Acting as a Bridge
All my life, I’ve been bumping into situations where I need to explain a certain phrase, idiom, or concept to a person coming from a country outside Japan. And every time I would say to myself, “Was that the correct way to put it?” But the answer is (from my experience) …there’s NO correct answer. It’s all about understanding the person you’re talking to and coming up with a creative explanation.
I was born and raised in Japan. I attended an international school in Tokyo so all my classes were taught in English. I went on to study in college in the United States. Upon graduation, I returned home but started a job at a European airline right after. Living and working in different parts of the world splashed me with an array of idioms and phrases I’ve never heard of.
The different meanings conveyed in all these terms piqued my curiosity and helped me soak into various cultures, leading me to think deeper into the importance of communication. Eventually, I stepped into the world of broadcasting and reconfirmed my determination to act as a bridge for people having difficulty living in a place other than where they were brought up. And in that process, I became even more interested in introducing the traditions and beauty of Japanese culture.
I was once asked at a job interview for an airline how I would explain the Tanabata festival held every year in Japan on July 7th to a passenger from the United States. Tanabata is generally celebrated by writing wishes on a small piece of paper called a “tanzaku” and hanging them on a bamboo tree. The wishes vary from praying for your family’s health to passing an upcoming exam. The festival originates from a legend between two deities represented by stars in the sky. The lovers are separated by the Milky Way and allowed to meet only once a year on this day.
Nearly a decade later, an Indian friend asked me about the festival. Although Christmas is a national holiday in India, only about two percent of the population is Christian so I needed to come up with a different explanation. I compared Tanabata this time to Raksha Bandhan, a Hindu festival in August often celebrated in India and Nepal. A sacred thread known as a “rakhi” praying for a person’s prosperity and happiness is tied on to his/her wrist (often from sister to brother) but the two don’t need to be biologically related. I told my Indian friend that instead of tying the thread on the wrist, it’s hanged on a bamboo tree with a message and acts as a symbol of love and protection for somebody you care for. In this case, I tried to connect the inseparable bond between the deities portrayed in the Tanabata legend with one of the celebrations where family ties are affirmed in the Hindu religion. As a matter of fact, Raksha Bandhan literally means “bond/knot of protection.”
With a countless number of cultures, it’s rare to find that exact equivalent for a certain idiom or concept. But building that gateway for a person from another culture to get a broad sense of what you’re trying to introduce is the first step in acting as a bridge. Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words but using your creativity and knowledge will assist you in building that bridge between two cultures. And that’s what I’ll strive to continue doing.