Written by Derek Moore
Dia dhaoibh! JETへようこそ。 As a CIR you are in a very unique position to widen horizons and introduce new cultures to Japan. Though the job is very broad and at times vague, that only gives you more scope to make it your own. Of course, everyone may have a different experience and do different things, but hopefully this little guide will help get you started. 皆様、頑張ってね。
The Japanese Office
The Japanese office is like any other in the world. However, there are few unique things to keep in mind when dealing with it that may surprise you when you first arrive. Below are some of the things I have experienced that may take some time to get used to. Though, as always, this may vary wildly depending on your placement so don’t take everything here as law.
Japanese offices are more than often in an open plan style. The reasoning behind this is to give a more open and team-oriented feeling. In many ways, this works; co-workers can freely speak to each other and exchange information as they need to without walls getting in the way and one can feel closer to their colleagues. However, there are a few issues that may appear. A certain feeling of loss of privacy and noise may be rather disrupting at the start, but you’ll find that it will just become background noise. Keep in mind that with such an open plan others can see if you try and skive off.
Greetings may vary amongst offices but in general there is always a start of the day greeting in each division led by the head and another at the end of the day. At this, each member will outline what they have on that day as well as any time off they intend to take for everyone, if nothing in particular just saying 内勤 (ないきん). This is actually considered quite important and all members are expected, if they can, to attend as it is basically the way to inform the division and keep everyone informed. This kind of information exchange is considered extremely important and, in some ways, a basic common courtesy, so I suggest, even if it feels strange to announce to your plans for the day to your co-workers, to partake in this activity.
This is probably one of the most quoted things about Japanese culture, but it is so for a reason. Japan puts great emphasis on politeness and correct reverence for social position. While it may be clear where you stand in relation to some members of staff it can sometimes be a bit trickier to figure out where you fit into the office ladder. I would suggest consulting with your supervisor and figuring out where you stand in your division and the office as a whole so as to avoid accidentally offending someone.
Your office may hold various parties and events either in your division or through the entire office. These are considered quite important as bonding and team building allowing people to more freely and openly get to know each other. As you can imagine there is a certain expectation, and even pressure, for all in the division to attend. Try to attend a few of these events as a refusal to do so can give a cold and aloof feeling. Of course, if you do feel uncomfortable or forced into something, do tell someone like your supervisor. Try and explain why you feel the way you do, and it may help alleviate the situation.
One of the most terrifying things about being in a Japanese office is when you are quietly working away on your own and then suddenly the phone rings. Do you answer it? Do you leave it? Will you even understand the person on the other end? All these questions race through your head. Though it may be a scary thought you’ll find after a while you actually start getting used to it (somewhat anyway). If it helps, your co-workers are not any more overjoyed by the prospect as you.
One of the most daunting things about answering the phone is the concept of Keigo, or polite speech. A dreaded thing that sends shivers up even Japanese people’s spines. However, as complicated as it might seem, the way keigo is structured actually allows you to get away with a rather scripted piece.
- Speak slowly and clearly and don’t be afraid to ask for confirmation, if not overdone confirming with the other person is actually considered polite. Also best to get it right now rather than trying to correct later
- Take particular care with names, titles, dates and times. Also, make sure you take down who is meant to contact who.
- It may seem scary at first, but after a while you’ll get used to the patterns and will have no trouble. And if you really don’t understand what is being said, do not feel bad for asking a co-worker for help.
One of the main jobs you will have as a CIR may well be planning and carrying out international events and classes. At first this can seem a bit overwhelming, but in many ways this can be one of more enjoyable parts of the job. One where you can really let your personality and interests out. The exact process for planning an event varies between place to place but in general you will be requested to make a 企画書 detailing the event you intend to hold including timetables, budgets, posters and PR etc. which will be passed along for everyone to check. Check with your supervisor to see exactly what is required of you first.
Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started though:
Scope out the area and see what kind of events people are interested in. Also speak with your supervisor and see what kind of events have gone well and what events it might be best to avoid.
Build on the past. If there is a precedent for CIRs from your country then build on what they have done. People will feel far more comfortable when they feel they know what is coming.
If introducing something new, start small and work from there. This especially applies to people who are the first CIR in an area or in areas where their country and culture are less known. Going full on into things may actually alienate people and cause more harm than good. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.
