Google Translate is now better at Japanese-to-English, but still not good enough to make me unemployed

This year, Google made changes to its Translate service that are aimed at making translations more accurate. They use a “Recurring Neural Network” method that “considers the entire input sentence [instead of just parts of the sentence] as a unit for translation.” I have to admit I gulped at the news – is this what will finally make my role as a Japanese-English translator redundant?

The New York Times fanned my fear with this glowing article that led with the claim that Google Translate is now a better translator than Haruki Murakami (at the very least, he did a great job translating The Giving Tree, in my humble opinion).

That prompted me to test out the site. Here are some examples of Japanese-to-English translation that I pulled:

News articles I would say are unacceptably inaccurate:

This one (about discussions over who should pay for the 2020 Olympics) gets a minister’s name and gender wrong, can’t seem to recognize that 都 means the Tokyo prefectural government and 国 means the Japanese national government, and in general is just incoherent for most of it.

A man is suspected of cutting a police officer in the neck with a knife. But according to Google Translate, he is first “suspected of killing himself” and then “he cut off the police officer ‘s neck with a knife…  The policeman was injured.” !!!

It seems to do best with press releases – these actually seem to give a pretty accurate and readable translation:

… But not so well when it comes to long-winded technical financial announcements: 

The best I can say for it is that, unlike the earlier version, every sentence appears to be grammatically correct and make logical sense. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be able to translate things in context or keep track of omitted subjects.

All in all, I can say it looks more useful for Japanese-to-English, especially if it is used with “made-to-translate” Japanese. I might even use it myself as a starting point for some documents (and that is definitely not something I would say about the old version!) But for now at least I am happy to report it isn’t yet ready to force me to start a new career, which is good because I have no idea what I would even do…

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Idol superfan asks out his favorite, gets rejected, decides it is time to grow out of fandom

21d8b1ce ikoma

This morning I tweeted this story:

This ended up being my most popular tweet in a while with 14 retweets (the last time that happened might have been not long after the tsunami). Given that a couple people asked for a translation of the original post I figured I would take a stab at a rough translation of the relevant portions. Note that I am not super familiar with the idol world (apparently the idol in question is Rina Ikoma, a member of Nogizaka 46 not AKB48) so please forgive me if I am missing something.

I just wanted to be loved my the one person I held most dear!

…. Ohh I’m not sure what I should write… Well, here is some good news for the people who hate me: Ikoma-chan rejected me! Lol \(^^)/

Honestly I was floored – her unexpected reply stabbed me straight through the heart. She could have been a little nicer about it! Yesterday there was something cold-hearted about her.

But really it’s my fault. I just wanted to make sure… I am so sorry

Ikoma-chan, I hope you will read this blog like you promised… It was all a big misunderstanding. I think I was unconsciously aware of it all along, but you shouldn’t have told me you liked me best! (;_;) That would make anyone misunderstand lol

I feel as if everything I have ever built in my life has now crumbled instantly into nothing.

But all in all this might be for the best. (^ー^) I don’t know what I’ll do when the next single comes out, but I don’t think I’ll be as into it as much as I have been.

Frankly, my psyche isn’t strong enough. I might quit being an otaku lol

To close out, I’ll just say one more time, thank you Ikoma-chan for letting me dream!

Thank you for making it possible for me to enjoy my life. I had nothing before you.

 

You were the first person I ever fell seriously in love with.

It is worth noting how costly it was for this fan to learn that his favorite idol isn’t interested in seeing him outside of paid fan events. The picture above is the 3,000 copies of a CD he bought to show his support (and maybe gain access to a handshake event). He also apparently went into around 3.5 million yen in debt in the process. That could be crippling financially depending on his income level.

9a011327 ikoma

 

Rina Ikoma

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Kikuchi Naoko’s sarin, as described by another Aum member

By now everyone knows that Kikuchi Naoko, one of the last members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult wanted for the 1995 sarin gas Tokyo subway attacks, was arrested on Sunday. Although her face had been plastered on posters found in and around pretty much single police and train station in the country, she managed to remain at large for 17 years, until someone reported seeing her in the Tokyo suburb of Sagamihara.

Back in early 2006, Adam and I collaborated on a large job translating material about Aum Shinrikyo into English for some kind of security researcher down in DC doing a report about religious terrorism. The biggest single document in the project was the massive book Aum and I by Ikuo Hayashi, a medical doctor and member of the cult, who participated in the sarin release, which we translated a significant portion of.

I have previously posted a few excerpts from this book, including Hayashi’s description of the actual subway attack itself, the bizarre and stillborn plot to assassinate Ikeda Daisaku, leader of Sokka Gakkai, and a description of the gross practice of how cult members ate their own feces in a weird attempt to emulate the Buddha.

In honor of Kikuchi’s arrest, here is Hayashi’s memoir of his first encounter with sarin, found on pages 271-274 of the tankobon edition of the book.

*     *     *     *     *

The first sarin dispersal experiment

At the end of April there was a phone call from Nakagawa to me at AHI. “Make the same preparations as when you treated Niimi and come to the Seventh Satyam, in Kamiku,” he said. The only treatment I had given Niimi was when he had been poisoned by sarin gas during the Daisaku Ikeda Poa incident, so I loaded up the station wagon with drugs, a respirator, an oxygen cylinder, and the other necessary supplies and went to Kamiku. Nakagawa went into the prefab that it was said Tomomi Tsuchiya had been assigned to, and came out carrying a box.

272

He told me that it had sarin inside it.

In the flask was a triangular flask, protected by a buffering agent. When I saw the liquid at that time, it was a faint fluorescent green. Since Nakagawa had said that it was sarin, I always thought of sarin as being that color a liquid afterwards. “So, Aum has sarin after all,” I thought. However, at this time I still had no confirmation that Tsuchiya was making sarin.

At that juncture, I still had no realization of what degree of chemist this Tsuchiya person was. Nakagawa said that because he and Tsuchiya were performing sarin experiments together, if by any chance one of them was poisoned, that I should come and treat them. I had a feeling that I had learned yet another secret. I myself was not receding, not progressing, being shown the true forms of Aum’s “secret work” one by one. I naturally felt the discomfort, the unsettlement of the treatment that came with it,

Those “sarin experiments” were to discover the volatilization volume of airborne sarin. I thought that this sarin was meant to be one means of defense against the American military and the [Japanese] Self Defense Force when the “war” broke out.

A truck was parked in front of the Seventh Satyam. It was loaded with several canisters, large storage batteries and a converter, plastic bottles and a sprayer that seemed to be the type used for the spraying of agricultural chemicals and pest removal. Driving the truck was a Samana in the Truth Science Research Department.

Nakagawa and Tsuchiya got in the car together saying to me and the young Samana that we should follow them and set off.

273

I had no idea whatsoever where we were going, but when we arrived it looking like a dry riverbed near the mouth of theFujiRiver. The time was night, just before dawn, and in the vicinity were no other people or vehicles. The riverbed was a broad area, and I got the feeling that they had chosen the location in advance, and we had gone to that place.

They used an ultrasonic nebulizer (sprayer) places on top of an electric balance to spray sarin into the air, measured the wind velocity and force at that instant, and checked the amount of sarin consumed based on the change in mass.

When the experiment was over, he sprayed some neutralizing agent from the nebulizer, but because he had been poisoned I gave him two intravenous injections each of two ampoules of PAM and atropine sulfate. When I examined Nakagawa it looked like there was some mild pupil dilation, but I couldn’t really tell. I treated Nakagawa based on his subjective symptoms.

Nakagawa and Tsuchiya didn’t say in what way they were going to use that data. I didn’t ask. The experiment was over, and we went back to Kamiku. Seeing this experiment, I thought that they really were going to use sarin for defense at the time of the “war.”

Thinking about it now, a much greater volume of sarin would be needed for defense and so the question of how they could get such a quantity comes up is raised, but at this time I was not thinking such thoughts very strictly, and only thought loosely about this.

Why was I called at this time? I think that it may be because I was supposed to perform treatment for sarin poisoning later on. At this time I was thinking that it would be fine if Asahara used me to treat sarin poisoning.

