Japanese in the World – Makiko Sese
Japanese in the world no.2. I met her in Spain and collaborated the event for Japan, a year after the Tsunami, which she organised. Everytime we talk, she´d come up to so many ideas and topics that never bored me. This interview with her was very interesting and fun. I laughed a lot and at the same time, I learned many new things. She is the perfect person to help you realise how beautiful Japanese language is. Hope you enjoy it.
1.What´s your name and which part of Japan are you from?
Makiko Sese, born in “Yokohama” and grew up in Kawasaki. I´m emphasising Yokohama because Yokohama sounds more fashionable. (laugh)
2.When did you come to Mardid?
June in 2010.
3.Where were you before Madrid and what were you doing?
I came to Valencia in July 2009 and went to a private language school. Then I move to Zaragoza and started 9 months language course at the school belong to the Zaragoza University.
4.Why did you decided to come to Spain?
Because of the food. It was more than 10 years ago, I came to Zaragoza because of a Spanish girl I met when I was in England for learning English. I thought, what a delicious food! Judias verdes con jamón (green beans with jamon) for example … I didn´t like green beans before but it was so delicious and also it was perfect with alcohol. I always though if I´d live outside of Japan, I´d like to go somewhere it had a wonderful food.
Through this Spanish girl, in 2008 Dani (now my partner) came to Japan. Dani was a creepy otaku guy who sang an anime song in Japanese to me when I met for the first time (laugh). So when my friend told me that he was planning to come to Japan, I remembered him, very well. Also I wanted to look after him in a return of all those people who helped me while I was travelling alone.
Dani came with his two flatmates and it was so crazy for me to see myself as a super Japanese girl walking around Japan with three Spanish guys. At that time, I was 29 and there were very limited opportunities in front of me as a 29-year-old woman in Japan, “chanto shita jinsei (a proper life)”. But I discovered a new way while I was with these guys who just lived by following what they wanted in that moment. I think that was the cue for coming to Spain. Valencia… because I love fresh orange juice and Valencia is where good oranges come from (* Valencia is very well known for orange in Japan). I just thought it´d be wonderful to drink orange juice everyday and to live near the sea.
Only miscalculation was I didn´t know they speak Valenciano in Valencia as a daily language. I was in the language school everyday and thinking why I couldn´t communicate with the locals. Later I realised it was because they speak other language (laughs). I came to Spain seriously just for the food so it was a shock for me to know there were four official languages in Spain and each region is very different from one to the other. I thought, “What an interesting country!”.
After Valencia, I moved to Zaragoza where there was another tasty food and splendid wine. Then I moved to Madrid because I wanted to teach Japanese and because there was less demand in Zaragoza. There is an expert in Japanese language in Zaragoza and I helped his class some times. But yet there weren´t not so much jobs especially it was when Spain started to enter the “ economic crisis”. So I decided to move to Madrid in June 2010.
5.What was or is the most difficult thing to adopt?
Language, in the cultural sense. People would tell you, “I´ll ring you tomorrow” and they won´t do it. If I think back, Japanese people do the same but I do care about “words”. I understand that there are different cultures and it´s just me, hurting myself by giving too much importance to the words. Even now, I get hurt when someone says to me, “I´m coming” and he doesn´t. But I´ve begun to think I can´t define this is the culture of particular countries because there are Japanese people like that although the percentage may lower than Spanish people.
Actually it happened to me yesterday. I´m currently organising an event (June 2014) and one of the assistants often doesn´t come to the meeting although she says to me she´ll come. So I spoke to her. When I spoke to her, she started crying… Actually, you can tell by the form of the spine of the person. A person whose spine has a particular shape has a lot of eagerness for doing things and often remarks strongly. However in the reality, this person can´t fulfil it and suffers from it profoundly.
I´ve learnt this from Haruchika Noguchi who is the founder of Seitai (). After reading his book, I´ve understood that they are not doing on purpose but their forms of the body makes them in certain way. I´m more relaxed about people´s behaviour now.
