Self-proclaimed veteran translator: modern fansubbing a mess

From the “almost two years old but news to me” department:

Via the comments section at Neojaponisme, we have this series of videos decrying modern anime fansubbers as cliquey, Japanese language-worshiping elitists who offer “Japanese lessons” instead of actual translations. Their refusal to create plain, easily digested subtitles and refusal to translate culturally specific Japanese (instead offering copious on-screen liner notes) scares away potential new fans and is generally useless, he argues.

Watch here:

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

On a basic level, he is absolutely right that for a general audience, translations should be very clear and nearly invisible. It’s what I strive for in my job and on this blog, for sure. But from my (admittedly limited) experience with fansubbed anime, it’s clear enough that fansubbers are not in it for the benefit of a general audience. In the era of Wikipedia, BitTorrent, and Youtube where esoteric cultural knowledge is rapidly becoming obsolete, being an elite fansubber is one of the few sure-fire ways left to secure King Geek status. Maybe having an insular subculture makes it harder for good anime titles to break through into the mainstream (as has been fansubbing’s most often-cited benefit), but isn’t that kind of the whole point?

The Google zeitgeist on Japanese marriage

There are some interesting posts floating around the blogs about what Google’s “auto-suggest” feature auto-suggests regarding love and marriage, summarized in this post which indicates that women overwhelmingly want to be loved, while men overwhelmingly want to get kinky.

I just read these today, but the near-future Mrs. Jones was telling me this weekend about a similar phenomenon she had heard of with the Japanese auto-suggest feature, so I decided to try it myself.

Here are the top suggestions for “wife” (妻):

  1. wife hysteria
  2. wife birthday gift ranking
  3. wife birthday gift
  4. wife shochu
  5. what to call wife
  6. wife gift
  7. wife honorifics
  8. wife depressed
  9. wife gift ranking
  10. wife not registered (i.e., the Japanese equivalent of common law marriage)

And here are the top suggestions for “husband” (夫):

  1. hate husband (most hits by a long shot)
  2. average husband allowance
  3. husband violent language
  4. dead husband procedures
  5. what to call husband
  6. husband depressed
  7. husband unemployed
  8. husband allowance
  9. husband space
  10. dead husband pension

Scratch not lest ye be scratched

Awesome site that photoshops those creepy Japanese Christian signs to change the word “God” to “cat.” Pure gold:

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The kingdom of Cat is upon us.

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Cat will judge adultery and fornication.

You see, erasing part of the word “God” (神) in Japanese will give you the word for “cat” (ネコ).

Thanks to Marxy for the link!

Take the LDP stress test, courtesy Ichiro Kamoshita

My current lower house representative in Tokyo’s 13th district is Ichiro Kamoshita, an LDP man who is now seeking his sixth term in office in the August 30 general election. He’s also a licensed psychiatrist who’s written more than 90 self-help books.

Early polls show him facing an uphill battle against DPJ challenger as anger at LDP rule rises, but that doesn’t mean he’ll go down without a fight.

To help promote some of his policy ideas as he seeks re-election, Kamoshita has borrowed a fun idea from the Scientologist playbook: stress tests! Those who visit his website or receive one of his pamphlets can take a test entitled “Working 2.0” (働き方 2.0).

The test asks, “Is your mind stressed out?” (心のストレス、たまってませんか?). To answer, the reader must go through a list of symptoms and check all that apply. Here is the full list:

  • I feel like meetings and discussions are actually meaningless
  • I keep working hard but I remain poor as ever
  • I have at some point felt like throwing it all away
  • I sometimes feel like I want a life where I can spend all day looking at the ocean
  • I sometimes feel like I want to liquidate the past and start over from scratch
  • I can more or less predict what my life will be like in 20 years
  • I have been doing the same exact job ever since joining my company
  • I have recently stopped chatting with family and coworkers
  • I have at times felt suddenly lonely in closed-in spaces such as the subway or elevators
  • I have called someone just to hear their voice, only to hang up after the second or third ring
  • It has become painful to go back and forth between home and work
  • It makes me jealous to see the empty trains heading the opposite way during rush hour.

Results

Here is my paraphrase translation of the results

If you checked 0-3 items: You’re the type who is good at dealing with stress. As someone with the capacity to process pent-up emotions, you realize it’s not worth it to get mad at your idiot boss. You know you can either take action or ignore it.