274

I supposes that Asahara must have had the intention of making me participate as a member of the medical team in his plans, particularly his plans to use sarin.

Now I think that Asahara had me join the on-site activities with a notion to “acclimate” or “condition” me, and made me participate in that experiment as a first step.

I think that after the Daisaku Ikeda Poa incident, Asahara stepped up the “fumie” [tests of faith] and “narashi”[habituation, conditioning] that he been giving me to the next level.

 

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Who can and can not donate blood in Japan

[Correction: Accidentally typed Australia at first below, should have been Austria all along.]

There has been a lot of confusion over who exactly is allowed to donate blood according to Japanese regulations, especially foreigners. To try and clarify the situation I have translated the entire list of categories of persons who are NOT allowed to donate blood in Japan, from the Japanese Red Cross official web page.

The biggest confusion is regulations relating to foreigners, especially because of mad cow disease aka spongiform encephalitis (Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease).

The following categories of people are BANNED from donating blood in Japan.

Please do not clog blood donations centers if there is even a chance you fall into one of the following categories, and instead find some other way to help.

Please also note first of all that ANYBODY who has entered Japan in the last four weeks may NOT give blood.

First, the rules relating to BSE/Mad Cow Disease

To clarify the below rules, please calculate your TOTAL amount of time spent in ANY of the countries in categories 1~4 during the relevant risk period for that country. If your total period of time in a high-risk country during a high-risk period is equal to 6 months or more than you are banned from blood donations for life.

Similarly, if you have spent a total of 5 years total in any of the countries listed in all 6 categories during risk periods, then you are banned from blood donations for life in Japan unless a new medical test in the future causes the regulations to change.

Please note that no countries in North or South America are on this list; despite the worries over Canadian/US beef it was never transmitted to humans.

  1. Anybody who has spent a TOTAL of 30+ days in the UK between the years 1980 and 1996.
  2. Anybody who has spent a TOTAL of 6+months in the UK between 1997 and 2004. (Note: Also include period of stay under category 1,3,4 in this total.)
  3. Anybody who has spent a TOTAL of 6+ months in Ireland, Italy, Holland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, between the years of 1980 and 2004. (Note: Also include period of stay under category 1,2,4 in this total.)
  4. Anybody who has spent a TOTAL of 6+ months in Switzerland between the years of 1980 and 2004. (Note: Also include period of stay under category 1,2,4 in this total.)
  5. Anybody who has spent a TOTAL of 5+ years in Australia, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, between the years 1980 and 2004. (Note: Also include period of stay under category 1,2,3,4,6 in this total.)
  6. Anybody who has spent a TOTAL of 5+ years in Iceland, Albania, Andorra, Croatia, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Vatican City, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Lichtenstein, Romania, between the years of 1980 through the present day.  (Note: Also include period of stay under category 1,2,3,4,5 in this total.)

Next the rules relating to blood parasite diseases.

  • Anybody who has entered the country in the past four weeks.
  • Anybody who has entered Japan after visitinga malaria high-risk area within the last year. This is true even if you were only at a resort area of the country. HOWEVER, if you have been specifically tested for malaria and been found negative you may donate blood.
  • Anybody who has entered Japan after living in a malaria high-risk area within the last three years.
  • Anybody who has ever lived in a region known for Chagas Disease, AKA American trypanosomiasis. (This is a blood parasite like malaria.)
  • Anybody recently returned from Africa or who has lived in Africa and ever tested positive for African trypanosomiasis (African sleeping sickness.)
  • Anybody who has ever tested positive for babesiosis, another blood parasite most commonly found in tropical regions such as Africa or Latin America.
  • Also anybody who has engaged in medical work, research, field work, etc. in any regions known for similar diseases should not donate blood.

Last are other categories of persons who may not donate blood.

