NAGOYA – Interpreters have been provided for almost every team competing at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but in a country with a very limited number of Georgian speakers, a 28-year-old man is supporting the squad all by himself.
Hayate Sotome, who is assisting the Georgian players during their stay, said he is striving to support “the members who are working hard in an unfamiliar country.”
“Is there a larger size?” and “How much is this in dollars?” were among the questions members of the team asked Sotome while out shopping in mid-September in central Nagoya. Nicknamed “Bato” by the team, he assists the members in communicating with staff at hotels, hospitals and elsewhere.
Sotome was recruited in December after being introduced by the Georgian Embassy to the Rugby World Cup organizing committee.
“Everything runs smoothly when (Sotome is) with us,” a team member said. “We’d be lost without him.”
Sotome first became interested in Georgia after watching a film from the country during a university class.
Fascinated by the unique alphabet, he spent about two years in Georgia learning the language.
“There are pronunciations not present in the Japanese language and the verb conjugation is difficult,” said Sotome, who is currently working on his Ph.D. in Georgian literature at the University of Tokyo.
Sotome receives many requests as an interpreter and took part in promoting the town of Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture, as the training site for Georgia’s judo team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
He is highly trusted and was a “massive driving force in the negotiations,” an Omuta official said, adding Sotome has already been approached to be an interpreter for the Summer Games.
The Georgian rugby team has played three matches so far, winning one and losing two. Their final Pool D match is against Australia on Oct. 11 at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.
“I want the team to relax in their spare time between matches,” he said.
Sotome says there are large cultural differences, adding, “I would like to understand their desires and help them as much as I can, so that they can have an enjoyable time here,” he said.
Although gaining notoriety as the home country of sumo wrestler Tochinoshin, Georgia still has low name recognition in Japan.
Located on the Black Sea coast, Georgia was located on the Silk Road and has developed its own unique culture.
Sotome listed numerous qualities, including its music, cuisine and 8,000-year-old history of producing wine.
“I hope the Rugby World Cup serves as an occasion to learn about (Georgia) and facilitate exchanges between the countries,” he said.