4-7: You need a mental detox. Just as removing toxins makes your skin look healthier, removing stress will make each day brighter and help you become better at many things. Why don’t you try and talk with friends or those around you about the things that worry you? Talking to someone will help you sort out the things that have been going back and forth in your head when you were thinking about them all by yourself.

8-10: Try and improve your lifestyle. Stress is the worst when you cannot escape it. You might need to switch jobs, take a vacation, or do something to get out of the group of people you are having problems with and break with the status quo. You might benefit from vegging out in the bathroom for 30 minutes or skipping a day of work sometime.

How did you do on the test? You can take it in Japanese here. I think I got around 4, but then the test seems designed to put everyone in that range. Who hasn’t thought about living at the beach?

Kamoshita’s plans for you

After the results, the next page is a list of labor-related policy proposals (note that at this point the reader still doesn’t know this is a political pamphlet, let alone from LDP man Kamoshita). They are:

Telecommuting – With almost 70% of workers in the services sector, it is possible for more and more people to work using technology instead of commuting to an office.

Working closer to home – Under this proposal, people would have two homes – a small room in the city close enough to their office to let them get their by bicycle, and a larger weekend house in the country where they’d rest on holidays and retire in old age. This would eliminate the issue of packed commuter trains.

More flexible working hours – By allowing flextime and diverse employment schemes such as temp work, people would be able to choose their working style while being eligible for the same social programs.

Kamoshita understands

In the final two pages Kamoshita reveals himself, tells of his own experience, and pledges to fight for the hard-working salarypersons of Japan.

You see, until age 44 Kamoshita also had to ride crowded trains to work. He even occasionally had to get off midway due to the stress (thankfully he got elected in 1993 and has probably never ridden a commuter train since).

***

According to the Yomiuri, Kamoshita wrote this pamphlet himself and is immensely proud of it, noting that this original pamphlet might be the first of its kind in Japan.

For a politician, maybe. But unfortunately the Japanese Scientologists have beat him to it!

Is a national lack of English skills Japan’s Berlin Wall?

Critics of English teaching in Japan have put forth many arguments – it’s ineffective, it’s counterproductive, it attracts the wrong crowd, it starts too late, it focuses too much on English at the expense other languages, you name it. But this post from finance blogger Kazuki Fujizawa (likely a pen name) is the first time I have seen someone argue that English education in Japan is being intentionally undermined by the education ministry.

He starts by noting that the recent political developments in Japan (upcoming election) can be kind of hard to understand. This is only natural because as a free society power is not concentrated in one place – it is a complicated interaction of various interests. On the other hand, it is comparatively much easier to understand how dictatorships like North Korea or the former East Germany are governed – North Korea has its massive propaganda machine and terrorizes the population, while East Germany kept its people from escapting to the West by building the Berlin Wall.

With that in mind, he tells the story of what you might call Japan’s Berlin Wall, which I have translated below:

I think the time has come for the education ministry to abolish its policy of undermining Japanese people’s English abilities.

Viewed from the perspective of the rulers, the question of English language education was a sticky problem.

That is because if the people ever became able to speak English fluently, the talented Japanese people and firms might have gone overseas to get away from the world’s highest personal and corporate income tax rates. But to take in Western technology and develop the country, they had no choice but to give the people English language education. The rulers of Japan wanted to keep the people in bondage while simultaneously collecting as much information from abroad as possible.

The Japanese bureaucrats’ answer was to create an English language education system without precedent anywhere else in the world that was perfectly suited to meet these two opposing demands. They made the extremely specialized skill of mechanically replacing English sentences with Japanese the central focus of the compulsory English language curriculum.

Forcing middle schoolers with young minds to repeat these exercises again and again was wildly successful at disabling the people’s English language communication skills. People educated to turn English sentences into Japanese by moving the word order around become completely unable to speak English.

To the rulers, this was a very wonderful thing.

Unable to communicate in English, the Japanese people could thus be prevented from fleeing overseas without resorting to violence.

The amazing part of this English education system is that even though the Japanese people are rendered incapable of communicating in English, they can still understand written English such as English-language scholarly works. This way, the bureaucrats could disable the Japanese people’s English-language communication skills while at the same time giving them access to the vast archives of English-language written materials.