  • Anyone who has or has had heart disease, or malignant tumor,
  • Anyone who has rheumatic fever or is on antibiotics due to risk of rheumatic fever
  • Sufferers from any convulsive disorder
  • Sufferers from blood-loss related diseases such as hemophilia or purpora.
  • Asthmatics
  • Stroke victims
  • Anyone with medicine allergies, nephritic syndrome, chronic inflammation disorders.
  • Anyone currently experiencing extreme hunger or sleep deprivation.
  • Anyone currently taking prescription drugs, except for those such at vitamins with no harmful side effects.
  • Pregnant women or breast-feeding mothers.
  • Anybody with a fever, specifically temperature of 37℃ or higher
  • HIV, hepatitis infected persons (free AIDS testing centers link)
  • Anyone who has ingested marijuana or other psychoactives within the last year
  • Any man who has engaged in homosexual behavior
  • Anyone with a history of sex with anonymous partners
  • Anyone who has been treated for hepatitis A within the past 6 months. Also, since it is often transmitted by shellfish, anybody whose family member has been treated for hepatitis A within the past 1 month. Hepatitis B and C stay in your system, so you are permanently banned.
  • Anybody who has ever RECEIVED a blood transfusion. (Due to the possibility of viruses as yet unknown to medical science.
  • Anybody who has gotten a body piercing (ears included) within the past year.
  • Anybody with a piercing on a mucous membrane such as the lip, tongue, nose, no matter when you got it.
  • Anybody who has gotten a tattoo within the past year.
  • Anyone who has been vaccinated using an inactive vaccine within the past 24 hours for diseases such as influenza, Japanese encephalitis, cholera, hepatitis A, pneumonia, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus (may not be a complete list)
  • Anyone who was given anti-HBs human immunoglobulin in combination with a hepatitis B vaccine, anyone who was given an emergency rabies vaccine (that is, after being bitten) within the past 1 year.
  • Anyone given a vaccination for mumps, rubella/German measles, Bacille Calmette-Guerin (tuberculosis vaccine), or other mildly active vaccine (live attenuated) vaccine or any hepatitis B vaccine within the past 4 weeks.
  • Anyone vaccinated against smallpox within the past 2 months.
  • Anyone given an antisterum for tetanus, snake bite or other poison, gas gangrene, botulism etc. within the past 3 months.
  • Anyone who has had dental surgery that caused bleeding within the past 3 days.
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Japanese insolvency terms for dummies

When I started translating Japanese contracts, one of the most confusing aspects was the array of similar legal terms that commonly pop up in the “termination” section. Here are some common ones, along with what they actually mean.

差押 (sashi-osae)
Attachment. This is where a creditor “locks down” certain assets to keep the debtor from selling them or giving them away. Once attachment is completed, the debtor cannot legally transfer their ownership of the assets in question. Attachment usually precedes compulsory execution (below). The term is also used to refer to government seizure of evidence during a criminal investigation.

仮差押 (kari-sashi-osae)
Provisional attachment. This is a form of attachment which takes effect during litigation, where there is a chance that the defendant/debtor will have to eventually pay the plaintiff/creditor. If the defendant wins, the attachment is lifted. Assets can legally be transferred when a provisional attachment is in effect, but the transfer can be rescinded later if the provisional attachment becomes a regular attachment.

強制執行 (kyosei-shikkou)
Compulsory execution. This is a court-ordered process to seize the debtor’s assets and sell them at a public auction (競売 keibai), with proceeds going to pay off the creditor(s) and any surplus going back to the debtor. There are separate procedures for real estate, ships, movable assets and intangible assets.

仮処分 (kari-shobun)
Provisional injunction (or, when translated too literally, provisional disposition). This is a court order of some kind, usually to refrain from doing something like selling an asset or negotiating a transaction; it is given during litigation and requires a showing of necessity by the plaintiff as well as (usually) some sort of collateral to compensate the defendant in case the litigation is dismissed.

破産 (hasan)
Bankruptcy. In Japan, this legal term is only used for liquidation bankruptices, not for reorganization bankruptcies. Bankruptcy can be initiated by either the debtor or their creditor and is supervised by a court, which usually appoints an independent trustee to manage the bankruptcy if there are enough assets to pay the trustee. This is by far the most common legal procedure for adjusting debts, with over 100,000 annual petitions every year for the last ten years.

