My Take

10/23/2010
By

Thoughts from Tamako on Senkaku, being Japanese, and women

a simultaneous translator who travels for her job

Love of Country

Over the past few weeks, in response to the Senkaku Islands problem, I have listened to many Japanese conservatives. I don’t like to use the word, “right-wing,” because I think that feeling loyalty to one’s country, or ethnic group, or culture, or whatever group one identifies with, is only human and probably a healthy and necessary thing. Self-loathing can never be a good place to begin life.

International relations were strained by the collision of two Japanese Coast Guard ships with a Chinese fishing boat near a string of disputed islands known as Senkaku in the East China Sea. The collision left the governments trading accusations about what happened.

A well-known female journalist known for her conservative views spoke quietly and earnestly about how her heart was filled with gratitude towards the successive generations of Japanese who had preceded us, and how she loved this country, and how she thought more people should stand up and try to protect this nation, rather than dismissing it.

It made me think, however, that although I love this country, I do so because it IS my country; I began to wonder, though, if from an objective point of view it really WAS such a special country, one that should somehow be spared the fate of most nations in history (which is to fade away or become absorbed into a larger entity). I began to think about some of the not-so-great aspects of Japan, which is that a great majority of people are restricted in what they can do in their lives.

Women, but also men.This individual sacrificing of personal ambitions and dreams, and the freedom to live as one might truly wish to live is necessary for the greater good – we are able to live peacefully together – but I wonder if it is a nation that other peoples, (or us, if given a real choice) would choose to live in. Japan doesn’t have the romance of or the ability to inspire in the way that the Roman Republic did, or the U.S. (yes, still!) does. They stand for values beyond the actual quality of their citizens; they stand for universal concepts, ideals that all people can somehow be moved by.

As an example, last week I interpreted for a large gathering of employees from some Japanese subsidiaries of a huge conglomerate based in Europe. The chairman began his speech by saying, “I look around the room and feel ashamed.” A kind of gasp went up, as profits were up. But the chairman went on to say, we must have more diversity among our employees (it was a room full of dark-suited businessmen, with only a handful of women – the interpreters and some young assistants).

When I interpreted for a seminar there was much discussion about how Japanese companies cannot truly become global – one of the reasons being that too many Japanese workers cannot truly communicate (the need for English). I thought: it’s largely because interpreters and translators – the vast majority being female – have for decades worked so hard to help the business-men.

Aspiration of Employees

None of the above are terribly new observations. But the other day I was working for a international company. They talked about their business model, and they spoke of how they tried to respond to the “aspirations” of their employees.

I really like this word, aspiration. It suggests to me a hope that one can somehow be better (not just gaining more things, such as more money), but rather, that one can actually BE better (a higher quality of individual, whether that means through perfecting skills, or creating something new; that if one strives and perseveres, one can realize or at least come closer to attaining one’s dreams.)

On Women and GABBA

Women in general here work so hard, and yet there is not a lot to aspire to. I am fond of my life – my family, my friends, the fact that I can have interesting experiences and share wonderful meals and conversations, that I don’t live in fear or poverty or suffer from the cruelty of random strangers. But beyond our basic needs there is this need in all human beings to try to be “the best we can possibly be.” What that goal is differs for each individual, but everyone aspires to BE BETTER.

When I saw these older women performing (GABBA –see article in Majirox on the group), my first thought was, they’re rather like a group of kindergarden children performing. Rarely are small children exceptionally talented, but that’s all right – they’re charming enough just because they’re children. We watch them with affection, and cheer them on for trying so earnestly.

These older women are the same. They are not startlingly talented; their voices don’t make one’s heart flutter (I’ve heard older average women suddenly break into song with beautiful voices, usually because – even though they’re not professionals – they’ve pursued a love of singing and have taken lessons and practiced for years and years); their movements are those of amateurs. As with the children, their primary charm (perhaps their only real charm) is that they’re old. It makes them unusual. Adults don’t hold children up to the same standards as adults, because they’re in a different category; that’s how we regard these women.

I think it’s fine that they sing, and I hope they make a charming and positive impression in Shanghai; if they can make even one Chinese person feel that maybe Japanese people aren’t so bad – well, that’s great!

But I’m just saying – is this all we can aspire to? To somehow make it through life and survive, and to finally only be regarded with the same (but ultimately condescending) affection as small children?

Takamatsu is a simultaneous translator. She has interpreted for a wide variety of conferences, business meetings, media interviews and press events.

She was awarded first prize at the 5th Annual Wingspan Fiction Contest sponsored by All Nippon All Airways.

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