This system was a key component of Japan’s high rate of economic growth following World War II.
Even as English-language information entered Japan from around the world, the Japanese could only read English but not speak it or write it, meaning that there was almost no outflow of information from Japan to the outside world. This one-way flow of information made it possible for post-war Japan to rapidly industrialize.

But as Japan caught up to the advanced Western nations and caught the “developed nation disease,” this policy of disabling people’s English abilities began to crack at the seams.

Without English skills, Japan’s diplomacy is weak.
There is also little transmission of culture to the world.
A whole range of manufacturing products in Japan are incompatible with those sold in global markets due to Japan-specific standards.

Importantly, most Japanese companies can no longer survive in a shrinking Japanese market as the country’s biggest problem is the shrinking and aging population, which is progressing at the fastest rate in the world.

The era when Japan could shut itself off from the world, import information, manufacture products in Japan, and then sell them to the Japanese market has ended. Nowadays, Japanese people and companies must go abroad and sell their own products. That means they must have communication skills in English, the world’s lingua franca.

Looking throughout the world, in small advanced countries where businesses cannot succeed only in their home markets, the people can speak English almost without exception. Middle school students in the Netherlands and Sweden all get nearly perfect marks on the TOEFL test.

In Japan, our own market will shrink more and more, so we must now go abroad to survive.

Don’t you think it is high time for the education ministry to abolish its policy of disabling the Japanese people’s English abilities?

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 6 of 10) – Nobuyuki Nakayama (New Komeito)

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Next up is the second Komeito candidate, Nobuyuki Nakayama. His Komeito backing makes him a sure-fire winner in this election for the reasons I outlined in my previous post. He is also the only Adachi-ku candidate to sport a Cindy Crawford-esque beauty mark.

Unlike his party ally Tomotoshi, however, there is little doubt that Nakayama is a dyed in the wool Soka Gakkai member. His entire education from middle school to his master’s degree was spent in the SG school system (and read below to find out how much he respects SG leader Daisaku Ikeda).

Nakayama is finishing out his first term in the prefectural assembly. Before entering politics he earned the right to promote himself  as a “lifestyle and welfare expert” by spending 18 years in the welfare office of Meguro-ku (meaning his career closely resembles that of JCP candidate Yoshie Oshima).

A look through his blog shows that he tends to be positive and reserved except when he talks about Communists. He has no sympathy for teachers who refuse to sing the national anthem and accuses JCP assemblymen of negotiating in bad faith in budget resolutions.

Something interesting: Nakayama maintains two blogs: one for his official duties, and another “personal blog” ostensibly for his private thoughts and visits to factories and industry associations.

NakayamaOne thing I learned from reading through the personal blog is that Adachi-ku is home to the RSS Group, a maker of “high-quality” oshibori (wet-naps for use at restaurants) that are sold through a “rental” system wherein the company takes care of all cleaning and maintenance. Also, every fall the local wholesale market holds a festival where they sell fruits and vegetables and have a produce-themed roulette game. And there is a ginormous meat wholesale market in Shinagawa.

His favorite quote comes from a slogan issued by Beijing residents on the occasion of the death of former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during the Mao years: “The people love the people’s premier / The people’s premier loves the people.”

Nakayama’s thoughts on Soka Gakkai

Seemingly rare for a Komeito politician, on May 17, 2007 he gave a candid explanation of his personal connection to Soka Gakkai and his party’s relationship with it. In a gushing blog post about SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda, he calls Ikeda a “philsophical giant” (思想的巨人) and describes his thought and achievements as “no less than a feat of greatness in human history” (まさに人類史的な偉業そのもの). The post was inspired by an article in the Seikyo Shimbun (Soka Gakkai’s official daily newspaper) covering yet another honorary title bestowed on Ikeda, this time from the John Dewey Society.

Interestingly, he has a subtle and critical take on the role of his party in Japan’s democracy, which I will paraphrase here:

He is proud to be an assemblyman from the Komeito, the party founded by Dr. Ikeda. The Komeito, though a minority party, has boasted many shining achievements, thanks to the battles fought by senior members who have never forgotten the spirit of the party’s foundation “together with the masses,” and their dedicated supporters.