People who has the same type of spine shape as this girl behave courageously when they are insecure. And I have another form of the spine, which makes me confused by those courageous remarks. So by observing and alalyzing the forms of people, I get less annoyed by the people. But I made the assistant sure that I don´t like “just saying for the sake of saying” because for me, the words are important and I believe what she says to me to do even though she is just saying. Then I get disappointed and spirit goes down, which affect to the group. She cried but I needed to tell her because it was my feeling. I think this comes from different ways of communication.
Don´t get me wrong. There are many caring Spanish people who say it and do it. I know this kind of comment, “Spanish don´t fulfil what they say” can hurt them so I need to be a little careful.
I´m slowly learning to relax myself. We have different waves of emotions but we need to help each other when we have one object to achieve. By watching how Spanish people deal with things, I´ve learnt, “we will get it somehow”. So I like to learn how to surf the Spanish waves (laughs). Of course I like Japanese style, plan well and do it right but at the same time, I like Spanish way, improvisation, spark and energetic.
6.What have you changed the most after living in Madrid?
I have tons of time. When I was in Japan, I worked all day and my day was work centred. I could´ve had time but I guess my life was based on work. Here I cook a lot. I even think about what I can eat the night before. What I like the most about Spain is the hour. It´s like there are two days in a day. Even though I wake up at 11, I don´t feel I wasted the day because there is still time until lunch, around 2pm. After lunch the second part of the day starts. It´s even better if you have a siesta after eating. You are refreshed and have more energy. Thanks to this time flow, my day becomes more relaxed.
Another good thing is you can go everywhere on foot even though you live in the city. I can meet friends after work to have a drink without worrying about time because everything is walking distance.
I´m sure I could do it in Japan but then your friends have to be in the same time flow. I´m from Kanagawa, one of the busiest cities near Tokyo and everyone has “no time”. People would get nervous if a train is delayed for three minutes and start sending messages to inform that they will be late. So comparing to that life, here people are not in a rush. Yesterday I was with my friends in the park and we were just sitting and giving a massage to each other while watching the sunset. We stayed there until ten in the night. The time passed slowly and I was just feeling thankful to the Spanish Sun (“please emphasise this” told Makiko).
7.What is your profession? Can you tell us about your work?
I´m a Japanese teacher, currently I teach two groups. I´m also a freelance Spanish-Japanese translator, mainly Japanese to Spanish translation. I work with a specialist in Japanese literature, Carlos Rubio. I have done two books and one of them was about Buddhism. Since I´m not a Buddhist, it was very difficult but at the end, it all becomes a part of me. Also, I can use this knowledge for my Japanese teaching.
I´d love to translate Japanese female literature. Once a book of Mieko Kawakami came for translation but I was working on the Buddhism book and couldn´t take it. What a shame! I´m a big fan of Hiromi Kawakami (川上弘美) and there is a book “Seinsei no Kaban (The Teacher´s Bag)”. When I saw this book translated into Spanish and the title was “Años Dulces (Sweet Years)”, I cried with disappointment. I don´t think the book is about a typical romantic story and it´s a disrespect to the author to decorate the story that way. I found out later that the book was translated from French. Recently there are more people can translate directly from Japanese to Spanish and hope this type of misunderstanding reduces.
The books I translate are all very old ones in order to avoid the copyright problems. One of them was the book written in the 13th Century and now I need to learn Japanese history, which I didn´t do when I was a student. And they can be so funny. Once it was so sensual the whole part I was reading or some part does not stop talking about farting! That moment, I feel connected to the classic books.
But then I really like to translate the books in the 20th Century when female authors started appearing in Japan. I love Yuriko Takeda (武田百合子) and my dream is to translate her books. Hmm, but I also think that her books are good because they are written in her innocent Japanese…
8.What expectation do you have in Madrid?
You never know when and where you die (laughs). So I want to be free to go anywhere whenever I want. I have a feeling that I´ll go to the South America. At the same time, a small community is getting formed around me. For example the neighbourhood. I´ve found there are more women working home in my building and now we get together every few weeks for lunch. It´s nicer than eating alone at home. Also when you need something, like a tin opener, you can just go to the next door and borrow it. This kind of community in the neighbourhood has been disappearing in the big cities. So I like this small community where we can help and be a company to each other.
