Toire wa doko desuka?

A mini-post in honor of NaBloPoMo:  National Blog Posting Month.

NaNoWriMo is clearly out of my league this year, but I’m determined to use the energy surrounding the event to squeeze a little writing out of my keyboard on a daily basis.


Before traveling to Japan last summer, my ten-year-old taught me six phrases:

Toire wa doko desuka? Where’s the bathroom?

Sumimasen. Sorry/excuse me.

Arigato gozaimashita. Thank you so much.

Gochiso-sama deshita! It has been a feast.

Ohaiyo gozaimasu/konnichiwa/konbanwa. Good morning/good day/good evening.

O-kanjo o onigai shimasu. May I please have the check?

But if I had to boil it down to the bare essentials, the top three would have done the job.

While in Tokyo, we had lunch with my brother’s in-laws, wandering afterward to Meiji Jingu, where he was married many years ago. Together, we pleasantly whiled away three hours, pointing, gesturing, smiling, looking at photos, exchanging gifts. It is astonishing how few words can communicate so much.

I suppose we couldn’t discuss the fine points of Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses, but I couldn’t do that in any language. I’m not advocating for monolingualism–so much of our history and culture is embedded in our words and silences. I am merely pointing out that speaking is not the same as communicating, and listening goes deeper than hearing words.



Published by

Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

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