The Adventure of a Lifetime – Tokyo, Japan to Beijing, China to Lexington, KY

In 2016 of May, I was officially hired as a translator for Photizo Group. I first came to America in 2014, which was a year in which I failed and succeeded at the same time. Giving up a prospective future as a pharmaceutical student in Japan, I successfully entered a small Christian college in Missouri. After about a year of studying as a Communication major in a small town, Photizo was convinced that I was skilled enough to be a customer service rep/translator.

My first job, also known as the “new adventure” started in Tokyo, Japan where I flew to Beijing, China and then to my new home in Lexington, Kentucky. I am very grateful for this amazing job opportunity. Even the fact that all my Japanese friends think I am working at Kentucky Fried Chicken has not bothered me at all. From the moment I was warmly welcomed as a member of this company, I have never experienced a day that I did not learn new terms and concepts of the imaging industry including confusing TLA acronyms like MPS, AIO, WFP, API, OCR, and LOL.

One of the interesting things I learned about is the millennial generation in America, this generation consists of 75 million people and they are the cause of many headaches for the imaging industry. Can you guess the reason? The answer is so obvious that I will go ahead and tell you. Millennials, the digital natives, do not print. Since I am actually categorized as a millennial, the story of millennials is quite intriguing to me. Ironically, the copy machine in our office is located right beside my cubicle where I, a millennial Japanese woman saves the documents in her computer instead of printing them out. I have been working here almost three months and have used the copier, oops, multifunction printer just once.

I do not like the idea of sorting out countless documents and seeing thick piles of papers sitting on my desk. Since I have had to travel to Japan and back many times, I am not a big fan of burdening myself with something heavy and cumbersome.

When I read a recent article that I was preparing to translate about an electronic business card, I got excited. If you were born in Japan, you are expected to undergo the baptism of Japanese business card swapping. Even though I got the job in Photizo Group, I am no exception. There are detailed and elaborate rules of handling business cards in Japan. I miserably failed to properly worship the god of business by making some etiquette mistakes. The experience of handling business cards made me think of how papers are used in the many important situations in Japan.

The metaphor of religion I used to describe exchanging business cards may sound exaggerated and silly, but actually, in the early days of Japan, paper was used for religious rituals. In a shrine, a Shinto priest used a rod with uniquely cut and shaped paper, and these papers were tied around holy trees and rocks. If you go to a Shinto shrine in Japan, you will see countless strips of papers tied up on the trees and the ropes (see Figure 1). They are fortune slips. Papers have been an important part of the Japanese people’s religious practice from the ancient time to the modern days. If the electronic business card become commonplace, then the rules surrounding business cards might be forsaken someday, but until then, a Japanese businessman will use paper for the holy events of business much like ancient Shinto priests of old.

Figure 1 - Shinto Shrine with Fortune Paper
Figure 1 – Shinto Shrine with Fortune Slips

Another paper-based industry in Japan is the comic book industry. There are countless numbers of comic magazines published both weekly and monthly. Even though digital media is quite common in Japan, the popularity of the paper-based media is unshakable, especially comics!

Origami paper is another example of a popular pastime using paper. Japanese kids grow up learning how to fold origami papers. I still remember my origami classes in elementary school. Even the gift giving custom in Japan contributes to the demand for paper products in Japan. Beautiful and traditional gift-wrapping paper is essential in the retail industry. Gift-wrapping paper adds a special, personal touch when sending a gift. The effort of neatly wrapping and decorating gifts in the traditional way shows politeness and love to the recipients.

Despite the frequent use of paper in Japan (including fax machines), most Americans have an image about Japan as the capital of electronic and engineering technology. This line of thinking has a strong basis in fact. When it comes to imaging, there is a shift from paper to digital media in Japan as well. Like millennials in America, the younger generation of Japan does not use printers as much as the older generation. Many paper-based media in Japan are slowly being replaced. Nowadays, a single electronic dictionary can hold the contents of hundreds of paper ones.

It is not a rare sight to see people reading a book on their Kindle devices in trains or buses in Japan. There are long rows of electronic advertising boards hanging at train stations in Tokyo. However, in Japan, this does not mean that paper is considered “old media”, destined to go extinct. From religious events to daily lives, paper helps to express the aesthetic side of Japanese thought. As you can see from the beauty of origami, paper is the source of creativity in Japan. (Some people even create origami arts using toilet paper.)

Rules for the exchange of business cards or gift-wrapping in the retail industry are not only for the sake of complicating a given situation. Each of them has meaning when tied to the courtesy, which so pervades Japanese culture. Even the big wave of new trend of electronic media cannot wash away the custom of using paper in Japan entirely. Japanese culture, with its blend of old and new, traditional and modern, shows us how print and digital media can co-exist in present-day society.

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