One of the few trilingual guides in Japan
Born and brought up in Kyoto, the ancient capital, I currently live in Tokyo, the present capital.
Besides the guide license in 3 languages (English since 1983, Italian since 1987 and French since 2009), I've been lately qualified as a Nature Guide (Stage I) by Japan Mountain Guides Association. So I'm cut out not only for conventional sight-seeing tours but also for nature tourism. You may not know this, but Japan abounds in beautiful mountains and forests (70% of the total area) with flora and fauna unique to the archipelago. Why don't you come and see our nature as well as a variety of historical spots?
What brought you to be a trilingual guide?
Though I majored in law at the university, I found that learning foreign languages was fun. Then I started to follow some of the language courses on TV such as English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese courses (Italian course was not yet available in those days). After smattering the languages, I realized that I prefer those originated from Latin.
When I graduated from the university, I got a job in an insurance company. But I wanted to be a diplomat as I had studied international laws and foreign languages. So I decided to get a guide license to become a so-called "non-governmental diplomat". After I passed the national examination in English, I began to work as a guide, first in Kansai region where I lived at that time, then almost all over Japan.
Secondly, I got another guide license in Italian, as I was thinking that only English was not enough. As the number of tourists coming from non-English-speaking countries was on the rise, English was no more almighty.
I especially wanted to help Italian tourists who were generally not good at speaking English, while there were very few licensed guides in Italian in those days. That's also because Italy enchanted me most when I first traveled in Europe.
Except a beginner's grammar course that I took at a local school, I studied the language almost by myself. Then I passed the exam in Italian as well and became a bilingual guide. In 1990, after some years of work in 2 languages, I went to Italy to work there, as I had been offered a position at a Japanese company in Rome. I worked there for 2 years, then another 2 years at an Italian company in Milan.
The reason why I decided to add one more language, French, to my career was that it's spoken in many different countries, unlike Italian, and that there are similarities with both English and Italian. I thought also that by getting in touch with overseas news reported not only by English-speaking media but by French-speaking media, you could cover the affairs of almost all corners of the globe. I studied the language nearly by myself again by following a radio course, and I passed the exam and got the third license in French in 2009.
What are the differences between English-speaking, Italian and French-speaking tourists?
1. If you speak Italian, you can have a heart-to-heart talk immediately with Italians, as it's something special for them to be spoken to in their own language. On the other hand, English and French-speaking people seem to be less delighted when they are spoken to in their languages.
2. Italian and French people are very proud of their own culture, much more than English-speaking people are, in my opinion.
3. Compared with Italians, French tourists generally have deeper knowledge of Japanese culture. Though in recent years, more and more Italians are knowledgeable thanks to the spread of our pop culture.
Are there any preferences as for the destinations of tours among them?
According to my experience, British people often take tours visiting various Japanese gardens. Recently, Italians and French have been touring newly-spotlighted places such as Takayama, Shirakawago, Kanazawa as well as what we call "spiritual power spots", like Ise Shrine and the old mountain trails of Kumano. Among such places, Mt. Koya is especially popular with French tourists. Of course, Kyoto and Nara are always popular destinations.
Do you have any tools of your trade?
1. When I guide a group, I hold a flag of Hello Kitty that I found at a 100yen shop.
2. I always carry my own pair of chopsticks even when I don't work, with which I show tourists how to use them properly.
3. I have a small notebook of all the information I've collected on shops, restaurants, museums, and the like. When I write down in it, I use an erasable ball-point pen (invented in Japan!) so as to be able to update the information anytime.
TEXT: Aya Minagawa
Tour guide / Interpreter/ Translator (Italian, English)
Graduated from Japan Women's University, Japanese Literature Department.
Worked for Uno A Erre Japan Co., Ltd as commercial assistant.
Lived in both Italy and England, obtaining her Master's in Business Communication Management from Rome.
Her interests in cultural exchange with foreigners started when she was in school. In addition to being a tour guide, she is also an Italian-Japanese, English-Japanese interpreter.
Tel. & Fax. +81(0) 90 2552 9571
Q. What kind of interpreter-guide jobs in Italian have you been doing since you became qualified in 1999?
I do group and individual tours through several different agencies. I work as a tour guide representing tourists spanning from the Kanto to Kyushu area. I conduct "popular" tours as well as so-called incentive tours.
My work with public agencies has been as interpreter-guide on invitation programs organized by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and for business mission dispatchees through the Italian government.
