The more valuable you become as a human being, the more people start asking for a piece of your time. On Friday, I help Shiga edit his speech for a contest, help a new English Club member (our kouhai) with his pronunciation for a recitation contest, and then jet off into the southern reaches of Kyouto, where I will be meeting an American couple and interpreting for them over the weekend.
The assignment fell to me in kind of a weirdly indirect way. The guy, Deranged Dave, is currently regarded as the best In the Groove player in the US (and also the world), and has been invited by the Japanese DDR community to come hang out with their top players. The language barrier was significant, but Soymilk, a personal acquaintance of Deranged Dave, was able to facilitate much of the planning and scheduling, and even acted as interpreter and guide for the Toukyou leg of their visit. Alas, despite his deep desire to continue on to Kansai, he was simply too busy and too poor, but, as I was once a somewhat ok ITG player myself, he tapped me to pick up the slack. We determined that I would meet up with them at the station near their hotel. The conversation went something like this:
Rude Boy: My class ends at 2:30, and it takes a bare minimum of an hour and a half to reach their station.
Soymilk: So you won't be there until 3:30?
Rude Boy: Um, no, because I don't instantly teleport to the station the instant my class finishes. I'll need at least half an hour to deal with my own shit. So, if I rush and get somewhat lucky, I might be there before 4. But I wouldn't count on it.
Soymilk: 4 is too late. I'll just tell them “around” 3:30.
Rude Boy: Don't do that. It'll probably be more like 4:15, or even 4:30 if I get held up.
Soymilk: It'll be fine. Actually, do you think you could get there by 3?
And so on. Luckily we managed to work things out, and I meet up with them at 4:10 on Friday. They've been walking around all morning and they look about ready to die. Fortunately, we're going all the way to Umeda, so at least they have a chance to relax. We're working through a system of stations and lines that I never ride, but I manage to point us in the right direction. Which is good, seeing as that's my one job.
Once aboard the train, the three of us have a chance to get to know each other. I quickly decide that both of them are awesome and I like them. That's a plus right there, since I was worried I might not, and that the entire weekend would be awkward as piss. Deranged Dave is a little bit shorter than I, with a famously long ponytail; his girlfriend, Bank, has like nine different colours in her hair. Both of them are fun to talk to and have interests outside of rhythm games, which is more than I can say for many of the ITG players I've met. They also have what I often call a “good attitude” about Japan, that is, going in without expectations, nor straying too far from the centre of the sliding scale of kimono to anime.
Prior to a few days ago, I'd heard his name but didn't actually know anything about him. He makes stepfiles, like all of the big names, though he's never made anything I liked. Soymilk informs me that he has an ITG machine in his house, which isn't uncommon, and that he's the most famous player, although I learn later that his overspecialization in speed over technical skills has created some controversy over who the “best” really is. Either way, if any lower-ranked ITG players ever find out that I spent a weekend in Japan interpreting for him, they're going to lose their shit, but I look at him and see just another guy. The Japanese community is wild for his YouTube videos, and indeed they will bring them up time and again, asking him to explain the details of what exactly he does in various situations. Also he's a particle physicist.
We have a few hours to kill before we can meet up with Plumfield, who'll be putting us up for a few days, so I walk them around Umeda, just so they can see. Fortunately we're still in an area I know decently well, which will change as soon as we venture beyond it, but by then we'll be with our actual guides. We speculate as to Plumfield's identity. We figure he's probably around 30. When he messaged me he said that his “work,” rather than his “part-time job,” went until evening, so he's probably a shakaijin. Plus, he offered to straight-up pay for their plane tickets, on top of which he'll be driving us around and boarding us for four days, so he's obviously got money.
When we finally meet him, it turns out that he's 26, a policeman, and has his fucking adorable 20-year-old girlfriend with him. Introductions are awkward and nobody's quite sure what to do. Why? Looking back, I will say that it's probably because, in addition to the strangeness somewhat inherent in meeting someone new for the first time, we haven't gotten used to communicating through translation yet. Nobody's sure who they should be looking at (answer: whoever you're addressing), or what language they should be attempting (answer: your own). We also haven't found a good translation rhythm just yet. You see, generally speaking, you have to sort of pause every paragraph or so for the translation to go through, even if you aren't expecting a reply yet, because otherwise I am going to start to forget details from the beginning, or get confused about what your real point is. Learning to recognize those natural breaks takes a bit of practise, when you aren't yet accustomed to international communication.
