Bio 143

(Note: This is the English version of my account of the events leading up to my hiring as a translator, which I previously posted in Japanese. It is not a translation of the Japanese piece, however.)


My favorite course of all in college was Bio 143: Human Parasitology, an elective I took in the Winter Quarter of my senior year. Being a Bio major, it was only one of many biology courses I would take in college, but it stood out, not only because of its exotic appeal but also due to the clinical nature of the course. Whereas most other courses focused on the cellular-level fundamentals, this course covered practical aspects such as the symptoms of various parasitic diseases and the drugs used to treat them. It had, in short, the feel of a medical school class. Although I elected not to pursue an MD degree or any further studies, I graduated in the summer of 2005 with a profound interest in parasitology.


I had the grades to go on to professional school (the path taken by most of my classmates), but by the time senior year rolled around, I had my mind firmly made up on a different goal: to find a job after graduating from college and make my own living. For certain personal reasons, I wanted above all to support myself and get my own place, where I could live peacefully by myself. My resolve was so strong that any other option was simply out of the question. So, after graduating at 22, I forwent any further education and set out to get a full-time job. It would be many months, however, before I landed one, as companies passed on me by the dozen. Looking back, I didn’t do myself any favors by trying to enter the real world at that age. I may have had a respectable skill set, but on a personal level I was green as grass, and also ill-equipped to handle the psychological damage of being rejected by every single company I had done my utmost to join, let alone 60 of them. By the time my ordeal came to a merciful end, I was broken down both mentally and physically.


In the fall of 2005, however, I was still in the early stages of my job hunt, and in good spirits. Finding a lull in my schedule on November 2, I decided to visit the Meguro Parasitological Museum (MPM) to rekindle my fond memories of Bio 143.


The museum was home to everything a parasitology enthusiast could dream of, from the formaldehyde-soaked specimens of roundworms to wall displays detailing their life cycles, not to mention the pinworm key chains on sale at the merchandise store. It was missing one important feature, however: the exhibit labels were all in Japanese, with no accompanying English translations. That to me, given my deep-seated global-mindedness, was not acceptable. This was a reasonably popular museum, in a major city, that attracted visitors from abroad as well (as was attested by the visitor log), and it could only be fully enjoyed by Japanese speakers? I wasn’t having that. So, I picked up the internal phone, asked to see a staff member, and right then and there, without having any translation experience whatsoever, offered to translate the labels into English, gratis. Now that’s a pretty audacious proposal, especially coming from a reserved twenty-something dressed in street clothes who didn’t even have his own meishi, but that’s how strongly I felt about the need to make bilingual labels. Not surprisingly, the man shot down my offer. Before leaving, however, I snapped pictures of some of the labels, and, in the days that followed, tried my hand at translating them at home. The resulting pieces would become the first translations of my life.


Those translations would hibernate on my computer until one cold winter day in early 2006. On this day, I’m scheduled to interview with a Tokyo-based translation company. Having been rejected over 50 times by this point, however, I hardly have any hope or confidence left. As I make my final preparations for seemingly another doomed interview, an idea pops up in my head: What if I brought my MPM translations with me as samples? I realize it may be strange and unsolicited, but, left to grasp at straws, I decide to take a chance. I show up, and, finding an opportune window during my interview, show the interviewer my work. “. . . Did you really do this yourself?” he asks, half-amazed and half-incredulously. With that reaction the tide turned, and the rest is history. The course of my adult life thus far was shaped, in large part, by the course I most liked in college.