Don’t get too excited. I didn’t inherit anything. “Souzoku” (inheritance) is just the Japanese word-of-the-day. Read on to find out why:
I had a rather atypical afternoon at work today. I spent it translating Portuguese legal documents into some sort of attempt at coherent Japanese. WHAT?!
Usually, I spend my days divided between my 3 junior high schools teaching classes, preparing lessons, meeting with Japanese teachers of English, etc. Afterall, my job title does say “Assistant Language Teacher”. However, sometimes I feel like my job description should be “Resident Harvard-educated Gaijin Expert on All Things Beyond These Sun Goddess Blessed Islands of Nippon.”
My Japanese colleagues like to ask me about all sorts of questions regarding the big wide world of “Western Culture” (everything outside of Japan it seems) or ask me to do translations of random languages. I mean, if it’s written in the Roman alphabet, it must be like English, right? um, yeah, right.
There was one Japanese English teacher who liked to try to stump me with random questions regarding obcure philosophers and social scientists that he would name-drop shamelessly. I just smiled and knodded. He never seemed to understand my answers anyway since he had trouble understanding spoken English. He also had the confusing habit of getting the words “tomorrow” and “yesterday” mixed up.
Another time, I was asked by a music teacher about the proper pronunciation of a German song the kids were singing. I don’t know any German, but he didn’t seem to believe me, so I just gave him my best attempt at a phonetic reading. That satisfied him.
Another music teacher once asked me to translate the English lyrics of “Amazing Grace” into Japanese. Hmm, yeah right. Song lyrics and poems are nearly impossible to translate, and certainly not into one’s non-native language. Fortunately, I found some translations on Google.
I was totally stumped by a teacher who wanted to know what an engraving in Classical Chinese meant in Japanese. No idea. That is like asking David Beckham for a translation of Beowulf into Spanish or asking a gringo high school student Taco Bell employee if he can decipher Don Quijote in the original.
I have managed more normal translations such as boring government newsletters and application forms with more success, but plenty of other odd stories, like the time I was asked to translate a sign for a public beach saying “No fireworks, no barbecues, no topless bathing or nudity”. Apparently, there was a Brazilian woman who used to go topless at the beach in Beppu, which I guess épatéd les japonais.
So back to the story of my unusual afternoon. I got a call from the main Education Office at Nakatsu City Hall today. They are the one’s who technically employ me, but I spend all of my time at my schools. I only go to the office once or twice a month for administrative stuff. Anyway, they asked me I could read Portuguese. I said, “yeah, well, I guess so.” I do know Spanish quite well which is quite similar and I did take an intensive semester of Portuguese back in university, but it’s been awhile. I can still read it easily and understand conversations though.
Anyway, before I knew it, they sent over some photocopies of documents in Portuguese from the Brazilian Consulate for me to translate into Japanese. What? Although the Japanese English teachers at school obviously know English, the people in administration in City Hall don’t. The guy who delivered the documents told me that it was related to “inheritance”. That’s all he knew.
Hmm, ok. I took a look at the first two pages. They were copies of the electrical bill belonging to some Japanese guy in Brazil. What does that have to do with inheritance? Well, the next two pages were legal affidavits dealing with the death of a Japanese emigrant to Brazil who was originally from Sanko-mura, a village that is now part of Nakatsu City. Things were starting to make more sense.
His children and their spouses issued legal papers waiving all rights of inheritance in favor of the widow, who is the inheritor of 23 square meters of land in Sanko-mura.
I did the best I could translating Portuguese legalese into what I hope is coherent Japanese (not a language pair I would have ever expected to work with, and not one I am qualified for in the “real world” of translation). I am guessing that the copy of the electrical bill was just to verify the son-in-law’s domicile or something. I really hope it all works out and the widow gets her little piece of land in rural Japan or at least a fair amount of money from selling it.
Another day in my life as a JET. Fifteen days to go.