The curse of words is unbreakable where your umbrella is supposed to wear a condom

Thursday, October 11 2012 @ 10:27 AM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto


This calligraphy of Kanji reads
Kotodama by Japanese pronunciation
and means the spirit of words.

Haiku Saijiki is the indispensable
handbook for anyone who composes
poems in the 17-syllable format.
When I launched this website in 2004, I already knew that my heretical thoughts were not only incommunicable to my fellow countrymen but also untranslatable to any language comprehensible to the Westerners.

I don't particularly like my mother tongue, which is nothing but a "salad" made of what little oral heritage from the prehistoric, preliterate Man'yo era subsequently mixed with heterogeneous words selectively imported from China, Europe and America. But that wasn't the only reason I started blogging in English.

I also knew that man's views are really language-independent. This made me say, "I might as well break up with the language I have used almost for seven decades regardless of whether I am going to debut in the blogosphere." I thought if I wanted to prevent the Japanese language from hindering my creative thinking, that was the right thing to do.

Then in 2008, my attempt to establish myself as an independent writer in the U.S. was thwarted by the American political "analyst" who is too uncivilized to understand the very basics about civilization: thoughts and words are inseparable twins.

Since my desire to have my own voices heard overseas was aborted this way, I have been treated locally as a mere translator. They seem to think, "He is very old and too demanding to take care of someone else's crap, but his multilingual proficiency is first-rate and still remains reusable." Now it looks as though I am an old hooker who is always available for 20 bucks.

As I told you in my previous post, my local friend, who runs a small company that provides translation services, recently offered me an "E2J" gig he'd got from a Japanese consumer electronics giant. Obviously he thought it would help alleviate the financial difficulty facing me to farm out a smaller part of the job. I said I would be more than willing to accept his offer on the premise that I would be allowed to work on it without any restraint except for a minimum adherence to a small lexicon of special terminologies for a proprietary technology his client might have. He said matter-of-factly that there's no such glossary imposed on us. That's why I accepted his offer at a rate slightly higher than what I would earn from toilet cleaning job at the public lavatory in the nearby Chinatown.

But several days later, my friend came back to me, saying: "By the way, Yu, my client sent me an Excel Sheet named 'Kamisama (God) File' to which we are supposed to strictly adhere." Actually there are some 160 words and phrases designated by Kamisama for 200-plus PowerPoint slides, but none of them are associated with any proprietary technology of the consumer electronics company.

Just to mention a few, Kamisma says we should never fail to translate the word "default" as "
デフォルト" (deforuto) instead of "初期値" (shokichi), or an initial value. The fussy God also says "customer" should always be translated as お客様" (Okyaku-sama). There are some other generally accepted ways to translate the English word into "Japanese" such as "カスタマ" (Kasutama), "顧客" (Kokyaku, or gu ker in Chinese pronunciation), "客先" (Kyakusaki), etc. But the guardian angel of the words at the consumer electronics company demands an impeccable consistency. Believe it or not, we are supposed to work on a presentation material, not the graphical user interface or a system/user documentation of a computer system.

This leaves you wondering why then the in-house lexicologist wouldn't make the translation of the whole text all by himself. Answer: He had to outsource it simply because he had no such ability. From my past experience I can tell for sure the profile of the monomaniacal shaman. In all likelihood he is a very young graduate of a privileged university in Japan or the U.S. The future of the country is on his shoulders.

The Kamisama worshiped in the Japanese company has brought me back the nightmare I experienced in 1999 with the "Trados" translation management system used in the rotten Japanese subsidiary of German software company SAP AG. The Trados database was considered Gott der Herr while in fact it was full of shit that exactly mirrored the inside of the brains of employees of SAP Japan. As had often been the case with the last half of my career, I was supposed to refrain from making a difference to their way of doing business.

In my reply mail to my friend, I said, "I want to take back my acceptance of your order because I don't want to kiss Kamisama's ass. I suggest you reassign my part to a young translator because he has much more physical strength and much better eyesight with which to do ass-kissing much more efficiently than I. Besides, he doesn't care too much about job satisfaction and self-esteem."

My friend got really upset because to him I was yet another good toransureetaa who wasn't supposed to add any value to what he put his hand on. He insisted: "Yes, I understand your point, Yu. But I must ask you to kiss Kamisama's ass because that's what one of my most important clients tells us to." Finally I agreed to prostitute myself on the condition that my initial assignment be more than halved. But when I was about to get started, I remembered something else.

