Posted by: Megan | June 15, 2007

‘Ah-no, blood-y-hell’! Lost in translation!

After years and years of keeping with tradition, meet the Imaizumi family – the only family in Japan who now as a result of just a 3 week cultural exchange program will greet you with ‘Bloody hell’ over ‘Konnichiwa’ any day …

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“We can not understand each other by language, but we understood heart to heart. don’t you think so. I really think so.”

Excerpt from a letter (post visit) to me by Kinjiu (68) – 1988

When grandfather Kinjiu, and the rest of his family misunderstood ‘bloody hell’ to be an Australian greeting, clearly we did not understand one another by language. Yet, the heart was indeed healthy with many hearty laughs had during my stay as an exchange student with the Imaizumi family who owned their own taxi company just outside of Fukuoka, Japan.

17 years old at the time, representing Australia through the Lions Club organization, it was not my intention to teach the Imaizumi family ‘bloody hell’ over perhaps a more suitable, say ‘G’day’! When asked though in broken English to be taught a ‘cuss’ word from my country, ‘bloody hell’ seemed a harmless enough phrase, and that’s when the hilarity began …

A game of charades had never seemed so much fun and real before, with further sightseeing of temples and rice paddies put on hold until I could try and explain the meaning of ‘bloody hell’ to my opposing team – the Imaizumi family! My turn was up, with Kinjiu (68), wife Hatsuko (65), their son and his wife Toshidide (39) and Ayako (38), and their 3 children Futoshi (11), Maki (10), and Takuya (7) seated on the tatami mat armed with Japanese to English dictionaries for aid. I knocked the ashtray off the table. ‘Bloody hell’, I exclaimed! I tripped over the genkan [entrance to house]. ‘Bloody hell’, I exclaimed! I wore shoes into the house, and ran back to quickly take them off. ‘Bloody hell’, I exclaimed! In the midst of my best acting moves I could hear the pages of the Japanese to English dictionaries rustled in speed in search of understanding. ‘Ah-no, blood-y-hell’, Hatsuko slowly mouths. ‘Ah-no, blood-y-hell’, she repeats and shakes her head, bowing back down towards the pages. ‘Ah-no, blood-y-hell’, she repeats again and again and again with one finger poised on the word ‘bloody’, and another touching the word ‘hell’. The rest of the family were not doing much better in their quest for meaning.

And so, whether out of frustration, or just another one of those priceless misunderstandings in the name of a cultural exchange, ‘bloody hell’ was concluded to be understood as an Australian greeting by the Imaizumi family.

Konnichiwa? Maybe for their neighbours, but no longer for this savy culturally enhanced family! ‘Bloody hell’ bellowed from the thick of the rice fields as the Imaizumi kids rode through on their bicycles, in tune with the ringing of the temple bells. ‘Bloody hell’ greeted their family Shinto Priest as he blessed their house during New Year for a happy 1998. ‘Bloody hell’ was cried and cried aloud by the whole Imaizumi family at Fukuoka International airport as they waved me off back home, with an audience of English speaking travelers looking and listening on in disbelief!

“When you left my house, we were very sad and drop a tear everybody’s eyes. and at a Airport Maki wept bitterly. and we miss you very much. After you left at a Airport, we went to restaurant and drinking Sake. because of divert my mind from lonely and leave a sigh all day.”

Excerpt from same letter to me by Kinjiu (68) – 1988

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