Rainbow in the sky

We took a trip to California this month to enjoy the cooler summer days the Bay Area has to offer (blankets when you sleep! long sleeves!) and visit Grandma and Grandpa. Got a portable whiteboard as a gift from Sakura’s cousins and put it to good use on the way back over the Pacific.

Sakura: Daddy, how do you write “I saw a rainbow in a jar”?

Me: Well, it’s I, then S-A-W . . .

Sakura: Writing letters furiously.

Me: Did you sing a song like this at preschool? What’s it from?

Sakura (exasperated) It’s not from anything. It’s from my dream, Daddy.

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Cabinet numbers

So the voting is now underway for the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidency, and thus the next prime minister of Japan. Tomorrow all the papers will carry their pieces on “the ninety-fifth prime minister.”*

Which is odd, really. The number 95 doesn’t refer to the number of prime ministers who have headed up Japan’s government, beginning with Itō Hirobumi (whose first term was 1885–88). It’s the number of times a man has been formally selected by the Diet to serve as prime minister. Of course, it’s much easier to write “the ninety-fifth prime minister” than “the person selected to be prime minister in the ninety-fifth such selection by the Diet,” which is why we get this shorthand version in news coverage. This could be described as the ninety-fifth cabinet to form, but that excludes reshuffled cabinets that didn’t involve the Diet tapping the prime minister to serve another term.

I don’t think there’s a very compact way to express this count in English. The English Wikipedia page on Japan’s premiers through history calls this “administration number” as opposed to the number of individuals, but it’s rare to see similar language—and whatever added information would be needed to make it clear to readers—in media coverage of these handovers of power.

In the United States, we talk about Obama being the forty-fourth president, not the fifty-sixth, as he would be if we were counting terms like this Japanese system does. (Things are made sort of confusing by Grover Cleveland, who served two terms with someone else in between; he gets counted as both #22 and #24.) In Japan, though, the standard count is the higher number. Itō was the first prime minister. He was also the fifth, seventh, and tenth, with various other Meiji statesmen taking turns in between his terms.

Nobody needs to push you out of office for you to get a new prime ministership, though. Koizumi Jun’ichirō, the last premier with any staying power, was prime minister #87, #88, and #89. We’re about to get the sixth single-termer in the four years, 11 months that have passed since he left office. Can’t tell the players without a program!

* UPDATE: Who is Noda Yoshihiko.

Love, the moon, and translation

Natsume Soseki once taught his students that the correct Japanese translation for “I love you” is “Tsuki ga tottemo aoi naa” (The moon is so blue tonight); what he meant was that to express within the Japanese cultural framework the same emotion expressed in English by “I love you,” one must choose words like “The moon is so blue tonight.”

(From Satō Kenji, “More Animated than Life: A Critical Overview of Japanese Animated Films,” Japan Echo, December 1997.)

I included that quote in a post here some time ago. The other day, it came back to mind during some searching through the Honyaku Archive, when I spotted:

Anyway, in a book titled 「あなたもSF作家になれる…わけではない」by SF writer 豊田有恒 (Toyota Aritsune) (徳間文庫)there is a passage on page 230 that goes:

夏目漱石が、英語の授業のとき、学生たちに、 I love you. を訳させた話は有名です。学生たちは、「我、汝を愛す」とか、「僕は、そなたを、愛しう思う」とかいう訳を、ひねりだしました。

「おまえら、それでも、日本人か?」漱石は、一喝してから、つけくわえたということです。「日本人は、そんな、いけ図々しいことは口にしない。これは、月がとっても青いなあーと訳すものだ」

なるほど、明治時代の男女が、人目をしのんで、ランデブーをしているときなら、「月がとっても青いなあ」と言えば、 I love you. の意味になったのでしょう。もっとも、現在では、ここまで凝らなくても、直訳でも通じるはずです。ただし、文化的な発想の違いにぶるかって、面くらうことは、まだまだ、たくさんあります。

Very belated thanks to Kevin Kirton for tracking this down in 2001. In another post in that same thread, Emily Shibata-Sato offers:

A similar example is by 二葉亭四迷 (Futabatei Shimei) who, in his translation of ツルゲーネフ, used 死んでもいいわ for “I love you.”

All interesting stuff. Persuasive arguments against computers managing to translate literature effectively anytime soon, too. (Once again, if you’d like to read that Japan Echo article, let me know and I will see if I can get a scan of it into a PDF for you.)

AKB48: The media response

There’s an interesting piece in the Japanese Wall Street Journal looking at the recent “election” to determine the most popular member of platoon-sized girl group AKB48. Kanai Keiko, a former Reuters reporter, translator, and editor who now teaches at Kinki University, titles her June 28 piece “Media coverage of the AKB48 ‘general election’ heats up, but almost no deeper analysis of the uproar.” Here’s a loose, abridged translation of it.


The media frenzy is finally dying down following the “election” to determine the top-ranking member of popular girl group AKB48. I’ve been struck by the fact that there has been plenty of media coverage of superficial aspects—who got how many votes, which members climbed to the top of the rankings—but almost no reporting has taken an analytical, objective look at what underlies this tumultuous affair.

The election wasn’t covered just by TV shows and sports dailies. Even the general-audience newspapers, which don’t usually give much column space to entertainment news, reported on it—a sign that Japan’s media companies judged this to be a major social matter with an impact on a broad population.

This reporting showed that the band has fans in many age groups and that the competition for the top spots in the election was fierce. The reports that stood out most, though, were those on fans who bought dozens, or even hundreds, of CDs—each of which counted as one “vote” in the election.

The more I watched, the more I came to see this as an election among bought candidates—the opposite of a contest where candidates press bribes into voters’ hands to secure their support. These fans are like female customers at host clubs, ordering bottles of Dom Perignon to try to boost their favorite host to the establishment’s top slot. These aren’t actions that people generally pursue in public view.

But this election was nothing more than a sideline entertainment industry story, right? No. The media took this up as a genuine social phenomenon; that makes it an issue to be addressed on a more universal level. Given that, you’d expect at least one media outlet to explore this event’s structural weirdness. It wouldn’t take more than a hundredth of the effort of uncovering the connections between politics and money.

It turns out there were a few entertainment industry figures speaking out about deeper aspects of this election. The June 30 Shūkan Shinchō reports that Okamura Takashi, of the popular comedy duo Ninety Nine, said during a regular radio appearance: “This is a reverse host-club situation. ‘Here, I want to make you number one in the club,’ is what the fans are saying.” Another comedian, Ijūin Hikaru, also noted on his radio show: “TV commentators have have sharp tongues when it comes to just about everything going on these days, but how are we supposed to take them seriously when they don’t have a single word to say about [AKB48 svengali] Akimoto Yasushi’s exploitation of the fans?” I find these comedians worth listening to.

Yes, it’s just entertainment. Just a meaningless pop star tale. Just sit back and watch without thinking too deeply. Don’t fret about how the media is reporting the AKB48 story. I’m sure plenty of people feel this way. But the moment the media begin to pass on the day’s events in an uncritical stream—no matter how insignificant they are—is the moment the media begin failing to fulfill their proper role. Once they start down that path, there’s a real danger that that they’ll become unable to do anything but pass a shallow information stream straight on to the audience when more serious events take place, impacting our daily activities, our work, and even our very lives.

It’s ice cream time

I have to admit, I liked Stoyn.com a whole lot better when I thought there were actually booze-flavored popsicles shaped like Marxist revolutionaries and Disney characters and the like. Still a fun site put together by an “ambient advertising agency.”

Mario popsicle