GSI: Can you tell me a little about your background and how you became Mr. Okajima’s interpreter?
Furutani: I am Japanese-American, my parents emigrated from Japan. I am a Marine Corps and U.S Army veteran, where I served as an interpreter/translator. I also play in a Japanese-American baseball league.
I was working at the Japanese cultural center in San Francisco in 2005. The Director of scouting for the Oakland Athletics called and said he needed emergency interpreter for Keiichi Yabu, a Japanese reliever on the team at the time. The Athletics brought me in for a short time before a full-time replacement was found.
When the Athletics signed Okajima in 2012, they called the Japanese cultural center again looking for an interpreter and I told them I was available. I was hired and worked in the position for 2 months during spring training, but it was a contract position so I had to keep my day job. I resigned near the end of spring training, when Okajima was being sent down to AAA.
GSI: Can you describe your responsibilities while you were an interpreter?
Furutani: The scope of my job was baseball related. I was in charge of translating for Okajima during practice, games, and when he was speaking to the media.
GSI: Did you help Mr. Okajima prepare for media interviews?
Furutani: Yes, with the Japanese media he needed little preparation, we would just coordinate with the press director and I would make sure Okajima was willing to do the interviews requested. For the American media, I would translate on the spot for Okajima. I would ask American media the questions they wished to ask just prior to interviews and go over them with Okajima right before he talked to the reporters.
GSI: What type of diet did Mr. Okajima have?
Furutani: Okajima primarily ate Italian food and Japanese food. He would bring in his own food each day. I never saw him eat the clubhouse food. He had hired an assistant who would prepare food for him.
GSI: How is Mr. Okajima’s English? Did he try to learn more?
Furutani: He knew some but didn’t actively try to learn. Older players seem less willing to learn English. Paranoia in trying to speak English is prevalent among many players because they don’t want to make a mistake while they speak.
GSI: How much did Mr. Okajima interact with teammates and coaches?
Furutani: His interactions with them were usually short and to the point when talking about baseball.
GSI: Did he interact socially with team members?
Furutani: Players on the team talked to him all the time, sometimes he could fend for himself in basic English conversation with them. He didn’t really interact socially outside the ballpark due to the cultural gap and the other players being much younger than him.
GSI: Did you only spend time with him at work, or did you see him outside the ballpark as well?
Furutani: I helped him find place to live when he arrived for spring training. I also had dinner with him often and we would sometimes run into other Japanese players at restaurants. Aside from those instances, I did not usually see him outside of the ballpark.
GSI: Did Mr. Okajima ever talk about the differences between Boston and Oakland?
Furutani: He did, and said there were very big differences. He had to learn a new clubhouse/organizational culture when he joined the Athletics. The Red Sox operated on a rigid schedule, while there Athletics were run less strictly. Boston also had more resources and amenities available to players, so that was a big change when he came to Oakland.
GSI: How do you think the adaptation process from a foreign country to the United States impact a baseball player on the field?
Furutani: In my opinion, off the field issues and transition challenges relate directly to on the field performance. Adaptation and transition issues are present throughout a player’s day and cannot usually be ignored.
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