Found in a translator

Christina and I arrived in Tokyo at around 8pm – and by the time we had settled down in our hostel (the trendy Inno Hostel) it was getting incredibly late, and we were starving.

So we roamed the streets of Uguisudani – desperately searching for some food. The guys and girls that managed the hostel recommended a sushi joint next to the local police station – we ended up at the place next to the place they had recommended.

It was here, where we realised how little English was used in Japan.

We walked into the small but cozy establishment, greeted by beautiful Japanese smiles. This was followed by a flurry of Japanese words, which we did not understand.

The Chef looked back at me, bemused.
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I call this – Asian disappointment.

Let me side bar and explain quickly.

Asian disappointment refers to a phenomenon when Asians are travelling or backpacking around Asia – and the locals attempt to talk to you in their native language.
When you tell them you don’t understand – you receive a confused look in return.
It happened to me in Cambodia, and now in Japan.
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It’s just a funny thing.


The chef motions us to sit down, and the waitress comes around and mimes at us, asking if we would like something to drink (we ordered a lime soda and Grape soju – fire).

Said Chef then pulls out a menu – entirely in Japanese – and beckons us to order some food.
And now you’re thinking, easy, there’ll be pictures that will allow you to discern what is what.


There were however, cute little cartoon doodles of meat, veggies and sushi.

So the chef begins to try describe the different dishes with hand gestures and key Japanese phrases – in the hope that we would understand.
We had no idea what was going, but felt terrible – so we just ordered the meal we thought he was most excited about.


And that did not disappoint.
A bunch of skewers with different types of fried meats, fish and veggies (so that’s what the cartoon doodles were about ey) were presented to us.
They were incredibly delicious – a great first meal in Japan.


So there we sat, downing our delicious meal – after causing a whole heap fuss with our lack of Japanese lingo – and we really wanted to tell the Chef how great his cooking was.

Then it occurred to me.
If only we had a device that could automatically translate any language in the world at the touch of a button.

I pulled out my Rose Gold iPhone 7 – translated some English to Japanese – and left the Chef smiling as we exited gracefully.


*it was not a graceful exit – I hit my head on the door frame – things are too short here.

Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.

Get in touch ~
Instagram: @chinkinthearmour


  1. I can so connect to this article. I had no clue that the “Asian Disappointment” was a thing, however it is absolutely hilarious. In my case, they graciously stayed away from me -probably because of my color and their fear of having to speak English.
    Google Translator was a good friend in helping me communicate to the wonderful Japanese people, but it also gave the the false impression that I can speak Japanese. So when the natives throw a full swing of rapid Japanese at me, Google wasn’t able to rescue me. In light of this, I bought a Japanese phrasebook (which was 17usd but really cost 8usd – bloody reap-off), and learnt the phrase by heart: “ego ga hanasemas ka?” which means can you speak English. Conversations became less strained but strange where Jap-English were spoken along with lots of animated signing. It was better than nothing. Sometimes if I didn’t understand, the person will physically take me to where I need to go – be it a train station, platform or bus – which by the way maybe the opposite direction to where the person may be going. Don’t wish to write a blog IN a blog, but this visit was a worthwhile l experience. Thanks Ryan for evoking fond memories. I eagerly await the Roponggi adventure!!

    • Dude so great to hear from you!!
      The Japanese people are super kind – so many took us to where we need to be too!!!
      Can’t wait to meet up again!

  2. Papgo is a pretty hand app to use when in Japan… you can translate and even take pictures of the menu and highlight what you want it to translate. I used it off and on when I was there and I’m pretty please with the results…. Ooh and it can even read out the translation which is awesome ^^

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