I managed to put off grocery shopping until Monday, January 12. Upon further reflection, it probably wasn’t the best time to stock the kitchen since it was a national holiday (Coming of Age Day), but I had packed Friday through Sunday more tightly with sight-seeing plans than I had my actual suitcase for Japan. My fingers were crossed that the holiday meant the store would be relatively empty, but that wasn’t the case. Each isle felt congested as I tried to maneuver through it, and after a few minutes I realized that it wasn’t the people around me that made the store feel crowded—it was the language. Before arriving at the store, I had anticipated that I might have trouble conversing with the cashier, but as I grabbed one of the many baskets stacked at the entrance of the supermarket, I realized how much I had underestimated the challenge of navigating the grocery store shelves. Tokyo presents non-Japanese speakers with Romaji and English in many places, but it’s still Japan, where people primarily speak Japanese. I can’t expect to walk up to every isle in the store and find pamphlets explaining each product in English. Although I attempted to appear like I knew what I was doing while I haphazardly tossed one food item after another into my basket, it’s fair to assume that I actually resembled a deer caught in the headlights.
Up until that point, I had convinced myself that I could easily learn to love being lost, but there was a difference between being lost and being completely lost that I hadn’t grasped. It was one thing to hear and take to heart the phrase, “go out and get lost in Japan”—it was another thing entirely to play a guessing game with groceries. My embarrassment and nerves were short-lived, however, and I was able to shrug them off like a coat by the time I made it back to the Kitazono Women’s Dormitory.
Although there have been a sprinkling of instances where the language barrier has seriously hit, I’ve overcome it by relishing in my surroundings. The streets of Itabashi (where the women’s dormitory is located) are comely, the vending machines are blessings, and Gacha-gacha machines have become the greatest thing since sliced bread. In this sense I have learned to love being lost, or I suppose it would be more appropriate to write that pushing through misunderstanding has been made easier because I love where I am.