However, compared to the amazing greatness of founder Dr. Ikeda, the Komeito’s achievements are but a trifle. In addition, many supporters have been gnashing their teeth in anger at the recent political situation. He feels that the Komeito has become an “unprincipled party… that prioritizes controlling the government over the interests of the people.” Specifically, he is disappointed that the party did not hold Ishihara accountable for the mismanagement of Shinginko Tokyo.

One reason Komeito founder Ikeda is so widely recognized by global research institutions and universities is that his thoughts and beliefs are backed up by actions and achievements that these institutions recognize as “miracles.” Most of Ikeda’s followers work in their respective fields with a sense of mission and have produced results that are appreciated by many.

He then pledges to do his best as a local politician to stretch beyond the boundaries of status, philosophy, and belief to bring peace and happiness to as many people as possible and help the less fortunate.

I appreciate his forthrightness, though I personally cannot support his party’s mission to use the tools of government to realize Ikeda’s vision.

Defending the financial system against yakuza infiltration

Citibank is feeling some FSA heat right now because it wasn’t strict enough in monitoring and reporting “suspicious transactions including money laundering.”

Organized crime relations are becoming a bigger and bigger deal in the world of Japanese financial regulation. Late last year, the FSA and the Japanese Bankers’ Association adopted some administrative guidelines concerning how banks should protect against yakuza, sokaiya and other rabblerousers, and many of those guidelines are being phased in this year by institutions across the country.

One measure being implemented is amending account agreements in order to allow banks to pull service from customers with criminal ties. Here is a translation of the JBA’s suggested language (original version here). It is pretty laughable even by legal Japanese standards; I wonder who had a hand in drafting it.

Article [__] (Exclusion of Anti-Social Forces)

(1) I hereby represent that I am currently not, and hereby agree that in the future I shall not become, any of the following.

1. A criminal organization (暴力団)
2. A member of a criminal organization
3. A quasi-constituent of a criminal organization
4. An enterprise related to a criminal organization
5. A sokaiya (総会屋), politically-branded racketeering organization (社会運動等標ぼうゴロ) or organized crime-related “specialist” (特殊知能暴力集団 – a police term for individuals or groups who are not yakuza themselves, but help fund yakuza activities)
6. Any other person pursuant to any of the above

(2) I hereby agree that I shall not engage in any of the following acts, whether personally or through a third party.

1. Violent demands
2. Improper demands in excess of legal responsibilities
3. Acts of violence or menacing statements in relation to a transaction
4. Spreading of rumors, use of falsified statistics or use of obstruction to harm the reputation of your bank, or to obstruct the business of your bank
5. Any other act pursuant to any of the above

(3) In the event it is determined that I correspond to any of the listed items in paragraph 1 above, commit any listed act in the preceding paragraph, or have made a falsified report with regard to the representations and covenants in paragraph 1 above, and it is improper to continue transactions with me, upon the demand of your bank, I will lose the benefit of term with regard to all liabilities I have to your bank, and will promptly perform those liabilities.

(4) In the event that I have received the discounting of notes, that it is determined that I correspond to any of the listed items in paragraph 1 above, commit any listed act in the preceding paragraph, or have made a falsified report with regard to the representations and covenants in paragraph 1 above, and that it is improper to continue transactions with me, upon the demand of your bank, I will owe a liability to repay the face amount of all notes, and will promptly perform it. Until such time as this liability is performed, your bank may exercise all of its rights as the holder of such notes.

(5) Once performance of the liabilities under the preceding two paragraphs has been completed, this agreement will lose validity. (Bizarre phrasing!)

Does Japan need more bankruptcies, or less?

The Economist has come out with a bold argument in favor of a tough “creative destruction” policy for Japan to promote efficiency, productivity growth, and economic recovery by letting more companies fail (emphasis added):

[Japan’s long-standing “convoy” system of keeping underperforming firms alive] does enormous harm. Weak firms need to exit the market, either by going bust or being sold to another firm, or the whole business environment gets stifled. Japan has far too much capacity in many businesses—eight mobile-phone makers, for instance, few of which make much money. This squeezes prices and margins, thus denying better-run firms the surplus capital they need to hire talented people, buy competitors or invest in research and development. It also locks up resources, both human and financial, that could be used more productively by stronger firms. Before the downturn, Japanese companies’ return on equity averaged around 10%, about half the level of American firms.

