One of my neighbours, a man in his early sixties, is a professional photographer. He’s very good and often travels abroad for his work. He’s also a right royal pain in the arse. I say this because ever since my wife and I moved into this house, he has decided to use us as his personal translation agency. He pops round unannounced with annoying regularity to ask us to translate something into English for him. I might not mind if this were a rare occasion, and undoubtedly wouldn’t mind if he proffered large sums of money in return but, unfortunately, neither is true. Mr Hara fully expects my wife and me to offer translation services free of charge and at his convenience. Hence he feels no inclination to heed our sign on the door informing visitors that classes are currently in progress and to please call later. Instead, he rings the bell and if we go out to explain we are in the middle of class, he says, ‘Oh, this is just a very easy translation,’ and whilst he might not expect us to translate it there and then, he does seem to think we have time to stand and listen to his explanation of what exactly needs done.
The translations are always ‘easy’ to him, which makes me wonder why he needs us to do them for him at all. In truth, some are easy, but some are not and almost all of them to date have been quite time consuming, taking anything from half an hour to two hours of work. And if I don’t trust my ability in Japanese to do them alone, it takes a combined effort by my wife and me to make a good job of them.
Recently, Mr Hara appeared when I happened to have a twenty-minute break between classes. He spent fifteen of those minutes with me whilst I tried to translate a few sentences on a fax to New York. Again, he said it was very easy, but this was coming from a man who had repeatedly spelled Japan as ‘Japam’ in the parts he had attempted to do himself. I helped him out and he questioned my translation, as he sometimes does. He wasn’t happy with the word ‘lunch’, where he preferred ‘party’ because, he said, it was a ‘lunch party’. I told him lunch suited the context better, and after some discussion he accepted my view, although I suspect he changed it back to ‘party’ before he sent the fax to New York.
A few months earlier, we had translated a word into the English ‘sponsor’, the reason being that that was the word that fitted best. He was very opposed to using the word ‘sponsor’ because of its negative connotations. In Japan, you see, they have adopted the English word ‘sponsor’ and, as so often is the case with loan words in Japanese, they have altered the meaning somewhat. The word ‘sponsor’ in Japanese can be used to describe the situation where a businessman or some such person provides the money for his mistress or similar to open up her own business, perhaps a small bar or something. It took a great deal of patience and a couple of tightly clenched fists to explain that the word had no such negative connotations in English and that it really was the most appropriate word. He still couldn’t accept it, even when we repeatedly told him that this letter containing the word was going to an English speaking person with no knowledge of Japanese and who would in no way see a link between the word sponsor in an English sentence concerning a charity fundraiser, and a sleazy businessman setting up his ‘second wife’ in business. ‘I can categorically assure you,’ I wanted to say, ‘that your use of the word sponsor will by no means be taken by the sponsors as tacit agreement that they may shag you.’ Mr Hara decided that the word ‘support’ was much better. It wasn’t.
I have often suggested that when Mr Hara next comes round, we tell him loudly and clearly to fuck off, but my wife won’t let me do this. It’s because we live in a small community where our reputation is important for our business, and where rumours spread quickly. For Mr Hara, what he is asking us to do is a tiny, and, of course, easy favour. Better just to suck it up and gain good karma, thinks my wife. She’s right, but I still want to go round to Mr Hara’s house when he’s extremely busy with something and demand he spends an hour or so taking photographs of me for no charge. Then I will tell him how I think he got the lighting wrong in this one, or that that one is a little out of focus.