Falling in Love With Languages

When I was a child, I didn’t have a computer at home, and none of my friends had one. I’ve heard people say good and bad things about the Internet, the anonymity of Myspace and blogging, but admittedly, I can’t do anything without a computer these days. And I have to pause for a second here. Well, maybe that’s not true.

For some reason, whenever I write something, whether it’s a term-paper for my biology class, an analytical essay on Mark Twain’s implicit claim in “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” or a journalistic profile story, I just can’t type on the computer. My very first draft always has to be hand-written no matter what. If there is such a thing as a writer’s spark or whatever is supposed to come to the mind of writers as if given by god, it only happens to me when I sit on my desk with my favorite mechanical pencil in hand, playing a non-stop staring game with a blank sheet of paper. There is something that my own clumsy handwriting tells me, something that the words on the computer screen can’t: that I’m fully responsible for what I write. Writing is a form of expression where we can be most careful, and thus should be careful of what to say, how to say it, and most importantly to whom we say it.

My very first experience with writing was through a “journal exchange” with my friends. What we did was very simple: we shared one notebook and wrote a journal in turn, commenting on each other’s writing. Now I think of it as a print-version of the modern day blog. The pleasure of writing, to me, certainly came from the assurance that someone would read my work, and I think that we all have an instinctive desire to share what’s on our mind. This is probably the reason why I’m so passionate about languages.

I haven’t studied linguistics before, but I love and hate the very abstraction of languages. Often times I’m relived that I have a control over what I choose to say, out of all thoughts, feelings, and ideas floating in my head which can’t even put in a word or a sentence; and I get frustrated because most of the time I find myself unable to say the things I really want to say.

But still, I want to immerse myself and get lost in translation—and here I mean to get lost in the translation within myself, from wordless thoughts to the visible and audible languages. As long as I have things I want to share with someone, and it doesn’t have to be an audience of a million (though it would be nice), I want to keep writing—just like I was doing it with my friends, long time ago, passing one notebook, reading each other’s journal and commenting on the writing. It was a small, very personal readership, but that’s where it all starts because there is always someone I specifically want to address my writing for.

About translation: I think it’s just unavoidable that things always get lost no matter how well-trained a translator is. Of course there is nothing better than reading the originals, but at the same time I believe that the very essence of a work can be passed on from one language to another. And once again, translation is all part of a desire to share that work with others.

Here I want to introduce legendary Japanese singer Ozaki Yutaka who “lived too fast and died too young,” as often described by his admirers. His words and songs have had a huge impact on me, though I never had a chance to “see” him alive. For this reason I’m truly grateful for the modern technology which virtually brings me back to the past and helps me reach the impossible (namely, YouTube, of course). I grew up in a relatively non-religious family, but I can certainly understand why people have absolute beliefs and admiration for a person like Ozaki Yutaka. Among the youth, he was literally the Pope; and this is perhaps the only word I can find in English to describe how popular he was.

Usually I don’t translate lyrics because songs are composed of words and music, built on their own balance, and there is something just so unique to each language in which a song is written. Ozaki’s songs are no exception for that and especially in his songs, every single word matters. So this is just an introduction of the introduction—for I believe that translators can only introduce whatever the culture they are translating. Even if we succeed in passing on the essence of the works, an acquisition of languages is the ultimate pathway to understand the other world. It’s just the way it is. For that, I can definitely say I fell in love with English and of course, my mother tongue, Japanese.

Mina Otsuka was born in the Nagano prefecture, Japan. At the age of four, she moved to Amstelveen, the north province of the Netherlands, with her family and developed her very first interest in foreign languages. Having spent five years there, the family went back to Japan and then once again transferred their residence, this time to the United States. She currently studies literary journalism at the University of California, Irvine, and hopes to pursue her lifelong interest and passion in languages and translation. Her translation of Miyabe Miyuki's story, "The Ten-year Plan" from the Japanese, will appear in issue #43.