My three greatest fears: public speaking, reporters and death | SierraSun.com

My three greatest fears: public speaking, reporters and death

Renee Shadforth
Sierra Sun

Photo by Renee ShadforthA translator relays a message to the deputy mayor of Matsusaka (far right) from GSE team leader Bill Reeves (far left) as a camera crew and newspaper reporter get it all on the record.

We were supposed to visit the mayor of Matsusaka today, but he was out on business somewhere, so we met the deputy mayor, Osamu Okuda.

When we entered the city hall meeting room, we came upon what has become a familiar and frightful sight on our trip in Japan: reporters. There were two newspaper reporters with cameras and a television news crew waiting for us to meet the deputy mayor.

Although the television crew was a new thing, we have been in the presence of newspaper reporters four times since we came to Central Japan. Although the arrival of the Rotary Group Study Exchange team from the States is hardly front-page fodder, assigning editors believe that for some reason or another the story is fit for print.

As a journalist, it has been very strange to be on the other side of the interview and the camera. During a Q-and-A session, a small part of me wants to throw the reporter a bone and give an interesting answer. Then, there is large part of me that is afraid, embarrassed by the attention and, most of all, doesn’t want to say something that will look stupid once it’s in print.

Now I have an idea of how people feel when I am interviewing them for the Sierra Sun.

However, I think the interview process is even more frightening as a foreigner in Japan. Surely, I think to myself, something will be lost in the translation between English and Japanese by the time this goes to print. And, God forbid I answer any questions in Japanese because my vocabulary falls somewhere between a Japanese first-grader and an American sushi chef. (I know a lot about the food, but very little about conversation.)

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Deputy Mayor Okuda seemed like a decent guy, even for a politician (ha ha). He said public safety is of the utmost importance during his term at city hall, but not because there is a large number of serious crimes in Matsusaka. Public safety is a problem, he said, because the city has had more traffic accidents – and fatalities related to traffic accidents – than any city in Japan for three or four years running. I vowed to use my seat belt from now on, even though it’s optional to buckle up in the back seat of a car in Japan.

As the reporters took notes and the cameras flashed away, Deputy Mayor Okuda asked us the same five polite questions we are asked everyday:

1. How long are you in Japan?

2. Can you eat Japanese food? (When people ask this, I think they really mean “Do you like Japanese food?” They are not literally asking us if we are able to digest the stuff.)

3. What is your job in America?

4. Why are you interested in Japan?

5. Can you use chopsticks? (Usually they are shocked when my answer is “yes.” I am somewhat snobby about the fact that, even though I am a white girl, I knew how to use chopsticks by age 7. So, I am tempted to retort, “Can you use a fork?” and gasp when they say “yes” because most people here use forks often. Of course, I keep my mouth shut.)

My teammates and I answered the deputy mayor’s questions as genuinely as possible, even though we have heard them a gazillion times before. Then, we asked him some pretty unoriginal questions of our own.

So I wonder if I will regret what I said in front of the reporters at city hall today. I will hold my breath until tomorrow, when my home stay family finds the article – buried deep inside one of the Matsusaka newspapers – and translates it for me.