In October last year, Lara, Chen Tien-shi, up and coming ethnologist, asked me to translate, from Japanese to English, a transcript from a symposium on the issue of statelessness which she had organized. Since the Word document was too voluminous to work on all by myself, I farmed out a good part of it to the same friend who is now reciprocating my favor at that time. All the speeches except Lara's were really incoherent from the beginning, but my subcontractor doubly messed them up simply because the "seasoned" translator lacked professionalism. Obviously he was badly in need of a Kamisama, but unfortunately for him, the brilliant ethnologist hadn't imposed any rule on us. As a result I had to play the role of Kamisama myself. For one thing, he invented the official English representations and transliterations of the names of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai organizations and individuals. In the last 48 hours, I had to redo everything from scratch. And yet, I paid him fully because it was my fault to have chosen such a person.

When the trauma of last October came back to me, I said to myself: "Wait a minute. What the hell am I doing here? Wet-nursing these bastards or playing the role of Kamisama for them? I can't take this crap anymore."

This is how I became jobless once again.

Standing on the edge of a precipice, I pondered all anew on the enigmatic language these creepy creatures call their mother tongue. Now let me quickly summarize the basics of Japanese composition for you and myself.

Japanese words are classified into the following three groups:

1. Words imported from China. Although the Japanese don't want to admit it, they came from the continent when their country stayed in China's cultural orbit, and then were phonetically altered to varying degrees.

2. Words imported from the West, especially from America since the colonialist country chose Japan as its suicide partner. Although the Japanese insist they are substituting Japanese transliterations of English words for "Japanese" words, none of these Japanese phonograms (Katakana) sound like English. For one thing. no English-speaking person can understand "
デフォルト", which is to be pronounced "deforuto" without accentuating any syllable, means "default."

3. The least important elements such as particles, conjunctions, prepositions and interjections. These auxiliary words are genuinely Japanese. They are shown in another set of phonograms called Hiragana.

You may think it's an arbitrary thing when and how to combine the first two groups using the third element. But you are wrong. It is the hardest part for Japanese learners to know the rigid rule to be applied there. And this is exactly where the Kamisama of words kicks in.

Example: NHK was founded in 1926 essentially as the mouthpiece of the Imperial Army. Especially in the prewar and wartime days, it played a pivotal role, along with "privately-run" media organizations, in duping the hundred million Japanese into believing it was a holy war they were sacrificing their lives for. To that end it always used the magic of words. Its modus operandi still remains essentially unchanged. If there is a difference from the way it used to put its audience under hypnosis, NHK, like other media organizations, thinks Katakana Eigo, funny English transliterations into Japan's phonograms, are more effective than Chinese ideograms.

The government-run broadcaster retains hordes of self-proclaimed specialists in a wide range of areas of expertise. The other day, someone who claimed to be an expert in gerontology was talking about the common behavioral pattern in the elderly called "self-neglect" which often ends up in solitary death here, either in the form of suicide or auto-mummification. Since he was supposed to talk to an uneducated audience, he kindly referred to the keyword as "
自己放棄" (Jiko-hoki). But he never failed to add what he thought was an English word, Serufu-Negurekuto. Why did he bother to say the same thing twice by going partially "bilingual"? Reason: While admitting his fellow countryman are facing the serious problem with 自己放棄 in the elderly, he was also supposed to stress there's no need to worry. We aren't alone; the Americans also face the same problem with self-neglect. (A Wikipedia entry says it's also known as "Diogenes Syndrome.") More importantly, it has proved solvable in their country. Super credulous viewers would all believe in his oracle simply because he is bilingual. The same gimmick is used in every area of expertise in this country, be it politics, business, computer science or medicine.

If you visit Japan for the first time, you will be surprised to know everything from consumer products to office buildings, to apartment buildings, to restaurants and local coffee shops is named in what they think is English, although they sometimes substitute French, German, Spanish or Italian. The same is true of restaurant menus although you've got to be prepared to see at least a couple of menu items misspelled. When it comes to TV commercials, most Japanese marketers have Gaijin (Westerners) endorse their products which are primarily targeted at local consumers. Food stuff makes TV viewers salivate only when it's endorsed by someone with blue eyes.

The idea that words and letters are inhabited by a sacred spirit is not confined to this weird culture. Yet, no other peoples in the industrialized world are obsessed with their fetish the way the "modern" Japanese are with the 1.3-millennium-old superstition.

Their worship has absolutely nothing to do with due respect for words and letters expected from civilized people. Instead, they find a magical power in "
言霊" (Kotodama), which literally means the spirit of words. Sometimes the spirit can be an evil one, but it always sanitizes, purifies, disinfects, and thus neutralizes problems facing the Japanese. (If you are interested in knowing the method of purification more in detail, I suggest you take a look at my post about Misogi.) Because the centuries-old Chinese influence has been on the wane since the Pacific War, now English words are considered to have greater power to work their magic.

