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

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Powertrain Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I hope you are well. My client based in ...

Java Developer - Banking - London - Up to £560/day

£500 - £560 per day: Orgtel: Java Developer FX - Banking - London - Up to £560...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tulisa Contostavlos arrives to face drug charges at Southwark Crown Court on July 14, 2014  

Tulisa might have been attacked for being working class, but she still has to take some responsibility

Chloe Hamilton
Is Ed Miliband a natural born leader? Or could he become one?  

Wanted: a leader with the strength to withstand criticism from the media

Steve Richards
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried