Real Life Japan: What About Japan Attracts an Italian Language-aholic?

By Tokyo Business Today
June 06,2016
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Maybe it was your childhood dream to meet Pokemon, or you just ended up here for a job (or love!), but Japan probably is not a typical place non-Japanese people choose to live. How, then, do those who’ve chosen to come to live here find their life in Japan? This time, we spoke with Isabella Dionisio, a translation coordinator from Italy, about her life in Tokyo.

—What brought you to Japan?

I have always had a keen interest in foreign languages, so, when I had to pick my university major, I was sure that I wanted to study languages—and possibly a language that was actually spoken by somebody living on Earth in my era—after committing for five years to Latin and Ancient Greek during high school.

Another crucial factor in my decision was that I badly wanted to live in a student share house. This was probably due to the influence of the many American dramas I used to watch back then. This very reason led me to cross out all the excellent universities I could commute to from my hometown and left me with the quite exotic destination of Venice University, Faculty of Asian Languages and Cultures.

I don’t remember how I got my parents on board with that since I did not have legitimate reasons to go to Venice, but, since I succeeded in achieving my two major goals, i.e. to study a language that wasn’t extinct and live in a student share house, I decided to make the best of the opportunity I was given, and that’s when I and the Japanese language met.

At the time, I was open to anything and so eager to learn and study that I probably could have embraced any language with the same enthusiasm, but the Japanese course orientation was the one I enjoyed the most, so I decided to go for that without giving it too much thought. However, despite the trivial reasons that influenced my extremely light-minded choice, the more I studied, the more I became interested, and my desire to learn more led me to participate in an exchange program in 2002 and then to come again in 2005, this time with a scholarship from the Japanese government.

—What do you do now in Tokyo?

I work as a translation project coordinator for a Japanese company. Usually, when I say that I work in the translation industry, everybody thinks that I am a translator myself, but my current role is more of a management position. I am in charge of several multilingual projects, including managing the budget and schedule as well as supervising the questions-and-answers aspects of the translation.

The good thing is that, helping clients localize their materials, you get to know a lot about different industries and about the newest products and trends. The bad thing is that, for that same reason, you are supposed to know pretty much everything about anything, with a particular eye for localization-related issues. Which is the most common font for Arabic? Is that newly-released version of some software going to be compatible with the Thai language? Are European French and Canadian French really that different? What’s up with the spelling in Portuguese?  You never know what you are going to be asked today, so you’d better enjoy the learning process along the way.

—What's your typical day like?

Working full time, it is very rare that I have the chance to enjoy the sun shining outside. My job involves a lot of desk work, and my schedule ends up being quite dull during weekdays, so I try to spice it up during the weekends, mainly going out with friends and trying to do all the things that I cannot do during the week, like going dancing or enjoying exhibitions and events, since Tokyo offers plenty of interesting things to do.

—Your most strange experience in Japan?

Japan is quite a weird place in general for newcomers. You find toilets with heated seats and a wide array of strange buttons, mindless jingles playing on repeat in every shop, lots of strange food—most singularly wrapped—pachinko parlors on every corner. Actually, you don’t have to actively seek out weirdness—it is all around you.

I think that what surprised me the most at the beginning—and keeps surprising me—is that there are still many Japanese people who, in front of a foreigner, completely forget their alleged wabi-sabi culture of subtleties and unspoken rules and feel entitled to ask you pretty much everything, with questions that may range from your age to your favorite color of underwear. Definitively, privacy is not on the menu.

I remember that once a guy walked towards me on the train and, out of the blue, asked me if I wanted to become his friend. I am sure he was probably a wonderful person, but I decided to politely decline the offer.

—Where's your favorite hangout?

I must confess that I have a soft spot for Yokocho alleys. One step beyond a main street in Tokyo can lead to a completely different world, and I really like exploring those parallel universes. Every Yokocho has its own style and features, all lined up with small, unique shops, and, maybe precisely because they are extremely tiny, the distance between people seems to be much smaller than in normal shops. It is easy to get to know the person sitting next to you, and you never know what kind of funny stories you may end up listening to. I don’t have one place in particular, but I really love browsing different shops, enjoying the atmosphere peculiar to each shop.

—Any news/information source to use to know what's going on in Japan?

After spending many years in the country, I have managed to master the language to a certain degree, so I usually use sources in Japanese to stay updated. I mostly use the Internet, but I also buy newspapers and magazines from time to time when there is something I would like to know more about.

Since Japanese media tend to focus on internal news, sometimes you may get the feeling of being far from the rest of the world, so I try to access foreign media’s webpages as well. During the first years in Japan, when I was trying to absorb as much language as possible, I used to watch TV a lot, but I soon lost interest, and now I don’t even own one.

NAME: Isabella Dionisio
OCCUPATION: Translation coordinator
FRIDAY NIGHT MUST-DO: I would recommend a Yokocho tour, and that would definitively include Shinjuku West Exist Omoide Yokocho