Gokai: The more I know Japan, the thicker the fog

by Michael Hoffman

What a strange dream! The city was engulfed in a wave of random murders (musabetsu satsujin, 無差別殺人), and when my doorbell rang it was not the murderer (satsujinhan, 殺人犯), as I’d feared, but a high police official come to coax me out of retirement (taishoku, 退職) and put my detective skills to work. The police, he frankly admitted, were helpless without me. Detective skills? Well, as a child I’d dreamed of being a private detective (tantei, 探偵). Often in my dreams I am one.

Well, here’s a mystery (nazo, 謎) for me to solve: Where am I? In bed, I can see that, but it’s not my bed . . . What could have happened? Footsteps! Brisk, no-nonsense footsteps — a woman’s, I think . . . “Nurse!” Her uniform (seifuku, 制服) is unmistakable. So I’m in a hospital. “Nurse — where am I? How did I get here? What . . . ” I break off? in embarrassment (tōwaku shite hanashi wo yameru, 当惑して話をやめる). I’ve been speaking English. Did I think I was back in England? Why should I have? What’s going on in my head?

“I’m sorry,” I mumble, switching to Japanese. “I’m a little confused (konran shite imasu, 混乱しています). What happened to me? Why am I here?”

“You were in a fight (kenka, 喧嘩), I believe. One moment, I’ll bring the doctor.”

“A fight! Why . . . ?” She’s gone before I formulate the question. A fight? I have a big mouth sometimes, but I’m no fighter.

“Keyes-san.” The smiling gentleman who approaches me is no doctor — no medical doctor, anyway. He is my old friend and former colleague Dr. Yamabe, professor of economics at Wakaba College. “You’re awake.”

“Am I? Are you sure? Something’s happened to me. I can no longer distinguish dream from reality (yume to genjitsu wo kubetsu dekinaku natta, 夢と現実を区別できなくなった). What am I doing here? What’s this about a fight?”


“The nurse said . . . “

“There was no fight. You were at my place — don’t you remember? — and suddenly you blacked out (totsuzen ki wo ushinatta, 突然気を失った). Threw my wife into a panic (nyob wo panikku ni ochiiraseta, 女房をパニックに陥らせた), I can tell you! She raced to the phone and called an ambulance (kyūkyūsha wo yonda, 救急車を呼んだ),and here you are!”

“Your place! No, I don’t remember. What was I doing at your place?”

“You just showed up. You seemed upset (oro-oro shita, おろおろした).”

“About anything in particular?”

“You said you wanted to go home.”


“Home to England. You said something that struck me very much. It seemed so unlike you (omaerashikunai, お前らしくない). You said . . . but really, wouldn’t it be better to talk of something else?”

“What did I say?”

“You said, ‘Sometimes this awful feeling comes over me. As long as I’ve lived in Japan, as fluently as I speak the language, I sometimes feel I’m misunderstanding everything (subete wo gokai shite iru, すべてを誤解している), and always have misunderstood everything, and always will, and everything I think I know I don’t know at all, and everyone is forever laughing at my ignorant blunders (ore no muchi na shippai wo baka ni shite iru, 俺の無知な失敗を馬鹿にしている), ?and I’m the only one who doesn’t know it!’

“Ah! I remember! (Omoidashita, 思い出した!) Yes, of course. I was wandering aimlessly (ate mo naku samayotte ite, 当てもなくさまよっていて), thinking to myself, ‘Should I get even drunker than I am? Really drunk? Or should I go home and sober up (yoi wo samasu, 酔いを醒ます)? And then I hit on a third option — I’ll drop in on my old friend and colleague Yamabe! Upset, you said. Well, yes, and not without reason. Look at me — I’m going to the dogs (reiraku shite iru, 零落している)! Yamabe — I have to get back to work. I made a big mistake when I allowed the college to talk me into early retirement (sōki taishoku, 早期退職). I should have fought it (teikō sureba yokatta, 抵抗すればよかった). I’m too young to be doing nothing, too vigorous, too full of ideas . . . Well, it’s too late now (teokure, 手遅れ).”

“Maybe not.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well . . . it’s not definite yet . . . “

“What isn’t definite yet?”

“I don’t know if I should mention it. Dr Ono has received an offer from Waseda University. I understand he’s considering it seriously. If he takes it . . . “

“There will be an opening (shūshokuguchi, 就職口), and I’m supposed to go crawling back (peko-peko suru, ぺこぺこする)!”

“Keyes, really, you are at times a most unreasonable man (gōjō da na, 強情だな)!”