When Aya’s parents were in town we settled into a nice routine. They’d play with Ellie all day, or we’d be out shopping, and then we’d come home for dinner. After dinner, Aya would put Ellie down, and then we’d all meet at the dinner table for dessert and coffee. This is when we’d all chat and catch up. Well, they would chat and catch up. I’d mostly sit there and laugh when they would laugh just so I would feel like I was part of the conversation. But on the last night, I really wanted to actually participate a little more.
Â Dinner is usually awkwardly quiet with Aya’s parents. All of them (Aya included) are always focused on their food and eating. This is normal for them, but it can be extremely awkward for me. My family is usually talking and telling stories through dinner. Aya’s family doesn’t break out into conversation until after dinner. And since I feel awkward with the silence, I usually start asking questions just to make conversation. I’ve already asked so many questions about the family history and Japan that I felt like I was running out of ideas. So I started asking questions like, “What are your top three favorite vegetables?” Surprisingly this spurred a lot of conversation. And then I segued into “What’s your favorite dessert, both American and Japanese?” This got me through the week, but on the last night I was running out of questions. Her Dad and I had watched a Japanese walking competition on Youtube earlier in the day so I brought that up, which got them talking about some current Japanese pop culture.
That’s when Aya’s mom mentioned a song called “The Toilet God.” A song so popular in Japan, it’s been translated into Chinese as well. Aya’s mom had heard about it, but never actually heard the song. Aya’s dad didn’t know about it at all. So all three of them are laughing at the table about this song. I mean, it’s a song called “The Toilet God”. I’m laughing too, just to fit in. It’s a ten minute long song that is an ode to the singer’s grandmother who raised her, and also taught her the importance of cleaning the toilet. It sounds ridiculous, and even more so that it’s ten minutes long. So we brought the laptop to the table and went to Youtube to see for ourselves. Now keep in mind all this conversation is in Japanese and I’m getting it translated to me in between all the laughter. We bring up the song and I sit through all ten minutes and have no idea what is being said, but in my mind it’s funny. It turns out to be an acoustic ballad, but it’s still about a toilet right? Of course it’s funny.
After the song ended I looked up from the screen to make a snarky comment and notice her dad’s eyes were all watery. Then I noticed, Aya’s and her mom’s were, too! I pointed it out and Aya finally broke the silence by bursting into tears crying how “it’s such a good sooong!” They were all crying! What!? This was supposed to be a funny song. About a toilet! How does a song that’s called, “The Toilet God” make people cry? And these weren’t laughter tears. These were Hallmark commercial sappy tears. It turns out the song is about her grandmother and their life together and ends with her grandma dying. And one of the lessons her grandmother taught her was to respect the “toilet Goddess” and you would grow up to be a beautiful woman. Apparently it’s a common saying in Japan and even Aya’s mom said she remembered being told that as a little girl. I didn’t know what to say.
Imagine all the other things that get lost in translation for me, or conversations I listen to that I have no clue what it’s about, or jokes I never understand. You too, would scrape for ideas of questions to ask just to make conversation so you could feel like you’re a part of it. So after listening to a ten minute long ballad about the toilet God, and watching the whole family cry, I asked the only question that anybody could ask:
“So, what are your top three favorite fruits?”
Here is a link to the song. Yes, I know it’s in Japanese, and no, I don’t understand the lyrics either, but you get the feeling.