Moreover, by requests through the guide search engine sites and from friends, I work as a tour guide for individual guests.
Not only do I work as a tour guide but also as an interpreter and translator.
As for interpretation jobs, I deal with fashion-related business such as apparel, shoes and jewelry, as well as business meetings and events related to machinery, cosmetics, building material, food, and wine.
When it comes to translation, I deal with business-related translation regarding marketing, management, correspondences in various fields such as machinery, pharmaceutical products and tourism documentation.
I also do video translation.
Q. Which is the most frequented tourist site by Italian visitors?
Please tell us the reason.
I think Takayama is one of the most popular places.
There are many historic spots from the Edo era that can be visited on foot in the downtown area. Guests can thoroughly enjoy the town in convenience.
I also think that Takayama has history that characterizes Japan , such as gorgeous festival floats, traditional festivals, historical wooden buildings; including beautiful Shinto shrines. Surely, the food is very delicious as well.
Visitors are very interested in culturally traditional things that are unique to Japan. Not only Kyoto and Nara, but also Shirakawago, Kanazawa, Magome, Tsumago and Kurashiki are popular.
On the other hand, they also seem to be interested in the places like Nagasaki, with a long-standing history representing the West and Christianity. And to this day, Nagasaki remains to be a historical junction between Japan and the West.
Recently, I have been receiving more requests for Japanese cultural experiences such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement, visits to sumo beya, making of Japanese paper. These requests are not only from Italian guests but other foreign guests as well.
Q. Please tell us your necessary gadgets or stuff for the tour guide jobs and some tips for them.
I bring my original files full of different topics. I talk and explain about these in a private bus during the tour.
I always prepare different topics like Japanese tea, trees, Imperial Family and interesting stories on places to visit. I think of my guests' interests.
During the tour, I try to stand out in a crowd so that the guests can easily find me. For example I carry a pointer with plastic finger on the tip, or use an umbrella with slightly bigger water drops on a rainy day.
For my Italian guests who like espresso, I bring some chocolates with real espresso inside. I think they like my way of hospitality and welcoming.
Even though I'm very familiar with popular spots, I revamp the itinerary of the tour and its contents. I take into account different conditions such as seasons, the number of the guests, their ages, and so forth... I do make sure that my guests can enjoy being comfortable during their trip.
For these reasons, it is crucial to visit and research places beforehand.
In order for me to do my job well, I swimming and take dance to maintain physical strength.
I am a nationally licensed English-speaking tour-guide living in the Tokyo metropolitan area. A native of Hakodate, Hokkaido, moved in the 1980s to Tokyo. After 30 years, many years of birding (my pleasurable diversion) and after four and half years of work at BirdLife International, Asia Division, I realized that I could no longer enjoy simply watching wild birds without introducing them to foreign tourists.
「If you share my passion for birding, I would be more than delighted to take you to historic places, cultural sites, and scenic spots, while enjoying bird-watching from forest birds to sea birds all over Japan. 」
Q1 Why did you start bird-watching?
It was a fateful encounter with wild birds that led to my becoming birdwatcher. After I left for Tokyo from Hakodate, Hokkaido for going to a college, I noticed that I had lived in rich wilderness. For a start, I began climbing mountains. On one winter day in 1983, I took a rest and had lunch in front of a mountain hut in Mt. Daibosatsu-Toge, a small flock of forest birds passed through me making stops on my backpack, shoulders and pecking my lunch, a rice ball and flew away. It was like a dream as if angles came to me. As soon as I descended the mountain, I became a member of Wild Bird Society of Japan. Since then, I have been enjoying bird-watching for nearly 30 years.
Q2 As an interpreter and tourist guide, what kind of tours have you done? Have you done a bird-watching tour?
Besides regular sightseeing trips, there were school excursions from overseas to Japan, business incentive tours, experiential Japanese custom-activities such as tea ceremony, Ninjya and Samurai, supervised tours for foreigner invitations to Japan by public offices. Since I made a start last year, I have worked for 42 days. As part of the Japan Times 40,000th issue celebration project held in December, 2010, I did a bird-watching walk in Sanbanse tidal flat, which was one of the Japanese culture experience tours.
When I introduce wild birds in Japan to participants I use photos I took and hand-written pictures. The photos show that shore birds are also active at night in illumination of lights of factories and Tokyo Disneyland in the neighborhood. The hand-written pictures inform of various bird migratory paths. A bird in a borderless world flies across the sea and then people live in different countries can see the same bird.