Play to your strengths. If you’re good at cooking maybe do a cooking class or pot-luck part. Good at art, maybe do a crafting class. There are hundreds of options and it is up to you how you want to do things. Of course check with your supervisor to see what is possible or not, but don’t be afraid to make your event your own. Also, a great source of inspiration is local or national events from your country.
Work with international exchange groups or associations. These are filled with people already interested in these events and will often have advice and be will to help out. Also, reach out to your embassy or connected consulates if they are holding any special events or just for general information. And if your area has a link to your home country or area that can really help as well.
Make it feel local. Try and make your events really feel like a part of the town. You can do this by taking part in local events like local festivals or Christmas or Halloween events. This can really help people feel like both you and your culture are more a part of the town than just separate.
The most important thing to remember here is to try and have fun with the events. You are basically a gateway to a different culture and country that some people may never have known about before. At times this can be very daunting and frustrating, but the rewards of opening someone’s world view even just a little can more than make up for it.
Translation & Interpreting
Translation, the transferring of written texts from one language to another, and interpreting, the translation of the spoken word from one language to another. Though probably one of the most common jobs you’ll be doing, your translation and interpreting assignments may vary greatly in terms of difficulty and frequency. Although it may appear easy from the outside, you’ll find it can be trickier than you anticipate. However, over time you’ll find that it will almost come second nature to you. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go about things.
- Make sure you have read and fully understand the text in front of you. This might sound obvious, but you would be surprised how many professional translators still do not do this very basic step. The better you understand what you are translating the better your translation will be. Also, do not be afraid to refer back to the person who gave you the document if there is anything you don’t understand or that you find difficult. You may even help find errors in the original text that were overlooked.
- Consistency is key. This particularly applies to official texts. Always try and keep your terms consistent among your translations as not doing so can cause a lot of confusion down the road. I find keeping databases of common terms a really handy way to keep things consistent. Also, use official or government term banks if you can. The EU and Japanese government websites are a great resource for this.
- Professionalism. This point features more prominently in interpreting. Always try to look professional and presentable and make sure to keep a calm and affable air about yourself. In business meetings and conferences, this is important as you may be assisting in important business or cross-cultural affairs.
- Think of your audience. In terms of your translations, always think of the person that will be reading it. Will they understand this? Do I need to make it simpler? Will they understand this kind of terminology? These are all questions you need to ask yourself as you translate the text. Official and legal texts will need far more technical and no-nonsense language than a notice for a local festival. Always weigh the function and target of your translation. In terms of interpreting, speak clearly and in an appropriate manner. A conference or meeting will require more formal language, but if you are trying to help someone with their taxes, or a health problem this may seem very cold. My best advice would be to try and think of yourself in that situation. How would you like to be treated? This can be especially important with medical translation where there may be an element of fear, embarrassment, and perhaps even frustration.
- Be patient with yourself and don’t stress too much. Contrary to popular belief, simply knowing two languages well does not a translator or interpreter make. Both are highly technical jobs with their own specializations that can take years of practice and training to perfect. Do don’t panic if you aren’t perfect at it from the start. You’ll get there. Just keep practicing and it’ll all work out.
- For translations I suggest just reading anything you can to get more familiar with the kind of language you’ll be using. Also, have others check your work and take their feedback on where you can improve.
For interpreting, it can be a bit harder. I suggest listening to news reports and radio and trying to speak along. Try and develop a short hand for yourself while taking notes that will help jog your memory.
Hopefully this gives you something of an idea of what to keep in mind when taking on these types of assignments. Also, one final thing to remember, you are giving a very valuable service here. Your translations and interpretations effectively allow people to understand each other where they wouldn’t have before. That’s something to be proud of.
Telephone Manners: Useful Phrases
(大変)お待たせしました。 Apologies for keeping you waiting.
____課/____役場/市役所でございます。 This is ____ Division/ ______ Town Hall/ City Hall.
失礼しますが、どちら様ですか。 I’m sorry, but may I ask who is calling?
電話番号を教えていただけますでしょうか。 I’m sorry, can I get your name/ email/ phone number again.
かしこまりました/ 了解しました。 I understand.
少々お待ちください。 Please wait a moment.
_____におつなぎ致します。 I’ll connect you.
申し訳ございません、ただいま＿＿＿＿ I’m sorry they are currently ______.
了解しました。お伝え致します。 I understand, I’ll let them know.