Monday, October 20, 2008

Let's Ecology! 15: Getting to work

My first assignment was to work on the Ecology Goods Catalog. The only woman working on the project was named Sachiko Murphy. She was Japanese, married to an American, Charles Murphy, who would later begin working at the Citizens' Recycle Movement of Japan as well. Just trying to make conversation, I asked her how long she'd been working at Recycle. "About a month," she answered.

I was surprised. "But the catalog is supposed to be ready to go to the printers at the end of next month."

"That's right. But except for Okayama-san, everybody on the team was hired about a month ago."

"Oh, well, then you must all be experts at making catalogs."

"No, none of us has done this kind of work before. My last job was teaching Japanese to foreigners."

I thought about that for a moment. "So without any relevant experience, this team was given about two and a half months to prepare a catalog, and not just any catalog, but a type that has never been done in Japan before and not all that many times anywhere else."

"That's right."

"O… K…." I didn't know anything about making a catalog either, but it seemed to me that a year was a more reasonable amount of time for a project like that, although I supposed maybe it could be rushed through in about six months if necessary. But less than three months? It sounded impossible. "Does it look like we'll meet the schedule?" I asked.

"A lot of people think that the deadline is too tight, and some think we won't be able to make a catalog at all. If this was the second edition or something, we'd have a base of products built up and could just add and drop a few items, but we're starting from scratch. Everybody is telling Mr. Takahashi that it's not enough time with the people we have, but he doesn't pay any attention."

Takahashi, I was to find, often seemed to have no idea of how long it would take how many people to do what kind of work. He gave me an assignment too: find "foreign ecology goods" for the catalog. In those pre-internet days, the only way to get sample catalogs or magazines was to have them sent by mail from the States. Recycle had a few environmental catalogs from different companies and groups in the States, including 100 copies of a catalog from a company in New England, which they had special-ordered to the great befuddlement of the operator who took the order.

All the products in the catalogs seemed to be things either readily available in Japan or completely irrelevant to Japanese lifestyles. I thought it would probably take a month just to find some usable items. After that, of course, it would be necessary to order samples and then to negotiate with manufacturers over conditions for putting the products in our catalog. Plus, there would be international shipping and customs to deal with.

It was obviously impossible to include foreign products by the deadline unless they were already being sold in Japan. After I spent a few days dutifully searching through catalogs and magazines for ideas, this opinion became general, and I was told to start looking for Japanese products instead. It seemed I was coming back to Soga's idea of doing the same work as the rest of the team after all.

But I was also being given more and more translation work to do, most of it English to Japanese rather than Japanese to English. This wasn't my specialty. I was much better translating into my native language. This is commonplace among professional translators, especially when the languages in question are as different as English and Japanese. Nobody at Recycle seemed to know anything about this, however, and the volume of work I was given steadily increased. I started spending more and more time translating, and less and less on the catalog. Finally, after only a couple of weeks, I was given a translation job that took virtually all my working hours for about four weeks and effectively knocked me off of the Ecology Goods Catalog team.

More "Let's Ecology!" posts are here. "Let's Ecology!" is the story of my stint with a Japanese environmental group (or sort of an environmental group -- it's "complicated"). Look for new posts every Monday. The names have been changed to protect me from lawsuits. Everything else really happened.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think?