The picture, the world map of distribution based on natural science represents where on the earth Japan is located and what the geography of Japan is like. I describe Japan as a mountainous country, made up of about 6,800 islands and the coast line is extremely long. Japan as an island country, has endemic species. The birds in Japan are about half forest, land birds and half water, sea birds. On the other hand, the 9,000 species of birds in the world are 90% forest, land birds and 10% water, sea birds.
I recommend visitors to Japan to take opportunities to see seabirds. Particularly, for example, off the coast of Choshi, Chiba Prefecture next to Tokyo the water faces the open sea, the Pacific, where both warm and cold currents meet. The marine fauna and flora of the coastal area nearby are so rich and diverse that many seabirds, dolphins and whales come to prey on. In twenty kilometers far from the land, they may be able to have a lucky chance to see a short-tailed albatross. Its wing blade is about 2 meters wide when fully spread.
Talking about the birds of Japan, I also let the visitors join in on various topics such as seaweed cultivated in the Tokyo Bay, a sea grass and clam connected to Japanese food and the other cultures as an interpreter and tourist guide born and brought up in Japan.
Q3. What other useful tools do you bring with you?
Besides the photos and handwriting maps, I try to bring a clipping of a newspaper, a folding umbrella, a tour flag and a torch, several 1000 yen paper currency, writing tools, a binocular, a cleaning cloth, Band-Aid and more.
I record my scenario written by myself on an IC recorder and hear to make sure what I am talking.
Born in Yokohama, brought up in London.
Meiji University, Commercial Science Department.
Worked for Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation as a foreign exchange dealer.
Traveled to more than 80 countries.
Participated in All-Japan Dinghy Yacht Championship final for 7 years.
Conquered Mt.Kilimanjaro (5895m, 19340ft), Mt.Kinabaru, and many of highest peaks.
Private tours are available.
Q) Could you tell us the kinds of work you are doing right now?
British, American, and Australian travel agencies are running trekking tours in various countries. I'm assigned to tours in Japan through land operators. I believe these kinds of small group hiking tours are the best way to attract foreigners who are seeking authentic hospitality and seasonal nature. Additionally, a terrific sense of achievement can be shared after conquering the summit.
Major destinations are the combinations of Ancient trails of Nara and Kyoto, Sacred Mt.Koya, the Kumano-kodo pilgrimage routes, Nakasendo trails, Mt. Yarigatake and Northern Alps, and conquering Holy Mt. Fuji. Each tours lasts for about 2 weeks, relatively longer than the Golden routes, so the major of guests are retirees who are typically health-conscious and vegetarian.
Each guest has their own pace, so I need to ensure leadership of the group and act as rear guard. That means I need to hike 3 times more than they do.
Also I'm working for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance as an interpreter and an attendant. The North Korean abduction issue, Middle East Peace Efforts, Customs training program for developing countries (5-23 countries at once), and processing the conclusion of a tax treaty with Cambodian Government are my major programs.
As a tour guide, I can choose my topics and entertain tourists depending on the situation. However, under these governmental programs, I have to translate accurately choosing sensitive words between parliamentary secretaries or ministers within a limited timeframe. It is stressful, but can be very proud to be involved in international agendas.
Q) What are required for safety trekking?
Currently, there are no nationwide safety standards but only each agent's own policy. In 2009, before I start running Mt.Yarigatake and Mt.Fuji tour, I asked for a letter of awareness from the company as follows. It was just after 2 remarkable fatal accident, such as Daisetsuzan accident (10 were dead including guide) and slip drop from Mt.Yarigatake (2 were dead), so immediately it was accepted.
1. The guide shall have authority to dissuade guests in conscience from climbing according to guide's judgment.
2. The guide shall have authority to refuse guest who has less equipment and lack of ability. And in case guide made this judgment, company should take care for all non-performance (default) issue.
3. In case of emergency, companies always have to get ready for alternative route.
Required improvements are :
1. Spare at least one day for mountain climbing in case of inclement weather or bad health.
2. Let each couple carry an AU, Docomo, or a Softbank mobile phone so that the whole group owns all channels.
3. Oblige agents to buy insurance.
4. Sub-guide has to be always available in case of emergency.
Q) How do you manage your health?
1. My blood type is what is called "rare blood type", only 0.02% in my type. I'm always hanging by blood type tag and taking care not to be seriously injured as it is not easy for me to transfusion.
