After my trip to Japan last year I had said to people “even if you learned the language you would still need a guide to help you navigate the customs.” And that held true on this trip as well, we had wonderful translators that not only translated words but explained proper etiquette and customs. Taking your shoes off and putting the slippers on, placing money on the little tray not on the counter or into the person’s hand, bowing and the handling of business cards were all things we needed to be aware of.
There is a certain rhythm/pattern of speech you need to use when being translated. I found it fascinating that some times the translation would be 2 words to my 10 and other times one little thought seemed to be translated into a novel. I had absolute trust in our 3 official translators. I think because they had traveled with the group on the last trips they understood who we were and what we were trying to do – they got it.
Nearly all of our lunch and dinner meals had assigned seating including someone who could translate which ensured that you could have conversation with everyone at your table. At some events there were name tags on the table and other times in was just a matter of rearranging until we got an arrangement that would work. There was one time in particular that I had to pause when something was said because I wasn’t sure if the person realized the implications of what they said. While having dinner with a delightful young Japanese medical student and his wife, I asked whether his wife was also a student or did she work? This was a very young cute couple and he spoke English very well. She didn’t speak any English. They had been married in March. His response to my question was “she is my housewife.” Having grown up in the USA, owned my own business, having hyphenated my maiden name with my husband’s name when I got married, I really had to just smile. I wasn’t sure if it was a term of endearment or what?
There was one more experience that made me think “Toto, we aren’t in Kansas any more.” When we had our formal meeting with a rather high-ranking government official, a young woman came to escort us to his office. She handed each of us a seating chart (below). My name is listed as Ms. Hine. I do not think Clark-Van Hine is a common name in Japan. I hadn’t been to a meeting where you get a printed seating chart before. This was the big leagues. As we were walking to the office I realized our young escort was wearing shorts and high heels. Her look was polished but I thought maybe it is dress down Friday because I can’t believe you can work in a government office and dress like that. Her manner was professional and polite but her outfit was confusing me. I made note of how everyone else was dressed as we walked down the halls. All the men were in suits and ties. I didn’t see any other women. I thought maybe I am over thinking this but a conversation later in the day with the Mount Sinai female medical student in our group made me think maybe I wasn’t. We have come “a long way baby” but that is not true for our sisters around the world.