Tellingly, the shut-down rate of companies in Japan is around half that in America and Britain. And the number of corporate insolvencies is expected to increase in Japan this year by only 15%, despite the depth of its recession, compared with more than 30% in western Europe and 40% in America. Normally a scarcity of corporate bankruptcies is a sign of economic vitality; in Japan, it is a sign of its economic weakness. Of course, keeping struggling firms alive protects jobs. But it also fossilises industry structures and hinders the development of a more flexible labour market and a business environment more supportive of new-company creation—two areas where Japan is also sadly deficient.

As if in direct response, an anonymous Nikkei op-ed says that letting companies fail in Japan can be dangerous by erasing critical knowledge and ruining the macroeconomy. As there is no online version right now, I paraphrase here:

Everyone agrees that raising efficiency in the economy is a good thing. But if some Japanese companies currently in a management crisis are allowed to go bankrupt, there would be no net efficiency gain because there’s a chance they could right themselves. For a company to go bankrupt and out of business not only harms the managers and employees, it can have an even bigger impact on the macro economy. Letting companies fail destroys more than the of the firms’ collective employees, plant and equipment, it also destroys the built-up knowledge of an organized entity that is more than the sum of its parts; specifically, their organizational strengths and customer bases. These elements have been overlooked by traditional microeconomics, but they are critical elements of business. Once destroyed they are not easily restored.

It should be possible to encourage firms to transition their businesses without bankruptcy by pushing them to expand into related fields. This would maintain manager and employee morale while simultaneously boosting the overall economy.Though obvious sectors for these transitions would be green technology, biotech, or nursing/welfare, companies should be left to decide their new businesses on their own. It might take a long time for companies to turn around and succeed like Toray or Asahi Kasei.

Therefore, the government should make it a priority to provide tax incentives and subsidies to these sorts of companies.

As much as I usually trust op-ed writers who are refuse to go on the record, does anyone else smell a conflict of interest here? Something tells me the author (pen-name: 真和) has a specific company on the tip of his tongue but just can’t bring himself to say it.

Surprise! You’re Brazilian

Awesome citizenship story from an Asahi reporter (translated from page 11 of the Asahi Shimbun April 10 morning edition):

[Correspondent’s Notebook] Sao Paolo, Brazil: A Dubious Fine

I paid a fine the other day.

The reason? It was my duty as a Brazilian.

I was born in Brazil due to my father’s job, but after returning to Japan at age 1 I was raised as a Japanese and never doubted otherwise.

All that changed when the decision was made to dispatch me to Sao Paolo. I headed to the Consulate General Brazil of Brazil in Tokyo to apply for a visa, but they refused to issue one, telling me, “You are a Brazilian.” They said I had no standing to get a visa as visas can only be issued to foreigners.

Brazil is a jus solis country, meaning that you automatically receive citizenship if you are born there. Well I never… Slightly confused, I accepted the green Brazilian passport and headed to my post.

In Sao Paolo, I tried to get my ID card and was told I needed to register to vote. On top of that, since I had neglected to register at age 18, they ordered me to pay a fine. Voting is mandatory in Brazil.

Though I retorted, “Until recently I was a Japanese living in Japan,” the official was ready with a comeback: “Just the other day, a native came in here and insisted, ‘I was living in the jungle until now, so I had no idea about registering to vote.’ But rules are rules!”

Not totally satisfied with the explanation, I gave up and paid the fine of 3.5 real (160 yen or USD $1.60).

(Ari Hirayama)

****

Check the Adamukun blog for Adamu’s shared articles and recommended links.

Oricon Survey – professional Japanese want to get more exercise, stop wasting money, quit their jobs

ZAKZAK reports on a recent Oricon online “monitor” survey of professionals aged 20-49. When asked a multiple-answer question on what activities they want to “graduate from” (read: grow out of), they gave the following top responses:

  1. Lack of exercise (37.9%)
  2. Wasteful spending (27.8%)
  3. Being too easy on myself (26.4%)
  4. Between-meal snacks (23.3%)
  5. Negative thinking (20.4%)
  6. Being single (19.9%)
  7. Wasting time (18.8%)
  8. My current workplace (18.3%)
  9. Habit of skipping things/being lazy about doing things (18.3%, tied for 8th)
  10. Staying up too late (16.5%)

The poll is positioned as a list of graduation season resolutions, as March is the time when most schools hold their graduation ceremonies just ahead of the new fiscal/scholastic year in April.

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