Interpreting for the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremonies – Yukie’s Experience

By: Cheryl

Yukie is a Japanese interpreter whose recent project was interpreting for the Opening Ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics. She is also an author and writes articles and books! Her pen name is Sena Amano. If you are interested in her book it is called: The Timeless Lessons to Learn From Japan



Can you explain your journey and how and why you became a language professional?

My biggest inspiration to be involved with languages was my grandma because she was born in the United States. She was a big influence on me. But becoming a language interpreter was never my goal. It was just life unfolded in a way that I did end up becoming one. So I just followed where my life took me, and now I’m here.

How long have you been interpreting?

I became a flight attendant for United Airlines in 1997, and then I became an onboard flight interpreter. I took on that role occasionally when there was a need for translation.

Have you ever thought you could make a career out of this?

I always wanted to be on an international stage. I was born in the countryside, very farm-like, fields everywhere. It was never my thing to be on an international stage or anything like that. Until I heard about my grandma’s stories, about her life from when she lived in the United States, when she was younger, those stories made me want to go abroad. She inspired me in so many ways. So one day, I decided that I wanted to leave Japan. I wanted to go overseas; that was always my dream, but not to become a language professional.

What was your first reaction when you learned you’d be the interpreter for the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics?

My first reaction was, “No way.” I thought they called the wrong person by accident. I’m sure there are many other people out there who speak much better English than I do. I know it quite well, but you still have to consider that it is my second language. I think I’m pretty far from being a “professional.” In my opinion, I’m not qualified to do this level of an event. But I ended up just going for it. Why not?

What was it like to be part of something of that size and significance?

It was such a big honour. The Olympic Games are the biggest sporting event in the world, and it was my great pleasure to be a bridge between Canada and Japan. And having an Olympics in my home country meant that much more to me. Japan is very special. It was a great honour to interpret the words of the Emperor. That was incredible. I was extremely humbled and grateful. What else can I say? It just meant a lot to me to interpret the words of the Emperor, His Majesty. It was just amazing. It was more than I deserved. I couldn’t believe that I did that. I still can’t.

How did you prepare?

I did a lot of preparation, and I did a lot of research, maybe about a week. I think I spent every single night researching every possible source. The CBC sent me the media guide in advance, so I read that very carefully, and all the Olympic chatter on the internet. I also had to look into what athletes, judges, and coaches say. And this was great because the Olympic Committee wanted it said in a very specific way. There was a phrase that needed to be translated in a certain way. So, if I didn’t research in advance, I wouldn’t be able to translate simultaneously without preparation in the way they wanted. So I even printed it out for myself and practiced it at home many times, and it did help me a lot because there was no script. So when they started saying it, it was just natural for me.

So you didn’t know what was going to be said prior?

No, that’s right. I just had to do a lot of research, but at least I knew that the Emperor would do the Opening Ceremonies and declare the opening of the games. I didn’t know how to address him in English formally, properly. I wanted to make sure I addressed his name properly in English. So I called up the Japanese Embassy in Ottawa, got in contact with some people who have met the Emperor directly in person, and asked them about how I should address him.

Were you on video at all? Or was it audio-only?

It was audio only. I was taken to the small booth. And there were many booths on that floor. But all the other ones were pretty far from me, so I was completely alone. It was a small booth, which helped me a lot because I could concentrate 100%. When I took on this challenge, I was reluctant at first to take this assignment because I thought that I was not qualified. It was too big for me to take anyway, you know, but I took it. So it came with a huge responsibility. Once I accepted, I was like, I have to do it now. I mean, I cannot go back no matter what at this point, right. That’s why I had to have amazing self-discipline. I had a responsibility to perform well.

Can you tell us more about your responsibilities and what the work environment was like?

My responsibility; I thought about it when I read the questions when I was preparing for this interview, and I think my responsibility was to trust myself 100% and believe in myself that I can do this.

Was there anything that you would have done differently?

I believed I did the best I could within the given timeframe.

How long was it or how long did you interpret for?

There were different parts that I had to translate, including the speech by the President of the Tokyo Olympic Committee, and the declaration by the Emperor.

How has the experience been? Has the experience changed you as a person?

It definitely helped me with personal development and my confidence. And the whole experience has opened a lot of new doors for me, and I feel like I’m less scared about taking on seemingly difficult work. Maybe I’m also not as afraid of speaking English as before.

If given the opportunity, would you interpret on the world stage again?

Yes, absolutely. I enjoyed being a part of such positive, collective energy. It was great having a professional team and working in such an environment. To me, it was very dynamic and was fun. Just a good working experience overall.

What’s your favourite part of the whole experience?

I have never experienced this feeling before. You know, this effortless grace when you reach the state of flow. That was something so special, that feeling is the best. It’s so beautiful, I just completely masked myself in what I was doing. I was calm and sharp, like super focused. I don’t think I have ever experienced that level of clarity in my mind. There was magic. It was simultaneous interpretation and it’s nationwide broadcasting without any rehearsals. And it was just something else to know that I can handle the Olympic Games, which millions of people were watching. So you can imagine the immense pressure that was placed on me. The guy in the control room says, “stand by, stand by” and your heart is racing. I was so nervous, but strangely, the moment President Hashimoto spoke the first word, I became so calm, like nothing else mattered. I was just super calm. You know, I mean, a moment ago, I was extremely nervous, and then when the moment came to interpret, I became so calm. And within me, I felt like my soul and heart went into my voice.

Over the past few months or so, have you learned anything new about yourself or picked up new skills?

Working from home is probably the only thing I can say I had to learn. It was a big adjustment; we all had to adapt and start working from home. That was a big change for everyone. But with or without the pandemic, to me, there’s wasn’t a lot of change. Sure, it was a big change, but I still have to do cleaning, cooking, laundry, walking, etc. But I did start something new after the pandemic, which is yoga and meditation. That’s something new. I didn’t do that before; I started during the pandemic. And we still do it, and I cannot start the day without doing it every morning.

What activities do you do to remain focused and motivated when you are super distracted or super nervous?

There is a tree, and so I sit under it and enjoy the breeze. I need to, you know, feel the breeze out there. I have to go outside and take a walk, that’s one thing. And if I’m at home, I cook traditional Japanese meals from scratch. Cooking from scratch is my way of calming my nerves. I just also laugh a lot and try to stay positive, and it helps me relive some of that nervousness, and helps me relax or sleep.

Do you have any long-term or short-term worries?

Whenever those worries kick into my mind, I try to stay as positive as possible. I try to be as present in the moment as possible, it is so important. So I like to focus now. Yeah, the future has not arrived yet, so just enjoy the day.

If you could say or give advice to anyone who will read the blog or watch parts of this video, what would you tell them?

Push the envelope! Go beyond the usual or normal limits by doing something new; it’s worth it.

One of the questions you asked me was whether you learned anything new about yourself and picked up new skills in the past few months. And I’m sure this experience gave me a lot of confidence because I have proven that I could do something that felt impossible at first. And I learned that when you work hard, sincerely, you can really learn, and when the time comes, you can just exercise your potential to the fullest. I didn’t know I could do it. I didn’t, ever. It was out of the blue. I didn’t apply for it. They called me, and I thought that they probably just called the wrong person! And then you know, I accepted it, it was meant to be. I was the right person for the job, and I didn’t even know it.

Before we conclude the interview, is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers or listeners?

Yes, I do. I was impressed with the kindness and helping hands extended from everyone from MCIS. From the beginning to the end. They were wonderful, and I can’t thank them enough. I truly appreciate their strong support. Thank you very much.