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Interpreter, a first experience

by - 8:40 PM

In early May, I was contacted by Fukuoka Convention & Visitors Bureau (FCVB), asking me if I would be interested to work as an interpreter (French - Japanese) for a French guidebook (Petit Futé) that will come to the city.

Maps of Fukuoka / 福岡の地図


Interpreter... It is something that it would never come to my mind. I don't think my Japanese level is sufficient and I didn't like the idea of taking the work to people which is the real job. But after all, it is an experience that will not come again and it would be a great opportunity to show my city to a French guide! So I accepted the mission.
Ahead of the guide coming, I didn't have much to do. FCVB sent me the schedule and asked me to reserve the indicated days but I wanted to be a minimum prepared. I went to Hakata station to take some maps and tourist information papers and in order to give additional information (and especially prepare myself in case I do not understand the explanations in Japanese). I also made little cards for the first day which would focus on gastronomy, and prepared my camera because I was given permission to enjoy and photograph as much as I want.

On the D-day, I got an email in the afternoon from the FCVB telling me that the French guide had been unable to catch his flight from Yakushima and would be very late because he would ride ferry + train. In fact, that day, the rain was particularly impressive (even in Fukuoka) and airplanes could not land on the small Yakushima island. Instead of starting in mid-afternoon, my mission began at 9:30PM and evening program has been completely revised.

Basically, we had to taste the specialties of the city in various locations including the famous Yatai (屋台), these eateries that settle at night. Instead, we went to eat ramen in one of the most known chains in the city: Ichiran (一 蘭).

The menu was obviously tonkotsu ramen, one of the numerous specialities of the city. We were seated on the first floor where there are tables but we were able to visit the upper floors where there is what makes the specialty of this chain.
Indeed, in Ichiran, you take your meals in individual boxes where you see neither your neighbor or the staff. How to order? You buy a ticket at the entrance and then receiveyour order via the small space in front of you (see photo below). To order other things, just to tick boxes on a small plug in front of you.
These boxes were created for the client to enjoy his bowl of noodles without being disturbed by anything. They also say that it is good for women who eat a lot and would be embarrassed to show to others people what they eat.
We had with us the Ichiran communications director who answered some questions of the guide and I was doing the translation. I was also in charge of pictures.

Tonkotsu ramens / 豚骨ラーメン
Tonkotsu ramens
Ichiran boxes / 個人スペース
Ichiran boxes
The evening ended like this and we started very early the bext morning. The program includes temples, sanctuary and some museums visits. I will not detail all because the post would become too long but to make it short, the people of FCVB explained me the places and I translated into French, and the other way around if the guide had questions. Thanks to the FCVB, we had thr privilege to receive the permission to photograph the Great Woodden Buddha (the largest of Japan) located in the Tōchō-ji temple.

Jotenji avenue is surrounded by a lot of temples / お寺がたくさんある承天寺通り
Jotenji avenue is surrounded by a lot of temples
Japan's biggest wooden buddha in Tocho-ji temple / 日本一大きい木で作られている大仏
Japan's biggest wooden buddha in Tocho-ji temple
Kushida shrine's gate / 櫛田神社の門
Kushida shrine's gate


For lunch, we had the great privilege to eat at Hakata Izumi (博多い津み), a very discreet restaurant which has two stars on Michelin guide. It specialy is fugu (blowfish).
It was not the first time I ate fugu, but the only time was 9 years ago and I had completely forgotten the taste. Everything was delicate, delicious and all was served by the chef himself who took the time to explain each dish and how to eat it. Fugu was in every single dish (even rice) and despite its variations, it was a bit redundant. I'm a little ashamed to admit it but I was tired of the taste in the last dishes.
After the meal, we went to few gift shops and then the guide took his train to another destination.

Fugu sashimis / ふくの刺身
Sashimis
Fried blowfish with lotus tempuras and okra / ふくのから揚げ、レンコンのてんぷらとオクラ
Fried blowfish with lotus tempuras and okra
Tomatoes, okra and blowfish jam / オクラ、トマトとふくのオイル漬け
Tomatoes, okra and blowfish jam
Fugu jam // ふくのオイル漬け
Fugu jam, a present by the chef
At then end ? Mixed feelings.

In one side, it was a great experience: I tried something new, I could do things I would not normally have done and I was really immersed in the tourism world. It was very rewarding and convinced me that I really want to evolve in tourism. I also learned a lot about the places we visited, which is never negligible.
Finally, I didn't have the impression of having struggled to translate even though my Japanese vocabulary still lacks. I will improve myself, my level is still not good enough.
On the other side, I was disappointed by the program proposed by the city. Merely 24 hours for a bowl of ramen, a temple, a sanctuary and a fugu restaurant while Fukuoka has so much to offer, I found it very frustrating and had the impression of not having been able to show the city that I love.
I fear there won't be much about Fukuoka in the new edition of the guide ...
All this started from a good intention of the city but it was not at really suitable. But the good thing is that FCVB is aware as they told me we should work together to offer more appropriate things to attract French and Western tourists in Fukuoka. Indeed, people doesn't come to Japan to do a two hours drive to go to see a tree which has a heart shaped-hole (true story, told by the French guide). Well, I'll see how it evolves with FCVB. Apparently they were happy with my performance so I hope they will call me again.

Meanwhile, I'd love to try again this experience and, why not, with the possibility of establishing a whole program by myself.

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