What else… I want to keep dancing, not professionally though. Last summer I practiced in Retiro (*the park in Madrid) until it became really cold. Usually dogs and kids came to see me. Sometimes the boys who were interested in Qigong or Tai Chi stopped and watch me dance.
What kind of dance… I don´t think it has a name. I just move as I feel. It comes from inside me. Sometimes nothing comes out then I just lie down on the ground. Sometimes it comes out with words. The other day I read the prologue of a book of Kenji Miyazawa (宮沢賢治). It´s a beautiful one and the movement came out naturally.
Sometimes I put music. When the movement becomes dynamic, people stop. The Japanese drum sound raises my energy. It could look like I´m praying for rain (laughs). It´s absolutely weird but when I move, all the emotions appear, anger, sadness or happiness. I even cry or laugh loudly.
Then the spring comes. It´s when people are inspired artistically. A photography student asked me to be a model. A poet wanted to write poems for me to dance with her poems. I like to create things with others.
One day I heard a beautiful music from my building and I went to the door dancing. There were three girls playing music and one of them was a Japanese girl. They asked me why I was dancing. I told them their music made me dance and now I couldn´t stop it. A month after I heard the music again so I asked them through the balcony, “Hey, you guys again! When´s your concert?” They proposed, “Why don´t we do something together?” So we made a collaboration for once and performed at Matadero (*Art place in Madrid), which became my very first performance in the public.
I like working with people by contributing something comes out from each person and make one thing. I like to develop this more.
9.What is your identity as a Japanese in this country?
When I go to the mountain or the ocean no matter in which country. I think anyone would be amazed by millions of stars above you. The wind, the smell of the rain or the cloud in the everyday life makes our day. And with these elements, you feel happy or warm. The Koto no ha (/ the leaves of words) helps you to realise and express those feelings. When I can express the appreciation of the nature with Yamato Kotoba ( / Japanese), as a transmitter of Japanese language, I feel I am Japanese.
When I appreciate the food and being thankful for receiving the lives of the other livings. When I say, “Itadakimasu (we say in Japan before eating. “Receive (the food)” is the literal meaning).
I´ve been discovering the meanings of the words recently. Especially when you look closely at Kun yomi (/ Japanese way of reading a Kanji). I teach Japanese and at the same time I learn the real meaning or the origin of Kanji. And realising this fills me, which makes me feel more that I am from that island where the sun rises although I´m far away.
I guess it´s the same as reading Haiku (), which is pure appreciation to the nature. People who are grown up in that island have the refined sense. Japanese food doesn´t have strong taste, rather enjoying the taste of Dashi (stock). People appreciate having sake with a hinoki wood cup rather than a normal glass. Moreover, people can differ the sake made by different rice even if´s served in the same hinoki cup.
I know it´s too much detail and can be an obsession but it´s really different. For example, the tea you drink with a thin mug and a thick tea cup do taste different. Freaky? Perhaps. But I think that´s “living”. I think this is “to live”, getting excited by these small details. In this sense, I can die any time because I live every moment.
If you look at the language, I still feel that I think too much about “me”. In Spanish, it´s always “yo como (I eat)” or “ tu comes (you eat)”, the subject is important but in Japanese, both are just “taberu”, eat. I think this has a deep meaning. I am you and you are me, I am him and them at the same time. It shows an unison, Wa () in Japanese. By learning Japanese and grow up with this language, I think this sense of Wa is infusing in Japanese people profoundly. This is not something you can learn, it comes from inside of us.