2. Jogging constantly for physical strength. I reciprocate 10 times using stairs as I live in 11th floor especially before highland climbing. Making sure to include a stretching-out exercise.
3. It is necessary to stay in a small mountain hut for 2-3 days with my guests. This creates tight trusting relationship, but on the other hand, it is very stressful. I have a tendency to devote myself to entertain my guests too much. So it is my challenge to secure private time.
4. Regarding guests' health control, I'm always checking their chronic disease and their diet. I'm trying to keep my eyes on if they are accepting Japanese food or not, because it is difficult to require western or alternative food in the mountain huts.
Sharing terrific sense of achievement after conquering the summit in extreme situation deepens the irreplaceable bond with my guests!
I was in charge of international sales at a famous amusement company X and then I stood alone by setting up a trading company 10 years ago. By that time, I had no interest in taking any qualifications.
However, I started to feel strongly that I really wanted to acquire guide-license, which was motivated by attending a seminar organized by an interpreter-guide cramming school. That opened up my starting guiding business, establishing an association of interpreter-guides (Japan Culture Club) in 2009.and, furthermore, deeply devoting myself to this industry. Now at the moment, I'm actively doing not only guiding but also interpreting for business negotiations and judicial interpreting.
What is your "must-have goods" for your job and how do you exercise your ingenuity in using them?
I sort out the points of scenic spots, places of historical interest and some basic things to know in a B5 paper page by page and put them in a folder. Such as Meiji Shrine, Edo-Tokyo Museum and Tsukiji Fish Market. I repeatedly get these things into my head, but I at just about anytime forget them. So, whenever I go on a tour, I remove only necessary information from the binder and bring those notes with me. B5 papers are small and easy to carry. Once I read information over again, my memories easily come back to me because such information is what I have learned before. I used to read them inside the train.
Tell me about the current activities of Japan Culture Club (JCC)
We offer unique and enthusiastic training courses incorporating both cultural lectures and walking tours. For example, we hold cultural lecture in the morning and hold walking tour in the afternoon. After the morning lecture, participants have an opportunity to observe what they have learned and to absorb information through the walking tour.
So as to give a clear explanation to tourists about a certain thing, we, as interpreter-guides, have to have a lot of knowledge of it. But, tourists are coming here for fun rather than to study. So, it is up to guides' skills "how to cook knowledge". The bottom line is a tour-guide's guiding is successful if tourists return to their homelands with good memories. We are here to support tour-guides to become knowledgeable guides.
In 2010, we held the following training seminars. All of them were free of charge with subsidy from the government.
" Rakugo-Japanese sit-down comedy in English", "Learn Kabuki calligraphy", "Battleship Mikasa tour", "Yokosuka Naval port cruise", "Nissan plant tour", "Recycle plant tour", "Architecture for tour-guides", "Harajyuku -Omotesando architectural walking tour", "Kamakura as military town", "Kamakura feudal government walking tour", "Japanese armor", "Yasukuni shrine", "Nikko bus tour".
In 2011, we were lucky to receive subsidy again. We held the following training seminars.
"The inauguration of the Japanese railroad service", "The history of Ginza", "Shinbashi and Ginza architectural walking tour", "Three generations of Genji in Kamakura", "Matsumoto bus tour", "Kabuki locales as you walk along Kamakura's backstreets", "Izu walking tour-the beginning and the end of Samurai", "Experience noh- a traditional masked dance-drama".
What are Japan Culture Club's (JCC's) future activities?
We stay constant to hold seminars to gain knowledge through a classroom-type lecture and to bolster the capacity of guide to leverage knowledge through walking tours (OJT). This year, we would like to hold seminars where places are hard to go on inspection tours alone.
Basically, "anything goes in JCC". The rules are, there are no rules if they are good for interpreter-guides. We used to compile data into a handout during the seminar, but this data is not like secret. It can be used in any ways.
Besides places where photography is prohibited, taking pictures during the seminars are also totally free.
Party time after the successful completion of the seminar is really fun. This is the ideal time to exchange information and to create networking among the lonely self-employed interpreter-guides.
Currently, we have on the list close to about 100 members. All the members are licensed interpreter-guides. We welcome any guiding inquiries.
Chairman, Japan Culture Club (JCC)
Licensed Interpreter-Guide (English)
Tel: 81-45-785-8484 Fax: 81-45-785-3920
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