EXCLUSIVE: Early review of Darling wa Gaikokujin

In a Mutant Frog exclusive, here is an early review of the “My Darling is a Foreigner” live action film from regular commenter Peter:

Well kids, I just came back from the sneak preview of ダーリンは外国人 at Roppongi Hills. My wife is a fan of the first couple of books, and probably ended up on a mailing of some sort along the line, through which we got invited. Apparently they only invited international couples, and interestingly enough the movies subtitles were in Japanese for the English dialog and in English for the Japanese dialogue.

The movie was just about at, or perhaps even a bit worse than, my expectations. I liked the use of splicing in clips of Oguri’s animation, as well as spot interviews with international couples. But… There were more than a few scenes where I was biting my fist a la Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls, and there was only one scene in which I laughed: Tony Laszlo himself makes a well-placed cameo in the movie that was worth a chuckle. But screenplay, casting, pacing, music, etc. was on par with the average Japanese made-for-TV movie.

Inoue Mao looks less like Oguri and more like Asada Mao. Jonathan Scherr looks less like Tony and more like Dustin Diamond (Screech from “Saved By the Bell”). Oguri in the story is not from Kansai, and Tony ends up being from New Jersey. I guess no one cared about these details to begin with.

Following the movie, Inoue, Scherr, the director Ue, Oguri, and Tony came out on stage to say a few words and answer pre-screened questions from the audience. All of them were a bit nervous, but regardless of that I was surprised at how clumsy some of the exchanges were.

Q: If you moved to a foreign country and had to take one thing (mono) with you, what would it be?

Tony: In Japan, ‘mono’ can be 者, in which case I would bring Saori. If the ‘mono’ had to be a thing (物), then…I would bring dried seaweed (nori).

MC & Audience: .... (huh?)

Looking at the post above, I notice this quote:
“The producer Kazuya Hamana (head of TV content at TBS) spent five years preparing for this film and plans to try and recreate the feel of the original comics for a story that everyone can relate to.”

I don’t think any of the feel was recreated, and it’s kind of sad to think that five years of work went into this movie. I mean, this movie was pret-ty damn bad…

Thanks, Peter. Nice to know I won’t miss anything by skipping this one.

A Tragic Comedy in Ass Surgery

Some narative was inaccurate and corrected on the instruction of the author—Curzon

My post from last summer criticizing Japan’s medical system is still generating comments, so I thought it an appropriate time to share this guest post, authored by a friend and reader on his recent adventure through Japan’s medical system.

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Back in August, I began to develop a massively painful cyst under the skin situated above my buttock and wanted to see a specialist. The ordeal was a real pain in the ass.

Continue reading

Thoughts on legal translation

A thread popped up on the Honyaku mailing list today regarding the use of “will” and “shall” in legal documents. I took the rare (for me) step of responding. Since we have many translators in the audience, I’m cross-posting my response here, with a few edits to consolidate another comment in the same thread.

Law is a conservative field, and legal drafting is generally adverse to change, despite whatever trends may be popping up among certain forward-thinking lawyers. “Shall” is still the most common way to set up an obligation in a contract, and is probably the least controversial way to translate a phrase like ~しなければならない or ~するものとする when used for that purpose. There is nothing wrong with using “will” or “must” for this purpose, but it is not really the standard usage.

On which is “better”: It really depends on the subject matter and specific usage in question. I mostly work with institutional financial transactions, where the contracts are all drafted by a handful of large law firms from Word templates, look more or less the same, and they generally use “shall” to set up obligatory commitments. In this context, it would almost be stupid not to say “shall” since that is what everybody expects to see. A consumer contract, on the other hand, might need different language, since a reasonable non-professional may not understand the meaning of “shall” in a particular context.

However, I would never use “shall” for more than one purpose in one contract—that seems to be asking for trouble.

That said, please use consistently different translations for different terms in the original document. For instance, I usually translate ~しなければならない as “must” and ~するものとする as “shall,” regardless of the apparent intent behind the terms.

I say this because there can be hair-splitting in the interpretation of a contract based on inconsistent usage of words like “will” and “shall.” For instance, if the contract usually uses “shall” to create obligations, but inconsistently uses “shall” elsewhere to state a condition or a representation of fact, that inconsistent usage may be relevant in arguing about the contract later. The party reading the translation may want to note that inconsistency or dispute it with their counterparties, but they cannot tell that there is an inconsistency unless that inconsistency is reflected in the translation with similarly inconsistent language.

The same applies to tense. Past tense, present tense and future tense may add nuances to the contract that lawyers will argue about later. If a sentence otherwise sounds like an obligation but is stated in the past or present tense, it may be interpreted as a representation or warranty, which makes a huge difference. (An obligation binds the parties to do something, whereas a representation/warranty is a statement of fact which the parties rely on—the other parties can claim damages from whoever “said” the statement if the statement is incorrect.)

