If you’ve tuned in to one of CyberConnect2’s online employment seminars on YouTube, chances are you’ve already met CC2 interpreter and translator Travis Proo. “I also work with the PR Team and manage all international PR for CC2’s self-published projects. I’m from Tacoma, Washington (just south of Seattle) in the United States, and I graduated from the University of Kitakyushu in Japan. I was a choir boy from junior high school all the way through college, and I LOVE to sing (*interviewer note: Invite him to karaoke, he’ll blow you away). My real job is being a Dark Knight main in Final Fantasy XIV (Millenia K’har)!”
How long have you been working for CC2?
I’ve been with CC2 for about a year and a half, though it feels much longer!
What attracted you to CC2 initially?
My studies have all been for interpreting and translating, so I was fortunate to find a position in the Fukuoka area that offered both. I’m an avid gamer, too, so that was another big pull that CC2 could offer. I am able to utilize my position to see how the overall development process works, which greatly helps with my career path.
How did you apply? What was the application process like?
It was fairly straightforward. I applied, I interviewed, I prevailed. I can’t go into details but compared to other places that I interviewed at, CC2’s felt more laid back and inviting.
How long have you been living in Japan? What made you stay? What do you like about it?
12 years. My family probably expected me to come home a lot sooner, but destiny had other plans for me, as it were. I feel secure living in Japan. For example, in Japan I can wake up at 3 a.m., walk to the convenience store, and buy some snacks, all without a care in the world. Back home that would be considered unsafe, even for a relatively safe place like Tacoma.
Hang on, 12 years?! What brought you to Japan in the first place?
Let’s just say I had an experience the first time I visited. It was around Christmas, and I was visiting Japan for the first time. The family whom I was staying with took me to my first hot spring, or onsen, way up in the mountains in Kitakyushu. I was lucky to have an entire outdoor onsen all to myself that day, and right when I sat down to bathe, it started to snow. I still remember the sound of the snow hitting the surface of the water and melting on impact. It was so moving, that I decided right then and there, with tears streaming down my face, that I wanted to live here!
What were you doing before you joined CC2? What other companies have you worked for in Japan?
I was an English instructor for about 8 years. I mainly worked for different dispatch companies in the Fukuoka area, and my last position was at Kasuga City Hall.
Knowledge is power for an interpreter; how can you convey something that you have no prior understanding about?
What are the misconceptions you’ve had about working in Japan or CC2?
When I signed up as an interpreter at CC2 I figured that there was already an established workflow for how the company wanted us to operate. It turns out that the team was only recently put together, and so no concrete details really existed for us at the time. The plus to that was that it gave our team the chance to define itself—to establish its own purpose and identity. We were able to make something of ourselves as a unit, but it was a bit of a surprise at first.
Another major misconception I had that I think others can agree with is how the company will often expect you to help take care of a number of different tasks that are technically outside your job description. In my case, I signed up to be an interpreter, as that is my main strength. However, as I mentioned before I also monitor overseas PR now too. This concept of multi-tasking has its pros and cons.
A solid pro to this is that I get to learn about other elements of the development process. My interpreting work already requires me to have at least rudimentary knowledge of the sections I interpret for, but had I not taken on this other role I would have missed out on learning about the intricacies of the business side of things.
The obvious con here is that I’m working in a field that I’m not proficient in. I’ll be honest, I’m a complete noob when it comes to marketing, so it can become incredibly frustrating when I’m expected to produce results.
What have you struggled with while working for a Japanese company?
Knowledge is power for an interpreter; how can you convey something that you have no prior understanding about? However, from my experience Japanese companies tend to be very “top-down” in their approach, meaning that not all information will be carried down through the ranks. This information could be anything from project schedules to game-specific terminology—all things that are important for an interpreter to know.
This thirst for knowledge can be a double-edged sword though. You could end up having more work thrusted your way as a result! This has been the case for me on a number of occasions. I enjoy the process of learning though, so I think it balances itself out in the end.
What is the most challenging thing you’ve encountered in your job or position?
My work can only be as effective as the words written or spoken, and so my biggest struggle has been dealing with the idiosyncrasies of each staff member. Everyone communicates in their own way, and understanding those nuanced differences is paramount for accurate and efficient translation or interpretation. We have come a long way since our establishment as a team though, working with and learning from fellow staff members in a variety of different sections.
What advice would you give the Japanese staff at CC2 on how to improve working together with international staff?
Our international staff takes up the majority of one of our three branches, and over 15% of the entire company. We are not a Japanese company anymore; we are an international company. I would recommend that Japanese staff be more proactive and try to engage with their international counterparts. Who knows? Maybe you might find you have more in common than you initially thought!
Don’t forget why you decided to come to Japan. Immerse yourselves!
On the other hand, what advice would you give your fellow international coworkers on how to improve working together with their Japanese counterparts?
The same statement as the one above could also be directed towards the international staff as well. I know it might be easier to communicate and form bonds with other international staff, but being proactive and speaking with the Japanese staff can help in more ways than you realize. Don’t forget why you decided to come to Japan. Immerse yourselves!
Japan, for better or worse, is all about protocol and mannerisms, and “going against the grain,” while it can help to spur positive change, is often looked at negatively here. They are very meticulous about time; if you start at 9:00 a.m., then you are expected to be clocked in 10~15 minutes before then.
