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Professor OKADA, Sadayuki 《English and American Literature and English Linguistics》

Interviewer/Producer: Yuto Nakai (Junior, Asian History Major), Mio Anabuki (Sophomore, Japanese Studies Major)
Photographer: Yumi Chikamatsu

Reason for Choosing English Linguistics

Anabuki: What made you choose to study English linguistics?

Okada: It was not my initial choice. I was aspiring to study English literature, but I did not think it was possible when I realized I could read prose well but not poetry. Then I met Dr. Yoshimitsu Narita and Dr. Seisaku Kawakami, who were studying English linguistics at the time, and I thought, “This is something I could see myself getting into.” In my junior year, I switched to studying English linguistics instead. I had always been interested in grammar and the different uses of English phrases, wondering why there are so many unnatural “rules.”

Interest in Research

Okada: It is not fun to regard grammar as a series of dull and dry rules. I think it is perfectly possible to write sentences without necessarily being taught those rules. We humans create sentences in a reasonable way, based on our way of perceiving and thinking. We are just verbalizing exactly what we see, thereby making this process highly constructive and rational.

Nakai: So you are saying expressions can vary depending on the circumstance?

Okada: Exactly. I mean, Japanese people know that the slightest change of nuance in words can lead to a totally different meaning. A hint of change in your expression can set a completely different tone. That goes for all languages, not just Japanese: English, too.

Encounter with Kyudo

Anabuki: What were you like when you were a student?

Okada: I did not study at all, and I pretty much went to school only to practice Kyudo. I went to lectures in my training outfit and went straight to practice after that. I was never athletic, so I chose Kyudo to build stamina. Kyudo was the closest thing to being art and a sport at the same time, and I thought, “This is it.” That is how I started it. And it was great  fun. 

Nakai: Sounds like it requires a lot of concentration. 

Okada: If you are trying to get to a mastery level, perhaps, but not at a college level. In Kyudo, it is quite common to have hit the target, even though you thought you failed to do so. Your body remembers the timing. However, it is easy to lose form, once you become inattentive. Moreover, you think you are doing what you’ve always been doing, but eventually, you start missing every shot you make. You need another set of eyes to evaluate and modify your form. Of course, it is possible to get your groove back, but it is easy to get carried away and lose your balance once again. You keep repeating this cycle. Amateurs have ups and downs in their performance, but those who maintain excellence at any given time are the true masters. We are not at that level. Students tend to be highly competitive. They are so fixated on winning that, as a result, they try to come up with some way to cheat through hitting the target, only to fail. We regret when that happens, and we end up feeling like we’ve been ridiculed by the target for only thinking about hitting it.

Nakai: Sounds like it applies to our lives.

Okada: True. Kyudo is very simple, it only requires striking the target with an arrow, but it still makes you think a lot. I am glad to have had that experience.

Anabuki: You are saying it is important to have a strong mentality?

Okada: Right. When your mind is at peace and focused, things go well. When it is not focused , they don’t. That goes for everything: basketball, volleyball, etc.

Applications to Research

Okada: It is hard in any situation to keep your composure and stay calm. The same thing goes for research; one thing I do believe is that you do not find yourself getting too worked up when you have all your facts straight before a presentation. Of course, it is only natural to get nervous before a presentation. However, if you are confident of the dataset you are presenting, you should not have too much trouble talking. That is because you have something that backs up your confidence. However, it can be unsettling to get out there solely with second-hand data because you would not have anything to answer when the flaws in the logic have been pointed out. That can be very disconcerting. I am not good at presentations myself, but if I have a solid dataset of my own, I can manage to step up on the stage.    

Nakai: Is one of the reasons why you chose to do research because you wanted to confirm things with your own eyes?

Okada: Absolutely. Otherwise, I would hesitate even to talk. I feel that I always question what others tell me. I can speak with assurance through verifying the facts for myself. Otherwise, I would be very insecure when talking to people. The only way that you can truly admit to your mistakes without any regrets is if you feel like you did your research properly, and even then, maybe someone might come up and correct you. I would not feel ashamed for that. I’d probably tell myself that I just needed to do more research. If I ever spoke based on facts supported by others, I could easily throw these people under the bus by blaming them, if what they told me was wrong. That would be very disrespectful. You should be able to take full responsibility for your own research.
The same thing applies to your rehearsal presentation on your graduation thesis. It might be terrifying and embarrassing, but having something that backs your confidence makes a huge difference. I interview people to find out new things all the time, but they are not that easy to discover, even now. Sometimes I still feel like crying.

Message to Students

Nakai: Would you please give a message to the students?

Okada: That is a tough one, because I did not exactly have an exemplary school life. I think what you find entertaining varies from person to person, like club activities or studying. I think what you have to do is find things you want to do. College is not a place where you are told what to do, since the place promotes freedom. It is a place for self-responsibility. Self-responsibility gives you more freedom, so I guess the sooner you find what you want to do, the happier you will be. Also, people mostly go to college to do research. It is different from high school where you are automatically assigned things to do. Researching requires bare expressions of your thoughts, and that can be daunting, but it is a privilege nevertheless. I think it is important to write a graduation thesis. I want you to have this experience of writing a graduation thesis. Writing a graduation thesis means you can have others vicariously experience what’s inside your head. If you keep your ideas only for yourself, nothing good comes out of it.
However, through writing a thesis and presenting it, an old man like myself can share what I am thinking with people who are interested in it. That is what it means to write a thesis, and college students are given the privilege to do so. It can be embarrassing, but it is very valuable at the same time. It may be temporary, but it is a privilege that is given only to college and graduate students, when research is a big part of their lives. I want you to take full advantage of that. I think it can make a vital difference whether you write the thesis because it is an obligation or you do it out of the motivations discussed above.

Excerpt from Introduction of Osaka University School of Letters, 2013-2014. The interviewers’ years are presented as they were at the time of the interview (October 2012).