Japanese for when you’re lost in life — or just lost on the road

Japanese for when you’re lost in life — or just lost on the road
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It has been difficult watching the footage that has been coming out of Afghanistan. The 撤退 (tettai, withdrawal) of U.S. forces saw the タリバン (Tariban, Taliban) quickly come to power, which left many アフガン人 (Afugan-jin, Afghans) feeling lost and scared.

One former Afghan policeman told Reuters about his worries for the future.

「路頭に迷っている。身の安全を図り、生き残り、家族を救わなければならない。まず何を考えればいいのかも分からない」 (Rotō ni mayotte-iru. Mi no anzen o hakari, ikinokori, kazoku o sukuwanakereba naranai. Mazu nani o kangaereba ii no kamo wakaranai, I’ve lost my livelihood. I have to find safety, survive and save my family. I don’t even know what to start thinking about first), he said.

Meanwhile, the situation in Japan is vastly different, but people are still feeling a bit lost as the pandemic drags on.

新型コロナウイルスの影響で収入を失って路頭に迷う人々も少なくない (Shingata koronauirusu no eikyō de shūnyū o ushinatte rotō ni mayou hito-bito mo sukunakunai, Many people have also lost their source of income and become destitute due to COVID-19).

The phrase 路頭に迷う (rotō ni mayou, to become destitute/homeless) is used to express a particularly severe sense of uncertainty that comes from 生活の手段を失って困窮する (seikatsu no shudan o ushinatte konkyū suru, losing one’s livelihood and becoming destitute).

The term 路頭 (rotō) also means “roadside,” so a more literal translation of the phrase 路頭に迷う is “to become lost on the roadside,” which conjures up the image of an aimless traveler.

誰でも迷う時はある (Dare demo mayou toki wa aru, Everyone feels lost at times). But depending on the context in which 迷う (mayou, to be lost) is used, we all get lost in different ways.

If you’re in an unfamiliar neighborhood and you’ve lost your way, you have 道に迷う (michi ni mayou), which is the state of being geographically lost. That may lead you to tell a passerby, “すみません、道に迷ってしまったんですが” (Sumimasen, michi ni mayotte-shimatta-n desu ga, Excuse me, I don’t know where I am/I’m lost [can you help me?]).

In the same vein, a lost child is referred to as a 迷子 (maigo), while a 迷路 (meiro) refers to a maze or labyrinth.

迷う can also be used to express a state of mind. When we have difficult decisions to make, it’s common to think どうしたらいいのか分からない (dōshitara ii no ka wakaranai, I don’t know what to do). Using 迷う, this feeling can be rephrased as 決断に迷う (ketsudan ni mayou), which sounds slightly more formal but translates as being lost in a decision.

Many parents were put in this position recently when they had to decide whether to allow their children to watch the Paralympics in person as part of an educational program for schools. 子どもをパラリンピックの観戦に参加させるかさせないか迷っている親は多かったようだ (Kodomo o Pararinpikku no kansen ni sanka saseru ka sasenai ka mayotte-iru oya wa ōkatta yō da, A lot of parents seemed lost about whether or not to allow their children to watch the Paralympics in person).

Sometimes it can feel like you’ve made progress by deciding on something only to pause at the next step, unsure of what to do. In that case, use the phrase 二の足を踏む (ni no ashi o fumu), which means to hesitate, think twice or have cold feet.

子どもの希望を踏まえ、パラリンピックの観戦に参加を決めた親もいれば、感染を恐れ二の足を踏む親も多かったようだ (Kodomo no kibō o fumae, Pararinpikku no kansen ni sanka o kimeta oya mo ireba, kansen o osore ni no ashi o fumu oya mo ōkatta yō da, Based on their children’s wishes, some parents have decided to allow [their children] to watch the Paralympics, but other parents were worried about infections and had second thoughts).

Last week’s Bilingual column explored responses to the question ワクチン打った (wakuchin utta, have you been vaccinated), one of which was 迷っています (mayotte-imasu, [I’m] hesitant). While the vaccines have been touted as key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, 副反応などを心配してワクチン接種に二の足を踏む人たちもいる (fukuhannō nado o shinpai shite wakuchin sesshu ni ni no ashi o fumu hito-tachi mo iru, some people are thinking twice about getting vaccinated because they are worried about [experiencing adverse] side effects).

Put another way, we can say 副反応を心配してワクチン接種をためらう人々もいる (fukuhannō o shinpai shite wakuchin sesshu o tamerau hito-bito mo iru, some people are feeling hesitant about getting vaccinated because they are worried of [experiencing adverse] side-effects). This sentence uses the verb ためらう (tamerau, to hesitate/waver) in place of 二の足を踏む.

In addition to ためらう, the term 躊躇する (chūcho suru, to hesitate) can also be used to express hesitation. Though, you should think twice before using 躊躇 in conversation, it’s used more when writing.

Currently, the revised immunization law simply obliges people to make an effort to get vaccinated against infectious diseases, which means 自分で判断するしかない (jibun de handan suru shika nai, you have no choice but to decide for yourself). That’s part of the reason why 多くの日本企業は従業員にワクチン接種を勧めることに躊躇している (ōku no Nihon kigyō wa jyūgyōin ni wakuchin sesshu o susumeru koto ni chūcho shite-iru, many Japanese firms are hesitant about pushing their employees to get vaccinated).

First- and second-year university students have had to deal with feelings of loneliness and isolation as a result of many of their classes being moved online, something they may see as 迷惑 (meiwaku, trouble/an annoyance).

Having been unable to make new friends or to experience campus life, オンライン授業に対して戸惑いの声を上げている学生は少なくない (onrain jugyō ni taishite tomadoi no koe o agete-iru gakusei wa sukunaku nai, not a few students have voiced feelings of confusion regarding online classes).

The verb 戸惑う (tomadou, to be perplexed) is another way that we can describe the sentiment of the moment. Mio Shinkawa, a sophomore, told Kyodo news: “I am no longer a high school student, but I don’t feel like a college student now, either.” In other words, 彼女は学校生活に戸惑いを感じている (kanojo wa gakkō seikatsu ni tomadoi o kanjite-iru, she is feeling puzzled about her school life).

感染拡大の終息が見通せない中、新しいことを始めるのに戸惑いを感じる人々は多い (Kansen kakudai no shūsoku ga mitōsenai naka, atarashii koto o hajimeru no ni tomadoi o kanjiru hito-bito wa ōi, With no end in sight to the spread of [COVID-19] infections, many people feel confused about starting something new).

予測不可能な出来事に人々は迷って戸惑うが、躊躇するばかりではなく、今何ができるかを冷静に考えることが大切だ (Yosoku fukanōna dekigoto ni hito-bito wa mayotte tomadou ga, chūcho suru bakari dewa naku, ima nani ga dekiru ka o reisei ni kangaeru koto ga taisetsu da, Unpredictable events can cause people to become lost and confused, but rather than just hesitating, it is important to think calmly about what you can do now).

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