Omoide-zukuri: Making Memories and Real-Time Nostalgia

Omoide-zukuri: Making Memories and Real-Time Nostalgia

Screenshot from an ad by Google: “your memories on the top page”  From time to time, we all think back to days of yore. So far, the time I spent as a cog in the machine has yet to warp my memory to a point where I reflect upon my university years as an alcohol-fueled stroll through the Garden of Eden. Still, I cannot help but drift away on a cloud of nostalgia every so often. For this Ikiji, I want to talk about omoide-zukuri (思い出づくり, literally: ‘making memories’) and the role it plays in the life of many Japanese university students. I will draw on my own experiences participating in several student clubs when I was living in Nagasaki and Kyoto. During this time I noticed that students were not using memories solely as fodder for light-hearted conversation, but also appeared to be actively engaged in making them. University clubs are run by students and are dedicated to a certain activity, ranging from the tea ceremony to music, football or Japanese chess. Because many students join a club in their first year and stick with it until they graduate four years later, the club environment provides the ideal breeding ground for bonding experiences and the creation of unforgettable memories. But why exactly would anyone be actively engaged in making memories, and what does this process entail? First, we need to take a look at the Japanese education system. From the moment a child sets foot in elementary school, the path to adult society’s warm embrace is mostly set in stone. In earlier decades, getting a job after graduating high...
Language for a Living

Language for a Living

There is something intangible about the work of a translator. Some may wonder whether translating even qualifies as working. During my student years, on more than one occasion I was approached by a Japanese friend who would ask me to translate a wall of text into English, “because you speak the language, don’t you?” Even as a professional translator, my prospective clients are sometimes startled when I tell them it might take more time to accurately translate a text than it took them to write it. Experiences such as these made me think a closer look at the work of a translator is in order. Let’s start with the obvious: you can be sure that any translation job that exceeds the complexity of a shopping list will be deliciously bungled by Google Translate. Let’s have a look at what Google makes of the following Japanese sentence: Japanese: 青春の輝き、熱き若者たちの挑戦 (seishun no kagayaki, atsuki wakamonotachi no chōsen) Google: “Youth of shine, challenge of Passionate young people” I will not bother you with the Dutch translation, which ended up even more creative because Google first translates Japanese into English before the end-user is shown the final translation in Dutch. The Japanese sentence itself poses an interesting challenge. It is the subtitle of a television series and captures rather typically the importance concepts such as nostalgia and youth hold in the hearts of many Japanese. I would translate the sentence as follows: Iki: “The power of youth – fearless youngsters on a mission” Even without further context, the general emotion behind the subtitle shines through. In an actual translation, aided by a footnote or two, I would go...
Keigo: Japanese Polite Speech

Keigo: Japanese Polite Speech

Martijn: Let’s talk about keigo 敬語 – polite speech in the Japanese language. The first image that comes to mind is likely that of the typical salaryman, bowing and incessantly exchanging formalities. What some people may now know, is how intrinsically polite expressions are woven into the fabric of the Japanese language. First of all, the word keigo is comprised of the characters kei 敬, meaning ‘respect’, and the character go 語, meaning ‘word’ or ‘language’. Simply put, speaking keigo means to use polite language. However, keigo goes far beyond using simply more flowery language. Basically polite Milan: The first thing that stands out about keigo is the fact that it is explicitly coded in both the Japanese vocabulary as well as its grammar. Looking at it in broad strokes, we can identify two dimensions of keigo. The first dimension is something that may be called ‘basic politeness’. Here, it is mainly the setting that determines whether keigo is used or not. Martijn: It is important to note that using polite language is the norm in Japan. Between friends, colloquial language is of course common, but when meeting someone for the first time, polite speech should be used. Milan: This basic form of politeness can easily be witnessed when assessing the verbs used in a sentence. When I want to tell a friend that I am going somewhere, I will use the verb iku (‘to go’). On the other hand, in a more formal setting, for example a meeting, I should use ikimasu. This is a form of the verb iku, with –masu added at the end. This strategy can be applied...
The Japanese Are Human Too

The Japanese Are Human Too

“Japan… the people over there are completely different, right?” When I talk about my work, this is often the first thing people ask me. I do not mind the question, as it often comes from a place of genuine interest. However, because the phrase often carries with it several assumptions, it makes for an interesting topic to kick start our first Ikiji. Oftentimes, when classifying Japan as a nation, people who do not interact with the Japanese on a daily basis end up on one of two sides of the spectrum. Japan is either an infertile radioactive wasteland where people jump in front of trains every other minute, or the country is praised as a mystical and spiritual place where people have a higher understanding and appreciation of life, as witnessed in abstract concepts such as bushido (the way of the warrior). These characterizations are about as accurate as saying that I, as a Dutchman, can be expected to go out every weekend smoking copious amounts of marijuana while waiting my turn in the red light district. Afterwards, I will make a brief stop at the hospital to euthanize grandma so I can attend my uncle’s gay wedding in the evening. While the above stereotypes are rooted in reality to an extent, they tend to be grossly exaggerated. In order to understand Japan – and what it means to do business with the Japanese – it is important to realize that people are people. We all strive mostly for the same things, but have different ways of going about it. Japanese people laugh, cry, and behind a veil of...