Why I Quit Working at a Bank, and Moved to Japan.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve felt comfortable traveling.No matter the country no matter the reason I could go there and things would just work. Growing up, my parents always made sure my sisters and I traveled. We often traveled to Chile to see family. Even our home in the Midwest felt like another country sometimes: Listening to Inti-Illimani while making lefse, enjoying  empanadas on the Fourth of July. (Just kidding, we always hand-made our own burgers) So when it came time to choose whether or not I would study abroad during my university years, the answer was a resounding yes! I had to go! There was no question of if, only where.

So I decided in the fall of 2006 that I would study for one semester in Japan while living with a host family. The problem was, I needed 1 year of formal Japanese language study and I only had 5 months to do it. Now, this might have been where someone else would have said, “ok, nevermind, I’ll stay in the dorm” but instead, I picked up a copy of the text book and over one winter break I studied a semester’s worth of material, passed into the spring semester term, and secured my place in the homestay program.

Little did I know then how much of an impact the decision to take that textbook home would have on my life. One and half years later, diploma in my hand, I finished my undergraduate studies with a double major in Finance and Japanese.

My work in the financial industry did not begin with any major signing bonus. I started as a teller. A small but vibrant financial institution in the midwest which really took active measures to put its people first, we prided ourselves on our down-to-earth, familiar style. When people would come in to make a transaction or seek advice, we would find some way to strike up a conversation and connect at a level deeper than just dollars. Once, I’ll never forget, a man told me about his bean sprout business. “Business is tough.”, he laughed.

The interesting thing about working as a teller is that you know how much money everyone has. Sometimes I would open up an account to hundreds of thousands of dollars; Other times, only a few tens. However, people with only a few tens of dollars were the ones that we really got know the best. Many of them came in almost every day just to warm up, have a conversation,  withdraw $5 or deposit $5, and feel human again. I felt like I was doing something much more meaningful with my life than just cashing checks. Some days, my voice would almost completely be gone from talking to customers so much. I learned that no matter the figure, every person has an a story and I was honored to have been  a part of their story for even just a day.

But Japan just would not get out of my head. Always in the back of my mind I kept wondering, Should I go back? One option was the JET program. I liked how the CIR job sounded but I couldn’t make up my mind if I should apply or not. So, I reached out to my good friend for advice and he told me he had applied the year before but not been accepted. This was it, I thought. This was a sign that we needed to apply to the program together. “You give it another go, and I will to”, we agreed. So I wrote my application, received letters of recommendation, and even made my way to Chicago for the interview all without telling my coworkers or boss.I even went so far as to disguise my trip to Chicago as a trip to see family in Wisconsin. I thought, the chances of me getting into the program are so slim anyway, why even bother?

So, you can imagine my surprise when the acceptance letter arrived. Suddenly I had a very big decision to make: Make use of my business degree while continuing to work my way up in the organization or cut all of that short and move to middle-of-nowhere Japan (because the job location certainly wasn’t Tokyo!) where I would start using my Japanese major to help further sister city relations and intercultural communication. Mind you, at this point I hadn’t seriously studied or used the Japanese language for about two years. It was a major opportunity but also a major risk. Why give up a great job? When I imagined 10 years down the road, working at the same job, I would be living in the Midwest, most likely with a big house, stable income, working a management position, near family and close friends. However, on the other hand, everything was unknown!  Unfamiliar job, unfamiliar people, unknown future. I think back to that time, those days when I was trying to decide, and when I wonder how I ever made the decision I did, what really sticks out is me thinking to myself “What if something is there that I am missing?” “I need to know!””I need to see!” Here was this opportunity in front of me, I needed to take it.

My boss could not have been any more supportive when I told him. “I’m happy for you”, he said to me. On the last day of work he called everyone together and we took a group picture. It’s one of those amazing pictures where everyone’s personality shines through and it makes me smile to this day.

5 years later, I’m still in Japan. I can say without any doubt that there are few decisions in my life that were as pivotal in the making of who I am today as the decision to quit my job back in 2011. I have grown strong in my own skin, become a great listener, made even more amazing friends, and even met my fiancé!

I am not an advocate for being risky always. When faced with important decisions, many times safe is really better than sorry. What made this decision different was that it was surrounded and based in a passion and curiosity for a country, language, and people that just comes naturally to me. I am not an advocate for being risky, but risks surrounded in passion and curiosity are risks worth taking because passion and curiosity never fail, they only guide.


