Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The 21st-century perils of translation, and using English as a decorative language

A unique shopping opportunity in Osaka

An October post on Bellemeade Books discussed the labyrinthine process of translating the Buddha's teachings across multiple languages in the tenth century. A recent post at the Japan Subculture Research Center site offers oddly heartwarming proof that no matter the labor-saving devices offered to contemporary users, attention to detail and, ultimately, meaning, are still primary components to correct translation.

The following advertising example also brings to attention (as if any were needed) the mess any online translating machine may make of language without careful cross-reference. Misunderstanding can be a two-way street: it would be difficult to estimate what many Chinese/Japanese language tattoos on so many American homeboys may actually be broadcasting to the 'hood and beyond.

Here's the post, by the site's curator, Jake Adelstein. Responses demonstrate some cultural curiosities that are worth a browse, too. (One suggests that the Chinese characters for "meat lover" may be an unintended tattoo message on a friend's arm. Or maybe not.) Several respondents mention the phenomenon of using English as a decorative letter-form in Japan and elsewhere, and of absent language meaning. Navigating the path to true international understanding, apparently, is still a bit tricky.

... God knows what the people in this Department Store in Osaka were thinking when they came up with this advertising slogan but Zarina Yamaguchi, a friend of a friend, was thinking “pretty damn funny” when she snapped this picture on January 4th. Zarina explains:

"Well, a childhood friend of mine and I were strolling along the local street in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. Being around the extra-genki Osaka-jins and salesladies screaming ‘Irashaimasse’ from every direction for the ongoing New Year Sales has never made us feel more at home. On our way to catch up over coffee, I walked into this store to check some things. Truth is, I didn’t even notice the posters. When I looked around, each corner had posters that printed ‘fucking sale’. I didn’t know how to react but what caught me by surprise was that none of the people around me seem to understand the profanity. My friend Sarah and I, both of mixed Japanese descent, both bilingual in Japanese and English, were struck with the comical twist. Pretty sure I would have never seen this elsewhere, I had to snap a shot."

The store is located in Shinsaibashi right next to Hearton Hotel Shinsaibashi and Planet 3rd cafe, she adds.

I should note that Zarina’s childhood friend is Sarah Kashani, my friend and one of the most knowledgable scholars on Koreans in Japan. Sarah verified the authenticity of the signage and the sale, although neither side has disclosed whether they actually bought anything at the sale.

2012 is going to be a fuckin’ awesome year in Japan. You can’t help but feel that way. Our thanks to Ms. Yamaguchi-sama for her contribution. We’re f*ckin’ grateful. 超感謝ですよ。

(Photos by Zarina Yamaguchi at the Japan Subculture Research Center site.)

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