November 1, 2006｜Russia
Interpreter / Lecturer, Irkutsk State Linguistic University
It is necessary to break down various walls in order for the peoples of two countries to communicate smoothly. The range of problems includes those relating to culture, ways of thinking, mentalities and languages. However, I think that these alone are not enough to understand each other. One also requires room in one’s heart to accept different cultures. I meet many people through my work and I have come to feel of late that Russian people’s view of Japan is changing considerably.
Last winter, a delegation visited Japan and I accompanied it as the interpreter. The coordinator on the Japanese side had been most thoughtful with regard to the Russian visitors. The coordinator had made absolutely sure that there was time for the visitors to go shopping during their free time between official visits and events. Perhaps it is a stereotype hanging over from the Soviet era, but among Japanese people there still seems to be a strong perception that there is a shortage of goods in Russia. It is true that even a few years ago, when such groups visited Japan, they certainly did spend their free time shopping, without exception.
However, this delegation made me aware that this image of Russia is already out of date. During a meeting about the schedule, the Russian delegation head suddenly made a request that, if it was not too much trouble, rather than going shopping, the group would rather visit Japanese temples, shrines and gardens. When I conveyed this fact, the Japanese side readily accepted and the Russian visitors were able to enjoy seeing the sights around the town. I also explained as much as I could about Japanese culture and history, and everyone was kind enough to listen happily. They also did their shopping, but the things that they bought were mainly souvenirs such as folk crafts and Japanese saké. Listening to the delegation members talk, most were of the view that, since they had come all the way to Japan, they wanted to come into contact with Japanese culture and taste the atmosphere of Japan.
After returning home, one of the men from the delegation was good enough to tell me about his impressions: “Going to Japan, my biggest discovery was that Japanese people are not people who live in outer space; they are people who live their everyday lives just like you and me. Thanks to my having understood this, the complex that I have had since the Soviet era has disappeared.”
I think that today, with the economic development of Russia progressing and with Russian people able to come and go from the country as they please, the complexes held by Russian people, who were shut into a dark box and suffered from shortages of goods for many years, are now disappearing. This fact is giving rise to a situation in which people now have room in their hearts to try to understand others better. If one has the experience of living in two eras with completely differing systems, one should be able to adopt a perspective in which one can objectively observe and analyze the changes in direction. I hope that exchange between Russia and Japan will now enter a new stage that will differ from what has gone before.