How much Japanese did you know before coming to Japan?
My Japanese level was very basic. I could do basic descriptions about concrete things, like, “That’s delicious!” or, “She’s cute!” That was about it though. Anything remotely abstract would simply go right over my head…
How much Japanese do you know now? How did you study to be as good as you are now?
“How much” is pretty hard to quantify. There are still new words that I pick up almost daily, but I can read, write, and speak without any issues whatsoever. I’m not bilingual though, so I’ll occasionally have some awkward prose from time to time. As for how I improved myself…my case was a bit extreme. I underwent full immersion one I arrived in Japan, not speaking any English with anyone (outside of work). I would only speak and think in Japanese, even when I was at home alone. This little endeavor of mine lasted for about 8 months.
During those 8 months, I used to live in a small port town called Mojiko, which is the last town before crossing over to the main island of Honshu. It was a beautiful and very comfortable place to live in, and despite being a popular tourist area, there were almost zero foreign nationals actually residing there. This was a blessing for me since my full immersion could go with virtually no hiccups.
I quickly made friends with an elderly couple who worked at a mentaiko shop in the retro shopping arcade there, and after work I would visit their shop, eat with them, and help them close up shop. Their age might have been a factor, but they did not hold back on account of me being a foreigner. It also didn’t help that my Japanese level at the time was abysmal. It was like a torrential of words at first, pummeling me day in and day out. I can vividly recall my frustrations at not being able to comprehend the simplest of things being said to me.
However, and I don’t remember when or how it happened, but something sort of “clicked.” It was like all the words just fell into place, and I could suddenly understand them. I remember sobbing the day that I moved away, elated that I could finally talk with them but frustrated at myself for taking so long to get to that point. In truth, it was the best thing that could have happened, because it gave me an education similar to what a child would receive from their parents. I won’t lie though; my English was pretty awkward for the few months following that!
Basing on your own immersion above, how do you think international staff can immerse themselves in the company or in the country? Could you give us some concrete ideas?
Establish a solid Japanese-only environment, and find both a mentor to shadow and music to sing. Rinse and repeat 10,000 times.
My method for immersion was more self-imposed (or self-inflicted, depending on how you look at it), and it was easier for me because I lived in an area that had little to no English speakers in it. It can be really hard to maintain that in an environment like CC2 that has a large number of English-speaking staff. That being said, you also have the advantage of having so many Japanese staff to communicate with, so there is a lot of motivation there, I think. It’s not impossible to pull off here, but you would need to make your intentions known so that you don’t come off as rude to the other English-speaking staff.
The biggest motivator for me was being able to speak as clearly, as naturally, and as confidently as possible, and there’s no better teacher than experiencing the real thing through shadowing. Shadowing works exactly how the term sounds—you basically follow right behind a mentor-figure of your choosing, copying their pronunciation, intonation, emotion, and pacing as closely as you can. Your goal here is not to learn the language; your goal is to use the language and establish muscle memory. In my case, Osamu Shitara, the comedian from the comedy duo Bananaman, was the perfect person to shadow. His pacing is moderate, his diction is stellar, and his speech patterns are charismatic—something a non-native might struggle to learn. I shadowed his podcast (also on Spotify) the entire 8 months that I was living in Mojiko, and even sometimes in college, too.
Finally, adapt Japanese into what you enjoy doing normally. For me that was gaming and music. Karaoke is the perfect venue to practice what you’ve learned, as well as get used to reading at higher speeds. I listened to RADWIMPS, Ketsumeishi, and Kobukuro over and over, thousands upon thousands of times, learning all of the minute details to each song. This and my shadowing practice had very good synergy as well, each making the other easier to perform over time.
What has surprised you the most about coming here?
The power of the washlet (bidet) knoweth no rival. It shalt change thee. Forever.
What is the strangest thing you have seen or experienced in Japan?
It was probably being forced to learn how to use an ancient technology once considered lost to the winds of time: the fax machine. I still remember how serious my boss looked when I asked if he was serious about using it.
What is something you wish you brought from your home country to Japan? Or something you wish you didn’t bring?
I had so many pots and pans that I couldn’t use here because my apartment at the time had an all-electric setup, meaning they wouldn’t work with Japan’s specialized IH-format stoves.
What are the games you currently play?
Have you heard of the critically acclaimed MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV with an expanded free trial that lets you play through the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the award-winning Heavensward expansion up to level 60 for free with no restrictions on playtime?
That, along with Metroid Dread and Ark: Survival Evolved.
Did you bring your PC or consoles from your home country to Japan? How easy or difficult was shipping?
I brought my PS3 and laptop, and that was about it. I used 2 full pieces of luggage along with 2 carry-ons, mainly because I wanted to avoid shipping costs. I think I paid an extra $45 at the time for the 2nd luggage case though.
Lastly, what would be your advice for the future CC2 staff or anyone who is planning to come to Japan [the same way you did]?
I’ll say it again: Immerse yourselves! Whether you’re here for work or just to visit, the end goal remains the same: to experience Japan! Be proactive and try new things, meet new people, and learn all that you can while you are here! You get back only as much as the effort that you put in, so get lost in the culture! Who knows; maybe you’ll find yourself settling down here for the next 12 years like I did!
Thank you for the useful advice, Travis! For those who are looking to improve their Japanese, keep this interview in mind!