I’ve been to Japan a number of times in recent years. Each time I come and go I usually get a few questions from friends about that movie “Lost in Translation”. I’m actually happy people use that film as a reference point considering some of the alternatives, although I think was more about the life-situations of the two main characters than about Japan.
I thought the movie had some good points. It showed some of the sights and sounds of Tokyo. It showed some aspects of the Japanese at play in the big city. It demonstrated some of the fashions and styles of Japanese youth culture. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it’s worth a rental as it is a visual delight. For those of you who have seen the movie, here are a few thoughts:
-While we still are bigger than they are, these days it’s much side to side as in height. The scene where Bill Murray is in an elevator, head and shoulders above everyone else, isn’t as common as you might think.
-Tokyo is a sharp-dressing city. I brought quite a bit of older clothing and I feel a bit like, well, a sloppy American. At least I don’t wear a cloth belt with my chinos and sneakers. The movie tended to emphasize the drab clothing of the businessmen and the wacky street-wear of the young people. It’s not like that here now and really wasn’t this way when the movie was made. On the whole, people here are well-put together like they are in Paris, Rome or New York.
-It does not take weeks to get over the time change. Honestly, if Sofia Coppola could not get a night’s sleep after a few days there was something wrong with her beyond the 16 hour time difference from LA.
-If all you can do all day in this city is sit in a hotel room and then hotel bar, well, I guess we can’t be friends. Tokyo is as exciting as New York or Los Angeles. It’s different, but if you want what you have, stay home. It’s massive, it’s intimidating, but it is also easy to deal with once you get the rhythm.
-Japanese people can pronounce the letter ” l” .
-English, and other languages are spoken. People are shy about it. But even some smaller places have an English menu.
-If you are a Western adherent, fan or admirer of Eastern religions and you go to a temple or shrine and don’t “feel it”, as happened to Scarlett Johansen’s character in the movie, relax. Their religious institutions and rituals are not about you. Maybe there’s just more to it than what you picked up in college or from your Yoga instructor back home.
-The movie completely missed the joys of Japanese food, of Tokyo’s grand parks, the efficiency and ease of getting around, the quiet neighborhood streets and the hospitality of the Japanese people.
I suppose if one comes here and spends a month at the Park Hyatt, 50+ stories above the street, you never quite get acclimated. But if you went to New York, and lived in the Regency Hotel or the Waldorf for a month, never went to the Village, Soho, The Upper West Side or (heavens!) Brooklyn, could you say you visited New York? Would you know where to buy a toothbrush?
If you ever do visit Tokyo, do have a drink in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt, Shinjuku (Tokyo has 3 Hyatts). The bar is 59 or 62 stories above the street, I forget the exact floor. It is two stories high with floor to ceiling windows and a band just like in the movie. On a clear night, it’s a billion dollar view, and they have Suntory Whisky. There’s only one Tokyo.