After I had been in Japan for a few years, my parents came to visit. I had to work on a few days during their visit, and rather than leaving them stuck in my rather dull town I suggested they visit the nearest big city. I took them to the station and waved them on their merry way. Neither knew any Japanese, but they had travelled abroad often and I wasn’t too worried about leaving them to their own devices.
‘How was your day?’ I asked when I got home that night.
‘It was great,’ said my mum, ‘until we had to come back. We got a bit lost and couldn’t find the station.’
‘Didn’t you just ask someone?’
‘You know your dad,’ said my mum, ‘he kept insisting he knew the way…’
‘I did!’ interrupted my dad, lying. ‘but your mum was in such a flap, worried about nothing…’
‘Anyway, yes, finally I asked a man in a suit,’ my mum said, ‘but he didn’t understand me…’
‘I’m sure if you’d just said “station” he’d have known what you meant,’ I said.
‘Well, he didn’t,’ my mum said, ‘even when I was saying “choo choo”!’
‘When you were saying what?’
“Well, he didn’t understand, so I was saying, “Trains, Choo Choo! Choo Choo Choo!”
I wondered when my mother had last been on a train if she thought they still went “choo choo”. In Japan they don’t. But mice do. Somewhere in Japan that day, a businessman would have gone home to his family and said, ‘I got stopped by a foreigner today.’
‘Oh, yes,’ his wife would say, “What did they want?’
‘Nothing,’ the businessman would reply. ‘I think she was a bit mad. She just started squeaking like a mouse.’