 

Thank you for reading! For those of you curious about my friend, he also got into the program and he too is still in Japan to this day! Also, I still bank at the same financial institution I worked at many years ago. They still have wonderful people working there and I am so proud to have been a part of their team. 413391_10100145446171557_994596006_o

Translating Toyo Keizai: New Words and Wedding Trends in Japan

Kyōyūkon is the new buzzword in Japan. "Shared Wedding"

No matter the country, no matter the culture, words evolve as time slips slowly on. Trends change, people change, and the way people tie the knot changes to reflect the environment. A recent study Marriage Trend Survey (Zekushi Magazine, October 2014) found that among other things a new trend was emerging in the world of weddings, calling for a new word: 共有婚 (Kyōyūkon). “What exactly is this recent Kyōyūkon trend?” asks Kyoto University graduate and journalist Yūmi Tokiwa at Tōyō Keizai news (online).

Understandable trend given the times, the kanji used sum up its meaning well: 共 (kyō) Share/Together, 有 (yū) to Be/Have, 婚 (kon) Marriage. Below is my translation the article which appeared in Tōyō Keizai on January 18th, 2015. It can be read in its original Japanese here.

Weddings, What exactly is this recent Kyōyūkon trend?

A decreasing numbers of guests and lower costs.

The wedding, the most important day of your life. Contrary to what one may believe, the movement of the economy does not hold much sway over the cost of a wedding. “Even during the financial crisis of 2008, the cost of weddings did not go down. It’s because Japanese people consider a wedding to be Continue reading

Translating: The Correct Mindset.

Lifelong Learning 生涯学習Recently, while searching for leads into new opportunities for translation and interpretation, I came across a question posted on the Japanese Q&A portal known as 教えてgoo (oshiete goo) that resonated with my feelings towards translation exactly. There are several websites in English which run on a similar platform. A question is posted, other users freely offer up answers and suggestions, and the original user chooses what they believe to be the best answer. The author of said answer receives credit and reputation in the community for providing valuable information. Whether or not any monetary transactions take place, I am unaware. What I am aware of, and have been surprised by several times to date, is the number of users that offer very detailed, specific, and thoughtful feedback (oftentimes in very polite language). Aside from websites that pride themselves on the quality of their content and manage their community well (such as the American-based Quora), it has struck me that this differs dramatically from the oftentimes shallow and too oftentimes reckless commentary found in similar websites catered to English-speaking audiences.

That aside, here is the original question posted in 2010 by user sosrsvp titled “英語の翻訳者・在宅翻訳・フリーランス翻訳で少しでも稼ぐ為には??”(What does it take to save a little money as an English Translators/Home Translators/Freelance Translator?): Continue reading

Abstract Ink: Japan in a Paintbrush

What does it tell you when arguably the most famous abstract artist of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, says “Had I been born Chinese I would have been a calligrapher, not a painter”? Eastern Calligraphy, with roots dating back thousands of years, has evolved from its humble and crude stone and chisel beginnings to a means of fluid communication and high art. Shodō (書道) “The Way of the Brush”, handed down through the generations, used by Japanese princes and monks alike, is to this day regarded both as a means for communication and of spiritual awakening. Though unaccustomed Western eyes may be intimidated by its complexity, what is certain is that Shodō is more than just painting: It is a connection to thousands of years of history dating back into Korea and China; it is connecting with language at a deeper level; and at some levels it is a spiritual pathway to enlightenment.

History

Chinese Characters on a Turtle Shell

Chinese Characters on a Turtle Shell

The story of shodo begins tens of thousands of years ago before the brush even existed. In dimly lit caves such as the ones of Zhongwei, China, our ancestors took stones to stone and chiseled away into history their everyday life: horned animals, fellow hunters, bows and arrows. Written language in the East, just as was the case in the West, was born out of pictures.

least as far back as 3,000BC one finds examples written on animal bones and that can be traced directly to characters in modern use. From here these characters and their use gradually spread until at one point roughly two thousand years when it was decreed a unification of writing was necessary and a standard of 3,300 characters were selected. It was at this time that the development of a brush gave way to more fluid characters, which in turn allowed for the development of different schools of style.

