pretty damn good.

The reason, I dare say, that the finer details of the meal were forgotten, was that scarcely had we laid down our coffee spoons and picked up our petits fours than a hat was passed round and we were each invited to pull out an unmarked envelope at random. It goes without saying that at this stage we were all pretty drunk; every course had been accompanied by a complementary vintage wine and most of us thought that this was some kind of post-prandial party game on the lines of Consequences.

It wasn't. The envelopes contained a first-class return ticket to one of 12 destinations, the name of the passenger to be filled in. The man from The Times got LA; the girl from the Telegraph got Singapore; the funny wee fellow with a pigtail from the Glasgow Herald got Cape Town. I got Tokyo. Our brief, said the man from British Airways, was to sample the identical meal we had just eaten tonight at the Dorchester, at 30,000 feet tomorrow night, and see if we could detect any difference in the quality. I've had some tough assignments as a journalist but ye gods, this was something else. Next day I flew first class to Tokyo sitting in a huge wide armchair seat beside the friendly man who had offered to carry my hand luggage on board, who turned out to be David Puttnam. While I dutifully worked my way through the Dorchester menu plus wine, David Puttnam had a chicken sandwich and two glasses of orange juice.

We got to Tokyo. A car arrived to take me to the hotel I had been booked in to for up to a week if I wanted. It was 7am, too early to arrange tour guides and translators, so heady with excitement and the novelty of foreign parts I set out to explore the city on my own.

Fifteen years on, the memory of that Tokyo nightmare still brings me out in a rash. I got lost, of course. The street names were in Japanese. No one spoke English and I'd forgotten the name of my hotel. If only I had had the same foresight as the late Dowager Duchess of Portland who when travelling abroad always took the precaution of writing the following sentence in 10 languages, including Japanese, and sewing it into the hem of her coat. "I am the Dowager Duchess of Portland. Please take me immediately to the British Embassy."

I ran into a man who spoke English who said he would help me but first he would take me to some Taoist shrines, introduce me to the ancient Japanese tea ceremony and buy me a drink at a geisha club. His name was Otagi and he failed to mention that he was a serial waylayer of lost English tourists whom he bored to death. When at 2am, having seen more shrines, drunk more tea and conversed in pidgin English with more geishas than Otagi had had sushi suppers, and he returned me to my hotel, all I wanted to do was go home. Disorientation? Tell me about it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Biology Teacher

Main Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Biology Teacher to A Level - Female...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Girls were by far the most worried about their appearance, the survey found  

English children are among the unhappiest in the world – we are failing them

Natasha Devon
 

Daily catch-up: eurogloom, Ed in Red and Cameron’s Wilsonian U-turn on control orders

John Rentoul
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering