Trilingual guide who loves nature : Opinion

Licenced guide

KUMIKO JOYAMA
(INTERVIEW)



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.
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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?
tamara@gem.hi-ho.ne.jp


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.
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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.
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