Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lead us not into translation

Or, 'Big in Japan'.

This one's really just a follow up to my last post, but I felt it was sufficiently long to justify its own entry.

My exposé came out a day earlier than I was expecting. The first I knew of this was my landlord's mother (who I am pretty sure has a thick Yamagata accent, because I struggle to understand a word she's saying) telling me that she saw me in the paper. I rushed to the konbini and bought a Japanese newspaper for the first time.

I felt strangely reluctant to read it, not because of the effort involved in deciphering it, but because of the weirdly acute embarrassment I sometimes feel towards any media representing myself. Anyway, I got over that the next day, as teachers and students kept telling me they'd seen it, and I felt I should probably know what they had read about me.

So, here is my probably quite ropey translation of the story. My reading is coming on quite nicely; it's streets ahead of my listening.

Title: Konnichiwa, I'm an ALT. [Konnichiwa is rendered in katakana, which is unusual. I think this is to emphasise that I'm foreign; they may be subtly mocking my accent.]

Picture caption: Keen snowboarder Mr Stewart, Nanyo City.

Subtitle: The junior high schools and kindergartens of Nanyo; Mr Finlay Stewart (from the UK)

Callout: He loves snowboarding. [More literally, 'love snowboarding'. Japanese is into the whole brevity thing, and allows one to omit any part of a sentence that isn't semantically necessary, thus "I did it!" is yatta (lit., 'did') and "I love you" is aishiteiru (lit. 'loving').]

Text: Mr Finlay Stewart (28) from the UK teaches English at junior high and kindergarten in Nanyo City. "I love the people of Yamagata because they are so warm-hearted", the cheerful young man says happily.

Mr Stewart says that he originally liked Japanese movies, novels, and so on. While studying fruit flies using robots at Edinburgh University he became aware of Japan's excellence in the field of IT, which really gave an impetus to his interest in the country.

When he started working in Nanyo in Summer 2009, he was troubled by the differences from his home country that he experienced, such as the humidity and being unable to read most of the kanji labels at the supermarket. He says he felt dispirited*, and experienced culture shock. But now he finds Yamagata's foods and the beauty of its four seasons fascinating. "In particular, I've come to love the crunchiness of inago [grasshoppers cooked in sweet soy sauce, a Yamagata delicacy]", he says with a smile.

As he loves snowboarding, he goes to resorts like Zao every weekend in Winter. He also goes sometimes with his ALT friends, and says that the sight of the mountains always cheers him up. As for the future, "I want to experience Japanese culture not as a foreigner [they use the polite gaikokujin, not gaijin], but to get inside it. My goal is to understand things like a local." To the people of Yamagata he says, "If you come across a foreigner in your everyday life, please don't be afraid to try speaking English to them".

* This was the hardest part of the whole thing to translate. It literally says 'the spirit became distant', and 'spirit' is a pretty ham-fisted translation to begin with. The Japanese word is ki, which is the same character as the Chinese chi. As any player of Tenchu: Stealth Assassins knows, keeping one's chi close at hand at all times is vital to one's survival in the land of the rising sun.


  1. Wow. Glad to hear you were so cheerful in the interview and said everything while smiling. Was hoping for a big fake background in the photo but it still looks quite good.

  2. That sounds so lame!!! It would make a great JET Journal article!