Interpreter works as bridge to foreigners


With nearly 40 years of experience as an English-Japanese interpreter, 69-year-old Mariko Nagai has worked for a number of important figures from various fields.

Nagai has attended numerous summits as an interpreter for prime ministers, in which her role was to interpret what the head of the government said in Japanese to English, and immediately convey it to his foreign counterpart.

She had to avoid misinterpreting the prime minister’s statements and choose words considered appropriate in meetings.

In international conferences that take place in Japan, she often has to do simultaneous interpretation, which means she needs to interpret what a foreign speaker states into Japanese quickly while the speaker is still talking, so that Japanese participants can understand the content without interruption.

“I need to interpret their English accurately into Japanese only in a few seconds,” Nagai said. “I don’t have time to think it over.”

In her career, she has worked for various foreign guests, including heads of state, company presidents, athletes and movie stars.

Nagai said it was important when working for foreign visitors to learn about them in advance by reading books they wrote or looking into their backgrounds.

“I regularly pay attention to various kinds of news happening around the world,” she said.

Influenced by her mother who also had a job related to English, the native of Sendai studied the language very hard since childhood.

While in college, she worked as a part-time interpreter for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which led to her becoming a professional interpreter.

“I think this job suits a person who likes to take care of others and can’t help doing something for people who are in trouble,” Nagai said.