Wednesday, 24 April 2024

“Ishi no Ue nimo Sannen”

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“Ishi no Ue nimo Sannen (On a Stone for Three Years)…”


X years ago, I got an assignment from an employment agency with which I had been registered as an interpreter. My job was to serve as an interpreter for a dinner meeting between a group of Japanese entrepreneurs, who just arrived from Japan, and Americans including a local notable, a city executive, and businessmen.

Three Japanese entrepreneurs, each of who had an interpreter, and four Americans sat at a table and the dinner started in a pleasant atmosphere. The attendees were well-mannered, talking to each other in a friendly fashion. Our interpretation work went smoothly, without any difficult
expressions to handle.

When the dinner was approaching to the end, one of the Americans asked the Japanese entrepreneur sitting opposite to him, “What is your secret for success?” “Gamanshite, ishi no ue ni sannen imashita kara,” the Japanese man said, laughing cheerfully. However, his interpreter translated it literally, ignoring the proverb that he had inserted: “...because he patiently lived on a stone for three years.”

All the Americans seemed stunned, looking at the Japanese man in his face. After that, he went on and on about his success stories and nobody, the other interpreters or attendees, could interrupt him to let the Americans know the meaning of proverb: perseverance will win in the end. That’s how the “on a stone for three years” mystery became unsolved.

Shinobu Ishigami