Tadashii!! I repeated to the taxi driver, perhaps a bit too urgently. He turned around and gave me a quick look. He was wearing a white hat and gloves like all of the other Japanese taxi drivers, a uniform that always reminded me of an old fashioned milkman. Tadashii! He was about to pass the driveway for our apartment. I had given him the address from town, but the apartment complex was a bit of a large and spread out. I thought about just telling him to stop, but we had been grocery shopping and I wasnt keen on hauling all of our bags across the long parking lot in the Japanese summer heat.
Were only in Japan for the summer. I had some what impulsively accepted a three month appointment at a small research university in rural Japan. Having my wife and two young children along made the trip enjoyable, but also multiplied the opportunities for various miscommunications. Shopping on weekends was always exciting, sometimes in unexpected ways. I even learned many years later that I had been rudely insulting the young women at the bus station, incorrectly using the word “busu“, which means loosely “old hag” instead of “basu“, the actual word for bus when asking for directions.
For a minute “tadashii” didn’t seem quite right. I had tried to study a bit of Japanese before our trip but I didn’t get very far. But a three (or is it four?) syllable word for “right” seemed wrong. We were using a little device called a Lingo, which resembled a very tiny laptop. It could do translations into several languages and was an almost magical technology at the time. I later learned, or thought I had learned, that my Lingo had given me the translation for “right” as in “human rights”. No telling what the taxi driver thought I was telling him. Perhaps he thought I was complaining that my rights were somehow being violated. Much later I learned tadashii was the translation for right as in “correct”. I suppose the driver was very confused by my mixed message, telling him he was going the “correct” way while also urgently signaling him to turn right. Such confusion marked our days in Japan. For the record, the “right” I was looking for is migi. I will probably never forget that word.
I told the driver to stop, perhaps successfully finding the word for “stop” in the Lingo. We were far up the parking lot at that point but unloaded our groceries on the sidewalk, paid the taxi driver, and walked toward our apartment.