Sadly, there are many contract drafters (both lawyers and non-lawyers, both Japanese and non-Japanese) who fill their contracts with incomplete, inconsistent or illogical terms. As the translator, you should not cover these up—you have to read these documents word-for-word and directly translate any incompleteness, inconsistency or illogicality in the original. Otherwise you are likely hurting your client by concealing the bad drafting of the underlying document.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has a good online glossary of Japanese contract terminology if you want to learn more about the nuances of different terms. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any similarly straightforward English-language resources. One good “dead tree” book on English contract terminology is “Drafting and Analyzing Contracts” by Scott Burnham (ISBN 0820557889), but it is aimed more at lawyers and law students who want to write contracts, not so much at translators and analysts.

Question: Do you think it would be a good idea to suggest that clients include a definition in English translations of contracts to make it clear that “shall” means “has a duty to” and consistently use “shall” only in that sense?

This is not legal advice for any particular situation, but only a general observation: I see efforts like this in professionally-drafted contracts from time to time, most often when written by lawyers from the Commonwealth countries. To use a tired metaphor, it is a double-edged sword. If you explicitly define “shall” to mean something in particular, it’s much harder to argue that “shall” means anything else, so you have to be especially careful to avoid any other usage of “shall.” If you don’t define “shall,” then you can use the context of the word to argue your way out of any inconsistent usage, by claiming that it was never explicitly limited to any particular meaning.

Perhaps this discussion illustrates the value of getting a lawyer involved in drafting! But in any event, I hope it illustrates the value of keeping original terminology distinctions intact as much as possible.

Japan and Oman

Over at ComingAnarchy, I have a post on the unique foreign policy of Oman. In reading about Oman, I read with fascination about the unique relationship that developed between Oman and Japan in the years before World War II.

The story begins when a traveler called Shigetaka Shiga visited Oman during the late winter of 1924. He visited the Sultan’s palace without any appointment, said he was from Japan and wanted to take the opportunity to visit the Sultan, to propose closer friendship between the two countries. After palace servants checked with Sultan Taimur, he welcomed Shiga, and the two had a good conversation about promoting bilateral relations. In this conversation, Shiga later remarked that Sultan Taimur said that Oman, due to its unique history with trading with the Far East, and sitting closer to the Indus River than to Mecca, belonged more in Asia than in Arabia.

Shiga visited as Sultan Feisal was enjoying the last years of comfortable rule in Oman. Born in 1886, he ascended to the throne in 1913, and faced widespread rebellion in the countryside. He was aided by the British, who ultimately brokered a peace that ultimately limited the Sultan’s power to the city of Muscat and the coastal region of the country, and took on great financial obligations to the British personally, which ruined him. He abdicated for financial reasons in 1932 and passed the throne to his son.

After his abdication, perhaps prompted by this chance meeting with Shiga, the former Sultan traveled across Asia to Japan, where he arrived in Kobe. He traveled under a pseudonym and hid his identity to all but top Japanese government bureaucrats. In Kobe, he became acquainted with a young Japanese lady and ended up marrying her in 1936. They settled down in Kobe, and the two had a daughter, Princess Buthaima, who was born in 1937.

During this time, the new Sultan of Oman Sultan Said visited Kobe together with his younger brother, Sayyid Tareq. They visited their father and it was there agreed that, should the new young Sultan die without issue (he did not yet have a son), his younger brother should become Sultan—an understanding that became known as the “Kobe Agreement.”

Taimur lived in Kobe for four years, but he left with his daughter when his wife died, and from there he moved to India. He died 1965 in Bombay, India, but ended his days by commending Japan for providing the highest standards of civilized living.

Sultan Said played an important role in modernizing his country but was unable to end the civil unrest that swept through the interior regions for decades. He was finally ousted and replaced with his son in a palace coup, who became the current Sultan Qaboos. Qaboos served in the British Army as a young man, and he visited Japan in 1964 on his way back to Oman after finishing his service in the English Army. This makes Oman the only country in the Middle East where three generations of leaders have visited Japan.

Such it is that Oman and Japan have a certain special relationship that exists, to a limited degree, to this day. Oman was critical in brokering non-military financial support for Kuwait during the Gulf War. Japan was Oman’s biggest trading partner in the early 1990s. And today Japanese investment forms a critical part of Oman’s oil production infrastructure.

