A story about understatement…

Written by Lorna Shapiro

Chisato and I were taking the only bus tour of our two-week trip in Japan. I remembered, partway through the tour, why I don’t usually take bus tours; my attention span is much too short for the pace at which a bus tour must operate. However, towards the end of the tour, Chisato was surprised to see me smile as the tour guide explained in her best tour guide English how the Golden Palace had come to be destroyed by fire at a point in its history. At the time of this destruction, it was a Buddhist temple. Here’s the explanation, as delivered by the tour guide:
“Young monk was scolded by senior monk. He became unhappys. He was feeling difficulty in adjusting himself to life as a monk. So he burned the temple to the ground.”
When the tour was over, I was carefully recording the words of our guide. Chisato inquired about my reaction and I explained the meaning of the understatement, and how differently I would have explained the event. Chisato was delighted! Apparently, she had tried to explain the Japanese proclivity for understatement to her English language teacher in Vancouver but had been unable to find the word that described the concept. Over the next few days, I heard the word understatement used many times as she tried to commit it to memory.