From Tokyo to Wales: ‘Cymraeg a fi’

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By Yuko Nakauchi

I was born in Tokyo and I think I was very fortunate to be raised up in the centre of the city where you can probably meet every culture from around the world.  When I was in junior high school, I became a big fan of British music and got an interest in everything British.  I would check out every artist and film from the UK that was available in Japan at that time.  When I was fourteen, I skipped cram school one evening, I instead went to a very small cinema to see a British film.  When the film started I got puzzled and shocked that English was not spoken in the film.  The film was called “Un Nos Ola Leuad/One Full Moon”.  I found out later it was actually Welsh they spoke in the film.  That was the first time that I heard Welsh and realised that Welsh is spoken in Wales and that they seem to have a different culture from England.  I got very interested in this fact.  I was very happy to know more about the UK.

As I loved British music so much I always wanted to go to Britain.  But it was difficult to convince my parents because I was an only child.  If I told them that I would like to go to the UK to study English they would say “You can study English here in Tokyo”.  Or if I said that I would like to go to a British university after high school, they would say “You don’t have to study at a British University; you can study anything at Japanese universities.”  Then I thought about the language I had heard in the film, which was Welsh.  There was no way to study Welsh in Japan.  I would need to go to Wales.  I looked into more about the Welsh language and found an article about the film written by a Japanese professor.  She mentioned that she had taken an 8-week-summer intensive Welsh course somewhere in Wales.  I wrote to all the universities in Wales to ask if they had any similar courses.  I got a reply from the course in Lampeter and decided to take it in the summer of 1997.  I remember that it was a big adventure for me, as a girl from Tokyo, to get to Wales.  When I got off from the bus in Lampeter, I felt like I had arrived at another planet.

The course was very intensive.  Classes were all day from 8:45-20:30 including weekends.  I had no Welsh so I was in the beginners’ class.  The teachers spoke English for the first couple of weeks, and then the class was taught only in Welsh afterwards.  After 8 weeks in Lampeter I could somehow manage to have conversations in Welsh.  Back in Tokyo I was then a university student studying art history, but by the time the course ended I had made up my mind to move to Wales to get a degree in Welsh.  I quit the university in Tokyo and the following year I started Welsh and Film and TV in Aberystwyth.  I had a fantastic four years at the university.  I have never devoted myself so much to something I really liked before. Studying there was not so easy for me because everything was taught in Welsh.  I used to carry two dictionaries, Welsh-English and English-Japanese; it was like learning two languages at the same time.  However, I enjoyed the life there because everything was so different from where I come from.  The town had a friendly atmosphere which I had never felt in Tokyo; the people especially were so warm and welcoming.  They always encouraged me to learn Welsh.  I was never homesick while I was there but I missed Wales so much after I returned to Japan.

I have done several jobs since I moved back to Japan such as translator/interpreter, radio presenter and fixer.  I had some great opportunities to use my Welsh skills through those jobs:  I was asked to translate the Welsh folk song ‘Nos Galan’ into Japanese for Japanese acapella group, AURA and I met Super Furry Animals for the first time at an interview where I attended as an interpreter and later I met them again when I was working as a fixer for a Welsh TV crew filming the SFA Japan tour.  I was very proud of myself for helping the Welsh media as the only Welsh speaking fixer in Japan.  I also interviewed Katherine Jenkins and other Welsh artists for radio.  I even had a chat with Duffy when she came to Japan on a promotional tour.  In 2011 I won the first prize at the UK Alumni talent contest held by the British Council after giving a presentation on Welsh and on my career after my degree.  I was appointed Study UK ambassador to encourage Japanese students to study in the UK.  I am so grateful that Welsh has given me such wonderful experiences and made me so unique.  It would probably sound very Japanese but I feel like I owe Wales for this, so I always think that I would love to play a part in helping to promote Wales and the Welsh language somehow.  As I encountered the language through a film for the first time I have organised Welsh film screenings for the St. David’s Society in Tokyo.  I chose Welsh-speaking films and talked about the language and background at the screening.  I have done three screenings so far but I would like to organise more in the future.  I have also met and helped some Welsh learners at the Welsh learning circle Cylch Siarad Cymraeg in Tokyo.  Their reasons for studying Welsh vary.  Some are fans of bands or actors from Wales, some have got an interest in Welsh through fantasy literature and some are railway fans who are so fascinated by the longest station name Llanfair PG.  I have actually realised that most of them, like me, knew little about Wales as a country when they first came across the Welsh language.  As they study the language they also learn about history, culture etc., and even become aware of the diversity in the UK.  Only a few Japanese know that the UK consists of four nations although UK has been one of those countries that culturally and historically have strong connections to Japan.  I think that learning Welsh is a good way to experience this sense of diversity.  I would be very happy if more people had got to know about Wales and had respected its difference (from England for instance) by hearing my story or by chatting with me.  I hope that they find it interesting. 

Yuko is originally from Tokyo but now lives in Uppsala, Sweden.  She studied Welsh and Film & TV at Aberystwyth University.  She has been a radio presenter in Tokyo, and has also worked as a fixer and interpreter for Welsh media on their visits to Japan.  She has worked with the Super Furry Animals, Katherine Jenkins, Steffan Rhodri, (aka Dave the coaches from the Gavin & Stacey T.V series), amongst others.

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