Initially I wanted to begin the segments on “The Translators” with Tomoko Kawahara because she has the most demanding role. In addition, Tomoko is also the woman who all of the other translators look up to—Souffler, Yuri & Kosai. But, it makes sense to highlight her towards the end of the training because over these weeks I’ve grown to view her as more than a translator, she is a co-teacher. Calm, authoritative and patient, her presence in the classroom is reassuring—-she is the “glue” that keeps things together. Without her there simply would be no training. Tomoko also brings balance to the intensity of the training, reminding us to take breaks and brings me chocolate from time to time. I send her the schedule beforehand so that she knows what’s on the agenda and then she tirelessly speaks every word I say each Saturday & Sunday from the morning practice, throughout the lectures, and until the final closing circle at the end of the day. She interprets each question the students ask me and my responses. I’m amazed at how it works, we just get into a rhythm and the day flows without any conflict–its fascinating. I’ve now learned that a translator has to have specific skills and talent to make it work–the love of language, extensive traveling experience and a healthy curiosity about other cultures. Furthermore, the translation process is a collaborative effort. I look to Tomoko for advice and strategies on presenting material or insight when communicating with the students. She’s also my cultural link which I feel has been instrumental in keeping this training flowing smoothly. There are phrases, words or concepts in English that may not be present in Japanese and she has to find a comparable interpretation.
As a child, Tomoko lived in France for several years and has been intrigued by different cultures ever since. When she was in high school, she lived in the US as a year-long exchange student, and later went to college in the UK. Using her English skills, Tomoko built a career in planning, sales and marketing and soon gravitated toward yoga as a way to alleviate stress and rehabilitate a back injury. It didn’t take long to realize that yoga worked not only on the body but also for the heart and mind which provided a major turning point in her life. Tomoko’s understanding and perceptions towards yoga completely changed after she started taking classes at “Sun & Moon Yoga” in Tokyo and soon began to realize in a direct, experiential way that “yoga was not just what we do on the mat.” Tomoko has been working as a professional interpreter/translator and teacher in the yoga industry for 3 1/2 years and sees interpreting as a ‘union’–of the speaker and herself and a “union of the speaker and the audience.” For her, yoga interpreting is another form of yoga ‘off the mat’. It has become one of her most important spiritual practices.
Tomoko feels she has been blessed to work with so many fabulous guest teachers from overseas including: Geshe Michael Roach (the founder of Tibetan Heart Yoga), Carlos Pomeda, MC YOGI, Daphne Tse, Ellen Watson, Ted Lafferty, Yvonne Jaques, Gina Sara, Caitlin Casella, and many more. Not to mention amazing teachers who are based in Tokyo including Leza Lowitz (the owner and the director of Sun & Moon Yoga, Tokyo), Miles Maeda and others.
Impressive in her own right, Tomoko completed her 300hr TT a year ago in Arizona at the Yoga Studies Institute and is an influential presence in Tokyo’s yoga community. She teaches at a community center; for the staff of her former employer; subs at Sun & Moon Yoga; offers workshops and charity mediation and kirtan session at studios in Tokyo and beyond. Furthermore, in an effort to share yoga with a wider range of people, she is the co-director of YCIP (Yoga Classic Input Project), Japan which has been saving sacred yogic scriptures and supporting Tibetan refugees. She is also a Committee Member of YAM (Yoga and Music in Tohoku) a charity that she created in collaboration with other yoga teachers after 3/11 to bring yoga, music, and bodywork to the lighten up the survivors in the areas affected by the earthquake. She too is a blogger for YOGAYOMU, a free popular magazine in Japan.
I’ve enjoyed hearing about Tomoko’s community involvement during our breaks and always admired the generosity she extends to all around her: me and the students in the training, her colleagues, seniors, and quake victims. I’ll never be able to thank her enough.