I love the sensibility to others that Japanese people have. We call it Kikubari (). Ki is mind and kubari is to distribute. So you literary distribute your mind to consider and care others. People who don´t realise when a bicycle comes behind them can´t distribute their mind. It´s not good or bad, simply it´s the question of how far can you distribute your mind outside of your body. Perhaps this is an Asian culture, I don´t know. What I know is, this word doesn´t have a translation into Spanish. But this feeling of caring or considering others does exist within any human beings and that´s why the word “sympathy” exists. However Japanese language goes even farther and that´s what I love about “Koto no Ha”. I love this ambiguity, there is no difference between you and the outside world. You can see it in the traditional Japanese architecture. Japanese houses always have the part where it has a light and it´s dark and then there is in between. In Japanese old religion, there is not a clear line between the God and you. In the shrine, at the very back the God is placed but what you find there is a mirror. What can you see in it? It´s You. Then you think, does the God look like you? Or are you the God?
10. What music do you like to listen when you work?
Since I´m working with the word, it has to be the music without lyrics. I like a Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould a lot. His Bach is the best. I listen to the classic music often but not so emotional ones otherwise it will affect to my work. I prefer to listen to just one instrument rather than an orchestra. I also listen to Yo-Yo Ma. Hilary Hahn, German-American violinist´s Silfra is my recent favourite. There is an album she collaborated with a German pianist, Hauschka. It´s made in Iceland and the sounds is like being in the nature, like the sound of rain, something like that. Other than that, I listen to the Buddhist sutra. It calms me down. Oh, Gregorian chant, I feel like I can go up to the sky (laughs). Sounds a little freaky.
When I´m not working and want to relax, I listen to afro-Brazilian music or Cuban music by the way.
11.What do you like the most about your work?
In terms of the Japanese class, what makes me happy is, it works without me. My students get together and go to the cine or have a drink. It means they have made a community and that is my aim. It makes me happy to think I was a part of the beginning of that community. They go to Japanese restaurants, to the presentation of a Japanese book or a Japanese event without me.
Or when I talk about the history of Kanji or Yamato Kotoba (大和言葉/Japanese origin words), I see the students´ face in a sort of trans. The moment they understand not by head but by heart, I feel accomplished.
As a translator, I´m not the author so I probably won´t understand what the author really wanted to tell us. But when I finished the Buddhism book, I read his phrase in the epilogue, “I hope more people understand Buddhism through my book”. Actually I had learnt a lot about Buddhism. Now I can even express his words in Spanish and this means I am a part of the author´s wish. This makes me happy about my job. My job is to be a part of Wa to keep this circle growing. I appreciate to be a part of it.
12. And now?
Currently I´m organizing events named Mikusano Mitakara gathering around Europe. This is about the ancient Japanese art to live more joyfully. During this August, I was been traveling around Turkey to share this art with two friends. There, we had an unforgettable experience and now we are preparing to visit more countries. Mikusano Mitakara, three holy tresures don´t have a frontier (frontera). I could feel it firmely thanks to the cultural exchange that we enjoyed. More info https://www.facebook.com/events/550417368392072/ (now in Spanish, English page coming soon)
More about Japanese in the world
Very interesting article, but I feel that some of the points are just a re-statement of the old sentiment “we’re Japanese, and we’re different from everyone else, but we can’t quite explain why.” The section on language is one case in point. I’m a linguist and it’s not true that Japanese is the only language that drops the subject of a sentence–in fact, this is common in Spanish too. English on the other hand always requires a subject (even for when it’s raining!–“it” is doing the raining for some reason!). So according to Sese-san’s logic, English speakers would be the most self-centered people, followed by Spanish, then lastly Japanese. Does this make sense in reality? I think not. Or what about a Japanese child raised in Spain? Does their innate Japanese-ness cancel out the self-centeredness of being raised as a Spanish speaker? The argument that language determines the way we perceive the world has been refuted time and time again.
However, as a life-long student of Japanese, I do feel the beauty and richness of expressions regarding nature and color, for example. I feel that concepts like “mono no aware” or the color “ai–indigo” are unique expressions of the Japanese sense of beauty, and reflect a cultural heritage to be proud of. It does bother me though that some consider these senses and feelings to be the exlusive property of the Japanese, just because the language has words for them. Why can’t we celebrate the beauty of such expressions, as both native and non-native speakers of Japanese, without having to resort to statements like “[the sense of Wa] is not something you can learn, it comes from inside of us”.
Just some thoughts from an (informed) outsider looking in.