会社更生 (kaisha kousei)
Corporate reorganization (new type). This is a procedure intended to keep large distressed companies afloat by adjusting the due date (and sometimes the amount) of their financial liabilities. It is supervised by a court but requires the consent of creditors and shareholders in varying proportions depending on how the plan would affect their interests. If nobody can agree, the company goes into bankruptcy (above). Shareholders are generally wiped out, management get fired and replaced by a court-appointed administrator, and new equity investors (often prior creditors) get to choose new management. This is the procedure used by JAL, NOVA, Willcom, Dai-Ichi Hotels, Huis ten Bosch and most other high-profile corporate bankruptcies in the last decade: usage of the procedure peaked at 88 filings in 2002, although statistics are only available through 2008 so there may have been a second peak more recently.

民事再生 (minji saisei)
Civil rehabilitation. This is a smaller-scale version of corporate reorganization. It can be used by individuals, but the most frequent users are small companies, mainly because the procedure allows management to remain in control. The procedure is also conducive to selling a business in order to repay its creditors (Lehman Brothers Japan being a recent prominent example), and can sometimes be more beneficial from a tax perspective.

会社整理 (kaisha seiri)
Corporate reorganization (old type). This is an outdated term for an outdated form of small business corporate reorganization which legally ceased to exist in 2000 (although a few cases lingered in courts for several years after that). It was effectively superseded by the civil rehabilitation procedure.

解散 (kaisan)
Dissolution. This is a voluntary procedure which companies can execute at any time by a resolution of a super-majority of shareholders, whether or not the company is broke. Once shareholders vote to dissolve, the company is liquidated (清算 seisan) by a court-appointed supervisor. Creditors get paid off first (in order of priority), followed by shareholders. If there is not enough money to go around, or if there is some other insurmountable problem with the liquidation procedure, the company sometimes goes into special liquidation (特別清算 tokubetsu seisan), which gives the court more leeway to preserve assets and halt asset seizures.

If you want to read a lot more, there is an online outline of Japanese corporate insolvency law here, courtesy of the massive law firm of Anderson Mori & Tomotsune.

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The crime of “blasphemy”

The Kishin Shinoyama nude-photos-in-Aoyama-Cemetery story which Curzon mentioned earlier this year has finally come to a close, with the photographer ordered to pay “¥300,000 in fines for public indecency and blasphemy.”

Wait a minute… blasphemy? How could that possibly be a crime in such a non-religious country?

Go go gadget Criminal Code!

(礼拝所不敬及び説教等妨害)
第188条 神祠、仏堂、墓所その他の礼拝所に対し、公然と不敬な行為をした者は、6月以下の懲役若しくは禁錮又は10万円以下の罰金に処する。
2 説教、礼拝又は葬式を妨害した者は、1年以下の懲役若しくは禁錮又は10万円以下の罰金に処する。

(Disrespect of Places of Worship and Disturbance of Preaching, Etc.)
Article 188. A person who has committed an open and disrespectful act toward a shrine, temple, graveyard or other place of worship shall be sentenced to imprisonment at labor or confinement for six months or less, or a fine of 100,000 yen or less.
2. A person who has disturbed preaching, worship or a funeral service shall be sentenced to imprisonment at labor or confinement for one year or less, or a fine of 100,000 yen or less.

So there you have it; messing with religion is a crime in Japan. It doesn’t seem to be prosecuted that often, though: the various crimes against religion don’t even merit a line item in the Justice Ministry’s annual prosecution statistics.

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For most young Japanese women, the housewife lifestyle a tempting yet impossible dream

Today’s Asahi evening edition had a great op-ed today by author Tsunehiro Uno (age 32). He argues that with such a wide gap between what most Japanese want out of life and what’s attainable for the majority, it’s high time to start setting more realistic expectations. Here’s a rundown of his points, summarized and embellished upon by yours truly:

