An interview with Japanese TED Translator Mai Iida


Mai Iida is a Japanese TED Translator who recently spoke at TEDxTohokuUniversity. A TEDWomen 2016 attendee, one of the primary aims of her work—translation and otherwise—is to connect Japan’s smaller communities and regions with its larger ones in order to help revitalize the former. TED’s Dimitra Papageorgiou chatted with Mai ahead of TEDxTohokuUniversity; read on to learn more about Mai and her TEDx Talk.

Your TEDx Talk is titled “Words with No Walls”. Can you give us a brief summary of what it’s about?

Well, “Words with No Walls” is the title, but the theme of my talk, if you will, is “How an ‘outsider’ can make a difference in a community”. In other words, how can someone who isn’t a native of a particular community nonetheless immerse herself in it and help to enact progressive changes and developments—especially in ways that are personally meaningful to her.

How do you hope your talk will inspire your audience?

I’d simply like to inspire their drive and pride in their respective passions and pursuits, regardless of their individual backgrounds. If my talk can inject even just a modicum of more vigor into their work, then I think I can call it “successful.”

How do you feel about giving a TEDx Talk?

At first, I didn’t feel qualified to speak onstage, and I’m still quite nervous about doing so. But I keep reminding myself that, although my accomplishments may not be commensurate to some of the other speakers’, I do have an idea worth sharing—an idea that will hopefully resonate with attendees and online viewers of my talk.

Can you tell us about Fukuoka, where you currently live, and why you decided to move there from Tokyo?

Fukuoka is a city located in southwestern Japan. I moved here mainly because I hadn’t visited the city before, and I wanted to live and work (I teach English) in a completely new environment.

I’d also like to mention Tohoku, which is roughly a three-hour flight from Fukuoka. I visit Tohoku at least once a year for several activities I’m involved with; but more importantly, and as I’ll discuss in my TEDx Talk, Tohoku abounds with people—both locals and visitors—who work for various social causes amid a rich culture that continues to flourish thanks in part to these individuals’ efforts.

How are you aiming to connect your local regions with the rest of the world?

Right now I aim to do this through educating younger generations on a local level. As an English teacher, my primary goal is to help children discover their dreams and passions through the English language, and then encourage them to go out into the world and pursue them. My public speaking and blogging are also tools I use to share my vision globally.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for these local communities?

I think the future could be rough for a lot of the local communities we’ve discussed, given Japan’s declining overall population and the increasing number of people migrating to Tokyo. However, I believe the legacy of these local communities can be preserved, and even built upon, so long as inspiring individuals continue to try to revitalize such regions. The key, though, is that we work together toward this aim; together, I’m confident, we can keep these local communities not only alive, but thriving. So let’s continuously educate others about the beauty of these regions, and keep their doors open to those folks who wish to visit.

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