As the hour-long drive to a Hyougo Round 1 goes on, though, we start to catch it. The perfunctory questions start to lead into more interesting territory, and soon we have a bit of an actual conversation going on. I quickly realise that this is going to be very different from my usual responsibilities; most of the people I deal with regularly speak either English or Japanese and then some of the other, and on top of that are usually trying to learn, so I'm only called in when the conversation grows too complex for them to carry on their own. Here I'm the only one who can bridge the gap at all, so I have to start killing the instinct that tells me I don't actually need to translate stuff like “let's go” or “yes, I think so too.” For that matter, I even have to provide context for things that have nothing to do with language, like when Plumfield joked that we'd end up in Hokkaidou if he took a wrong turn and Deranged Dave merely said “That's ok, as long as we get there eventually.” Both Plumfield and Bank comment several times that holy shit are they glad I'm there, because this would not be happening otherwise. What can I say? I solve problems.
A bunch of the Hyougo and Oosaka people receive us at the Round 1, and as one after another wanders over and realises Deranged Dave has arrived, freakout after freakout ensues. Everybody wants to stand with him and take multiple pictures in multiple poses from multiple angles. Every time a game ends somebody else scrambles up and announces that they want to play with him next. Deranged Dave has gotten used to it by now; basically the exact same thing happens in the US, and, he says, he might as well make them happy, since they've brought him all the way out here.
“Though to be honest,” he admits, “I'm kind of bored.”
Nobody can play anything higher than about an ITG 12, whereas Deranged Dave punches 20s in the face on a good day. But he bears with it. Since I have two charges, I practise my positioning and observational skills, which I'll be making use of a lot. The only grain of sand in my eyes is Millimetre, some American guy living in Kyouto who basically everyone makes fun of.
Bank: I just don't like his attitude. Like he went on some forum and asked how to say stuff in Japanese, but it was all asking how to say stuff like “I got this score on this song” and “I can pass this.”
Deranged Dave: But nobody cares about him.
Bank: He wants so badly to be like a DDR celebrity, but he's always complaining about how the Japanese don't acknowledge him and whatever, and he gets all pissed off about it.
Rude Boy: So the name is a reference to the length of his penis?
Deranged Dave: It's a reference to the length he aspires to.
Indeed, he spends much of the night trying to enter pictures uninvited, as though anybody cared that he was there at all. (His Japanese is pretty awful, as well, but he doesn't quite realise it.) To his clear frustration, nobody actually wants to take a picture with him, they just keep swarming around Deranged Dave and sometimes Bank. What's really funny is when a bunch of them decide they want some shots with me. I didn't even play! The red carpet has clearly been rolled out for Deranged Dave, and judging by the looks of admiration people are shooting me, it seems like I, as the conduit through which he speaks, have had some of his coolness rub off on me.
When we go to yakiniku for dinner, I get to sit with Deranged Dave, Bank, Bolognese, and a couple, 8nee and 8nii. The conversation is dominated by Bolognese and Deranged Dave discussing cultural differences between the American and Japanese rhythm games communities, and various tournament structures that have been attempted. Bolognese – an Oosaka man, I might add – is the undisputed DDR/ITG champion of Japan, and so they make plans for a challenge match the following day. 8Nee and 8nii have been dating for eight years, since he was 15 and she was 17. They met at an arcade, through Initial Dick. She's quiet but sweeter than diabetes itself, and looks like Mayuyu from AKB. President would die instantly if she met her.
I've interpreted at many an event before, but it's never been my main thing, nor have I been the only one. Usually, it's part of what I'm there to do, but only as an accessory to the more important, concrete task I'm there to accomplish. Here, it is specifically the task for which I have been engaged, I am the only one capable of doing it, and I am constantly in the thick of the action. I'm used to being just on the outside, steering the conversation as needed and doing other things in the meantime, so I keep trying to make sure everything is being taken care of, only to be assured, no no, Rude Boy, you are doing exactly what you need to be doing, in fact don't go anywhere because we need you here. It was a pretty nice feeling, actually. 10/10. I've watched interpreters before and felt a little sorry for them; they they do a ton of the legwork and make my father's job possible, but they are treated like furniture, they sometimes don't even get thanked, they are often excluded from official photos, and they might not even get fed properly. Exactly the opposite is happening with me. People want my signature right underneath Deranged Dave's, and Bolognese flatly refuses to let me pay for my own meal.
Bank and Deranged Dave pass the ensuing drive with Pokemon Black/White (respectively), StreetPass Quest, and asking me about Japan. Something's happened with Plumfield and his girlfriend and they're fighting quietly up front, I guess because he didn't pay enough attention to her at the arcade. They live in the far reaches of Hyougo, over an hour's drive from where we are. I guess you could call it Koube, since the city never actually stops, but I would just about kill myself if I had to live there. Their house is gigantic for Japan, which is to say it has a kitchen, living room, another room, and a bedroom. He's got a TV as wide as my legs are long, and décor that would make the narrator from Fight Club grimace with jealousy. On top of that he's going to marry his girlfriend and she's going to become a housewife, and is currently a NEET. I'm pretty sure beat cops don't bring in money like that, so I can only assume his main source of income is taking bribes from the yakuza.