When I lived in Sapporo, Japan almost 30 years ago (I’m not that old, I was actually a prenatal exchange student), I was interviewed at my high school newspaper. An important question in Japan is whether you have seen a ghost before your 20th birthday; if you have, then you will see them forever. If you haven’t seen one by then, you’ll be phantasm-free for the rest of your life. The interviewer asked: “yuurei mita koto ga arimasuka?” (幽霊を見たことがありますか). Having only been in Japan for two months at that point, I didn’t know what that phrase meant. A Japanese student who spoke English well enough translated: “Have you seen ghost?” (In Japanese, there are no articles of speech, so “have you seen a ghost” and “have you seen ghost” would translate the same.)

Ghost (the movie with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, RIP) came out in 1990 in America, and then was released a little later in Japan. I had no idea of the context of the question, and I had actually seen “Ghost” (the movie) there in Japan as I was fighting off homesickness. I answered “Yes, I saw it” (which in Japanese brains could convert to “yes, I saw it” or “yes, I saw one”). Everyone in the room got very excited, and the interviewer expertly followed up with “Where?” I said “Tanuki Koji” which roughly translates to “Racoon Alley Shopping Mall”. That got printed up in the school newspaper and everyone laughed about it for months. But, there’s some truth in that Japanese myth: now I see Whoopi Goldberg everywhere.