Things which Japan does not monopolize, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary

  1. Upskirt photography: Police in upstate New York recently ran a sting operation to catch an upskirt photographer in a clothing store, which led to the unsuspecting victim suing the store.
  2. Expensive airports that nobody goes to: “Local officials were so confident that tourists would flock to this beautiful, mountainous county in southwestern China that they made the terminal big enough to accommodate 220,000 passengers annually, and built a runway capable of handling a 140-seat Boeing 737. But only a few charters and budget carriers have established service here. A grand total of 151 people flew in and out of Libo last year.
  3. Whaling: See this piece in The Economist, then Wikipedia for the breakdown.

Did I miss anything?

Race: to be ignored or over-emphasized?

Exhibit 1. Michelle Malkin’s blog (hat tip to Adamu):

Fully one-quarter of the space on this year’s [U.S. Census] form is taken up with questions of race and ethnicity, which are clearly illegitimate and none of the government’s business (despite the New York Times’ assurances to the contrary on today’s editorial page). So until we succeed in building the needed wall of separation between race and state, I have a proposal.

Question 9 on the census form asks “What is Person 1’s race?” (and so on, for other members of the household). My initial impulse was simply to misidentify my race so as to throw a monkey wrench into the statistics; I had fun doing this on the personal-information form my college required every semester, where I was a Puerto Rican Muslim one semester, and a Samoan Buddhist the next. But lying in this constitutionally mandated process is wrong. Really — don’t do it.

Instead, we should answer Question 9 by checking the last option — “Some other race” — and writing in “American.” It’s a truthful answer but at the same time is a way for ordinary citizens to express their rejection of unconstitutional racial classification schemes. In fact, “American” was the plurality ancestry selection for respondents to the 2000 census in four states and several hundred counties.

Exhibit 2. The Rapporteur of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to the Japanese government (thanks to Debito for putting the transcript online):

The report and [the government’s] responses contain many statistics including figures disaggregated by citizenship, nationality, but paragraph 4 of the report says that ethnic breakdown for Japan is not readily available, Japan does not conduct population surveys from an ethnic viewpoint.

I must say this has caused the rapporteur some heartache in the sense of trying to get a grip on relevant figures. For example, in relation to Koreans, you say that 600,000 approximately, that’s just round up those numbers, foreigners who are Koreans; 400,000 of which are special permanent residents, but there is also a figure of some 320,000 naturalizations that I have come across, and in recent years up to 2008, so we are actually talking about a million, something roughly around a million Koreans and Korean descent.

The committee often asks for statistics; we understand the difficulties that states may have for various reasons including reasons to do with privacy and anonymity and so on, not wanting to pigeonhole people in certain ethnic categories, but it can be tremendously helpful I think and also in many cases necessary to get a grasp of the situation by understanding its dimensions and if an ethnic question can’t be asked in a direct way in a census, we often encourage states to find creative ways around this, including things like use of languages we recommended to other states from time to time; social surveys, etc., and a number of other methods that are…this is essentially designed not simply to help the committee – that’s not the point – but to help the state, I think to understand the dimensions of a particular question, and enable them to focus their policy more appropriately.

“Race” in terms of black and white is a pretty silly idea, but there is something to be said about monitoring statistics on ethnic origin, as opposed to the Japanese government approach of looking at registered nationality alone (that is, when they choose to count foreign nationals at all). Of course, when the world is full of hot-heads on both sides of the political fence, it’s hard to reach a compromise that anyone will like.

WITNESS the seedy underbelly of the Visual Kei scene

Everyone, stop what you’re doing and read Tokyo Damage Report’s epic piece on the visual kei music scene. The way it’s written makes it hard to quote, but here are some relevant facts. The interview is long but well worth your time. Read to find out:

  • The coming together of of shojo manga and glam rock that created Visual Kei in the 80s.

  • How Japanese recording acts are formed and popularized.

  • How popular bands find ways to maximize revenue from fans (selling photos, lots of “limited edition” merchandise, and special izakaya parties for the most gullible/hardcore fans)

  • Where the labels go to find talent (it’s mostly ex-thugs).

  • Why Japanese record producers—think Yasushi Akimoto of AKB48, Tsunku of Morning Musume, etc.—are so heavily relied upon to produce every aspect of the final product that they become drug-addled auteurs.

  • The typical salary for a visual kei band member (lots of in-kind perks, very little cash)... and why they put up with it

  • The willingness of label bosses to forego short-term financial gain in favor of long-term connections (perhaps an ubiquitous aspect of Japanese business relations)

For some reason he’s been sitting on this gem since 2008! Shame on you, man.

It’s hard to tell the credibility of some parts, but I think it’s easier to swallow as a true-to-life mockumentary than as a faithfully transcripted interview.

To close out, here’s the video for one of my favorite viz-k songs, Luna Sea’s “Tonight”: