Yahoo! Japan's translation service is telling evidence of problems facing Japan with languages, IT and beyond
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
If you try a Yahoo! search on the Yahoo! Japan's website using a search string "murakami ballpark seizure" then you will see the TokyoFreePress's book review dealing with Ryu Murakami's "Hanto wo ideyo," or "Leaving the Peninsula behind" in my tentative translation, at the top of the search results.
On that page you can ask for an automatic Japanese translation of the book review. Ten seconds after you click on the clickable words "translation into Japanese," Yahoo! Japan gives you a parallel translation of the TFP piece.
I'm taking the liberty to quote the first several paragraphs below here on the assumption that Yahoo! Japan won't find it insulting, just like it took the liberty of having the translation software of Cross Language Inc. destroy my sentences, perhaps on the same assumption.
(Note) You may not have a character set on your PC that support these Japanese
characters, but if you have one, that won't make any difference in the
face of the chimp's language.
村上隆の架空のシナリオは、メディアの事実の物語より現実的です Tuesday, May 10 2005 @ 06:44 AM
Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto
(What it takes to be a first-rate writer)
When I was in my teens and early-20s, I was a book worm. And my reading included Japanese literary works. Around the time the award-winning crap by Shintaro Ishihara, "Season of the sun," came out, I realized that it would be a sheer waste of time to read fictions authored by contemporary Japanese writers, even including Kenzaburo Oe, although the Nobel laureate could have been a sole exception. Ever since I haven't read a single novel made in Japan. Hence all I had known about Ryu Murakami was his name, until I somehow came across his most recent book, "Hanto wo ideyo", or "Leaving the Peninsula behind" in my tentative translation.
In my opinion every top-notch writer is gifted with two different qualities, i.e.:
1) Analytical/inductive ability which gives him a good insight into what we really are and where we are now, and
2) Imaginative/intuitive ability which gives him a good foresight of where we are heading.
Where there is a climate in which most professional writers opt to prohibit themselves from facing taboo issues head on, as is the case with this nation, a certain amount of imaginative or intuitive ability, alone, won't produce anything but a predictable, boring and empty figment. This holds true with both fiction writers and nonfiction writers, including journalists. This is why I haven't read a single book authored by a contemporary Japanese, fiction or non-fiction, in the last four decades. And this is why I buy a newspaper or two at the newsstand every morning only in anticipation of the faintest clues to what is really going on.
But now, I have realized, with a pleasant surprise, that even in today's
Japan, there are a few first-rate fiction writers, such as Ryu Murakami, who are
gifted in two ways.
(Freewheel imagination backed by solid grasp of facts)
Since imagination goes hand-in-hand with accurate grasp of factual things, the Murakami's future scenario is always backed by his factual knowledge throughout this book. He could make his fictitious story undeniably realistic and compelling primarily because his imaginative/intuitive ability is at play there. But at the same time, he wouldn't have come up with the masterful scenario, had it not been for his analytical/inductive ability applied to its factual aspects. For one thing he is very specific about figures, such as unemployment rate, suicide rate, divorce rate, homeless rate, crime rate, consumption tax (VAT) rate, savings-to-disposable income rate, etc. Here the former businessman, that I am, even feel as though I share the same crystal-ball with the author.
It's also noteworthy that Murakami's style is lined with his obsession with minute details about these fictitious characters (there are more than 140 of them) as well as things surrounding them. He is particular about details because details are where imaginative ability meets analytical ability. In order to flesh out the whole plot, he must have done a time-consuming and meticulous research work before actually getting started with these 24 exciting and shocking episodes.
(Mirror images of Japan don't tell/foretell anything)
In the U.S., and Europe alike, there have been a great number of self-proclaimed experts in Japanese literature, or any other things Japanese. And most of these Japanologists have inherited the traditional, stereotypical views of Japan from "japonisme" (word coined by Philippe Burty in 1876). We keep saying here that Japan is a very unique culture and we are a very different people from others. And those neo-japonistes are untiringly echoing the same notion. This misguided perception on both sides has not only hindered the real understanding of what we really are, but also been amplified over time with the perception gap further widened. On our part we are even more obsessed today with the idea that we are totally homogeneous among ourselves and heterogeneous to Westerners in part because it now seems to be the key to gaining over a certain understanding and acceptance abroad to cater to the stereotypical views of the Japanese by stressing our uniqueness.
If you have a certain amount of Japanese literacy, this must be self-explanatory, but in case you are not Japanese-literate, I tell you this is as though you gave an English-Japanese dictionary to a chimp. It's really appalling to know this is what we have achieved here after all the effort to develop language translation systems in the last 3 decades.
Since the days I first fell in love with the computer some 40 years ago, I've never gotten hooked on Information Technology, as such, because IT is nothing more than a tool. To me the computer is also something to be likened to a mirror that precisely reflects what its user is, judging from what he is using it for as a tool.
Likewise, a language, mother language or foreign, is a tool with which to communicate thoughts and feelings among each other. As I argued in the September 1 TFP article "English education in Japan," learning a foreign language cannot be a goal in itself. In a nation where the people are not used to forming their own opinions using their own brains, learning how to use the tool of communication is totally useless. That doesn't help a bit. Instead, it only mirrors what these millions of me-too English learners really are.
I've just singled out here how my book review was destroyed by the Yahoo! Japan's translation system. But since one and the same system is always at work on the web-pages for search results, every time you feed the ape with any English sentence, he will just take a bite and chew it up.
You may say I'm just nitpicking over an unimportant thing. But as a one who has had a lot of experience working on computer-aided language translation, I'm sure wherever you let a computer system destroy languages, both source and "target" languages at the same time, the way the Yahoo! Japan's system does, it's not only the computer system, but the entire System that is dysfunctional. Likewise it's not only the languages but also the entire society that has been destroyed.
I think it's much more symptomatic of the root problem underlying the nation's disease than it looks at first glance. That's why I've volunteered to point this out.
Yahoo Japan Corporation is one of the few respectable Internet service companies in Japan. So it's all the more disappointing to see the disastrous quality of its online translation service. Japan's Internet users are equally at fault because they seem to think the quality is more or less acceptable, or it just can't be helped.
I believe the Japanese, 13 centuries ago, or even 50 years ago, to a lesser degree, were much more innovative than we are now, and capable of thinking/feeling/acting on their own.
Or am I just too preoccupied with the idea that under the 1955 System, the political sandmen (coined words by Ian Buruma) in the government and the media have sprinkled too much sand all over the nation?
Many still argue that Japan will reemerge as an economic superpower sooner or later and to that end, its aspiration to become an IT superpower will play a pivotal role. They go on to say that Japan should also be able to communicate with the international community "even" more effectively. But in all likelihood, these are all pipe dreams, unless Japan comes to before long.
Talking about the Murakami's most recent novel, latimes.com, on May 30, carried an analytical report titled "Japan Focuses on One Enemy at a Time" in which the writer has Ryu Murakami endorse his stereotypical view of Japan by citing "Get Out of the Peninsula," his way of translating the title of the novel. But in fact, Murakami's way of thinking is miles apart from the staff writer's.
That the fiction writer chose a North Korean commando unit, rather than Chinese, as the invaders of the southern Japanese island of Kyushu doesn't mean the author thought North Korea is Japan's public enemy No. 1. The novelist didn't even have China in mind as the primary threat to Japan. Rather, he sees our public enemy No. 1 within ourselves, as we are increasingly looking like a horde of zombies at the Yahoo Dome.
This indicates that the staff writer hadn't read this almost untranslatable novel himself, and that many other Japanese, like those quoted alongside of Murakami in the latimes article, still keep on misleading the western media into a stereotypical and false perception of the Japanese. And this is how we are "effectively" communicating with the western people.