However, it was not even until the middle of the first millennium AD that the use of Chinese characters made its way across Korea and into Japan. Once there, its adopters faced the challenge of matching an already existing way of speaking with a foreign way of writing. Continue reading

Happy Kanji: Positive vs. Negative Japanese

 

Eternal Kanji Symbol

Hand-Painted Kanji: Eternal

As a way of mediation, contemplation, and preparation for the new year, I decided to write down 400 kanji (the sino-Japanese text).  In an effort to call forth positive energy into my life  this new year, only characters that had some positive connotation were chosen.  The kanji  are chosen from a list of 1,947 kanji that can be found in the reference book “Kanji in Context” The list includes all Joyo kanji.  Joyo simply refers to the set of kanji that have been set up by the Japanese Ministry of education as mandatory for all students up through secondary school.  The Japanese language in total consists of roughly 3,000 separate kanji characters but luckily for us non-native speakers any kanji outside of the list of 1,945 Joyo kanji that is used in Japanese newsprint must be accompanied by corresponding furigana.

So with this in mind I set out to create a list of 400 kanji that have some kind of positive denotation.  Of course it occurrs to me that there will be some subjectivity when it comes to determining what things are positive and what things are not so please do not regard this list as definitive.  There are certain characters which may have positive connotations if not widely then personally and I am sure that we all can agree that certain gray areas are quite acceptable. Also be aware than many kanji can have more than one meaning: 安(AN) for example can mean either safe or cheap.

What becomes clear as the list is being made is that there are relatively few kanji that have positive denotations.  Out of the 1,947 kanji reviewed only a few hundred can really be handpicked as uplifting, positive, soothing, etc.  The final hundred or so come down to things that I would like to consider as positive.  That is to say, these final kanji are no more positive than they are negative but because I have no more positive kanji I simply have to settle for something which is at least not harmful or negative.  You will see that many elements of nature stand in for the final section. Also notice that I chose to include many elements of the body because any and all good feelings must originate and radiate from the body.

The list is as follows:

人金生家自男女子私安新春多明強若始来作休勉住知者英世界全体頭口目耳手足心立走聞く読書出入買着歌習思言渡覚調続考答教開直集窓質問料真好気静利親笑喜咲勝進受取流晴発意解参加究案味花犬文公園医図暖楽甘有和簡支賛成功束想首身然正能化仏供必増感協係谷林森空天星光風祭敬鳥鳴論識活宅守庭葉産宝現望神禅良皆演絵声暇曲豊富興任信得環境情適許認実美善誕基招賞致緑絶老才財接志恩忠訳提指赦験夢確示清拝輝了浮礼祈祖助努将奨励陽泉雪格資源貴願勢灯精請育報告吉幸福鮮盛塩像城誠詩桜松桃枝株根瞬杯札柱靴命巨哲抱占祝陵童健築筋粋超恵恋愛互雇胸属展永骨胃蔵脳創念息欲添歓迎仰卵勇我仲優促秀献繁栄標賢臨稼穏偉宇宙挑兆豪昇糧糖鼻憩舌紳寿妊肌肥膨克寧寛踊躍る征奮獲穫魅俊俸給傑壮悟愉懐披浄潤澄朴棋胎矯謙謹勧耐彩敢朗雄雅頂頑宜宰賓芳菓慕冒是奏泰笛篤覇霊塗慰香薫誉貫匠層尽慶魂勘貞淑斉巧髄唇懇敏栽麗到誘拾趣技倫芸夫徒快植礎縁貯蓄隆褒仁菊芽苗滝峰峠柳

(If you want to know the meaning: Go to this site->Polarcloud and download Rikaichan for Firefox, Thunderbird, or Seamonkey.  Then download the corresponding dictionary.  Now all that is left is to simply activate Rikaichan and hover your mouse over the kanji you want to know more about and VIOLA! )

That’s it.  That should be 400.  For those of you who can read Japanese (or Chinese as well) it should be easy to tell that some of the characters above are a bit of a stretch;  “Peach Tree” (桃) would be one such case. No matter, my point is not that there are exactly 400 examples of positive kanji but it is that fact that there are really quite fewer than that number.  While the amount of kanji people are required to know in order to read a newspaper in Japan may be roughly 2,000, of those less than 1/5th of them are positive even just slightly!  Let me repeat,  fewer than one-fifth of all the Chinese characters used in Japanese text are positive even slightlyContinue reading