When I asked a station attendant at Narita if the incoming train was going to Tokyo he crossed his forearms like he was going to karate-chop me. After a few hours I realized that crossed forearms –or crossed hands, or crossed index fingers- is simply the Japanese sign for “no” or “nothing” and also “stop asking me stuff in English, tourist! I don’t understand!”
This is the interior of a Japanese train. Notice the unsoiled plush seats and the spotless floors. I felt like licking everything.
Turns out not many Tokyoites understand English very well and most speak it even less. Much fun is to be had when asking a waiter who doesn’t speak English about a Japanese menu. We chose a restaurant without the ubiquitous bi-lingual menu, of course. We rattled off all the Japanese foods we knew until we hit the jackpot. Tempura? (crossed arms.) Sushi? Unagi? (crossed arms.) By now there is a waitress hovering nearby to watch the entertainment. Udon? Soba? (crossed arms) but they had somen, a kind of thin wheat noodle, that we ordered which was really good. Miso soup? Yes! (Then, gestured: with something inside.) What, chicken? (crossed arms! -I think “chicken” was the first word that the waiter understood- Points to a drawing of a crab on the menu.) Miso soup with crab? Sure! The crab ended up being small delicious mussels.
We had less than 24 hours in Tokyo, due to a forced layover. I hope I can spend some more time there someday.