  • A recent government white paper found that a large portion of women in their 20s want to be housewives. Not only that, another survey found that around 40% of unmarried women aged 25-35 want a husband who makes at least Y6 million a year. Sadly for them, only 3.5% of unmarried men in that age bracket actually make that much.
  • This desire for a typical middle-class lifestyle — a single-income household with a salaryman husband with lifetime employment and the wife at home raising kids — seems to hark back to the postwar Showa era (1945-1989) when the economy was booming. However, today Japan’s economic stagnation has made the idyllic nuclear family impossible for many families, with more women needing to work to make ends meet.
  • Uno relates this revival of Showa values to the conservatism of his generation, in part a reaction against the Koizumi-era economic reforms. Koizumi, in office from 2001-2006, pushed a neoliberal program of deregulation and privatization as a path to lead Japan out of a prolonged economic malaise. During that era, Uno writes, the Japanese people shared a sense that there was no going back, that the stable post-war society that Japan had grown used to had ceased to function properly.
  • Now, however, attitudes have shifted sharply in favor of trying to revive lifetime employment. Uno doesn’t give examples, but they are everywhere these days – the temp worker tent village in Jan. 2009, postal minister Kamei’s offer of full-time status to all Japan Post part-timers, and so on.
  • People may be critical of the deregulation that spurred the growth of temp workers, but it’s simply not possible to maintain lifetime regular employment for everyone, and many people in today’s society prefer more flexible work arrangements to the more rigid life of a full-time worker.
  • Uno worries that people are planning out their lives with the mistaken assumption that the Showa lifestyle is ideal. The real question, however, should be how to live a decent life even under non-regular employment. However, neither the people in general nor our political leaders seem to have the proper mindset.
  • Where Koizumi went wrong, he argues, is in failing to create a social system for the new era.
  • His proposal for the current DPJ administration – create a new social contract (or in his words 幸福のパッケージ) that can allow a two-income household of non-regular employees to comfortably raise two or more children. How to do this? First, set a bottom line and create safety net policies to help people stay above it. In exchange, create more flexible employment rules that would be more compatible with people’s diverse lifestyles.
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Sayonara, Yokoso Japan

The Japanese government has announced a new international tourism slogan:

Japan. Endless Discovery.

Great, at least this time it’s in English! It’s similar to many other simple catch phrases used by other countries: “Malaysia, truly Asia,” “Seoul’s got Soul,” and so on. The Japanese-language slogan is more of more of a mouthful and literally translates as “Japan, a country where you will encounter endless discovery.” There’s also a new logo with a stylish but classy combo of cherry blossoms and the Japanese Rising Sun.

I like “Endless Discovery” because it has a message that happens to be true. As a foreigner living in Japan most days there’s something new to discover. This message could help put new visitors in the right frame of mind to enjoy themselves. Japan’s not a country like Thailand where you can head straight to the resort and not worry about foreign customs. It’s an adventure in many respects – new food, few English speakers, complicated train system, etc. (and the area outside of Tokyo is even harder to navigate), so why not put a positive face on what Japan’s got to offer?

I’d like to give Maehara and his people some credit for picking a slogan that actually makes sense. It’s comforting to think the people in power might actually understand the outside world a little bit. It’s one big, noticeable difference between the parties.

This will replace the old slogan Yokoso! Japan, announced in 2003 to much confusion by most people who had no idea yokoso means “welcome” in Japanese. Well-known Japan commentator Alex Kerr was especially critical, saying it might as well be “blah blah blah Japan.” It’s been a favorite target of mockery among many in the gaijin community and can currently be seen on taxis, buses, posters, and even transport minister Maehara’s lapel pin. You’ll be missed! The “Visit Japan Campaign 2010” site is still up, so you can soak up some of the goodness before it closes. There’s other questionable language on the site, like “Yokoso Bazar” and “Revalue Nippon.”

Perhaps the best promotion in the campaign was this ad by then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi:

“We will welcome you with a hearty Yokoso and smiiiile.”

I’ll never understand why that didn’t work.

So farewell, Yokoso Japan! You will soon be yet another relic of the past, just like those Tokyo Olympic 2016 ads and the wanted posters for Lindsey Ann Hawker’s killer.

**

Just as a bit of speculation, some of you might remember that the DPJ has relied on  American firms for PR (Fleishman-Hillard in 2005 and possibly today), while the LDP and bureaucracy often relied on domestic firms (Prap Japan in 2005, ad giant Dentsu in 2009). Could that have had made a difference?

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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.

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