The Japanese are obsessed with cleanliness. I think you know they take off their shoes at the entrance of their home. But did you know your umbrella should wear a condom when you bring it in a building on a rainy day, be it an office, a restaurant or a local outlet of Starbucks?

Until the Japanese can get over their pathological obsession, they will remain under the spell of Kotodama. Now I'll further elaborate on the symptoms of their germophobia using some more examples below.



今年の漢字

Every December a quasi-govermental organization named Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation selects a Chinese ideogram, allegedly by popular vote, that best represents the year as "今年の漢字" (Kotoshi-no kanji). The JKATF, or any other body, doesn't pick the Person of the Year as the TIME magazine does. Reason: In a society where you are mercilessly hammered down if you attempt to stick out, you can be enshrined in the privileged class of celebrities only when you accept the basic rule. The problem with these "Serebu" is that they are influenced too much by others to influence them. That's why the JKATF, instead, solicits people to vote for a Chinese ideogram for the year.

The Kanji chosen for the year 2011 was "
", or Kizuna, that means "bond." In 1995, the inaugural year of 今年の漢字, Japan experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. People thought some evil spirit of words caused the disaster. That's why they chose "" (Shin, or a shake) as the Kanji for the year.

But in the wake of the more devastating quake in the Tohoku area, the government and the media wanted the entire population to believe 3/11 brought people together, although the fact of the matter remained the disaster further accelerated the process of disintegration of the Japanese society.

It is noteworthy that in this "high-context" culture, the single-letter word selected by the JKATF is meant to save the Japanese from making a mental effort to discuss exactly what about it. If there is a language which is more dependent on the social context, it's "meow, meow" or "oooooooo, aaaaaaw, oooooo, aaawwwww" which serves the purpose perfectly within the animal world.

The people believe that the shorter the message, the farther it gets through. The bottom line: The ideal way of communication is complete silence which is more than just golden.

In this context, it's also interesting to know the letter "
", (Wa or He in Chinese pronunciation), which signifies "harmony," has never been chosen despite the fact it's the central idea to this monolithic society. That should mean "" is too sacred a word to be chosen for a particular year.

I'm not interested in what Chinese character will be announced with a lot of fanfare in two months from now. But here's my forecast for 2012. I suspect it can be "
", Misago. Very few Japanese have seen this ideogram because it's not on the list of Kanji designated for common use, but it means the fish hawk, better known as the osprey or Osupuray. Throughout the year, the Japanese kept talking about the pros and cons of deploying V-22 Ospreys in Okinawa. Actually it's yet another red herring invented by the government and media to mislead the people to believe what's really at issue is whether or not the tiltrotor aircraft meet the safety standards, or Sefuty Sutandaado. They have never discussed the real issue: what justifies the prolonged occupation of Okinawa by the worst rogue country in history named America. By virtue of the ritual which they call Dibeeto, meaning debate, over Osupuray and Sefuty Sutandaado, they have reached a muddled consensus that the deployment is a necessary evil. Throughout this process of de-poisoning, the media play their role as priests or shamans.

Another possibility is "
" (Kan or Gan in Chinese pronunciation) which signifies the stem as in IPS cells (Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells). I have nothing against the year's Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine awarded to Shinya Yamanaka, except that it will take an eternity until I can afford to have my aged somatic cells "initialized" by the new technology. For now it just drives me crazy to see the entire population unleash misplaced nationalism in the wake of Yamanaka's feat just like they did during the period the summer games were going on in London.

Their burning desire for international recognition is an unmistakable sign that they are terminally ill. But unfortunately for them, their avid longing will remain insatiable until the end of time. What a people.

Actually the Japanese are not alone. On the other side of the Pacific, the epidemic of the same cretinism is spreading like a wildfire, perhaps too a lesser degree. Presumably it's attributable to the influence of voodooism or the dubious cult the chimp in the White House has brought in from Kenya that a single empty word, or pair of words, such as "change," "America first," "forward," "believe in America," "create jobs (out of thin air)" can work a magic on the people with their brains irreparably damaged. Twitter, Inc. might as well lower the limit on the number of characters from 140 to, say, 17.

俳句歳時記

Haiku and its rule book called "
歳時記" (Saijiki) are another case in point here.

In my early-to-mid teens, I loved to read Matsuo Basho's log of his journey titled
奥の細道 (Oku-no Hosomichi or The Narrow Road to the Interior). When Basho (1644-1694), the de facto initiator of the 17-syllable poems, wrote this book, he inserted 77 impressive pieces in it. But the Haiku great thought some prosaic narrative was needed because otherwise his readers would have difficulty understanding the context in which each of these pieces were composed.

On the contrary most of his epigones have thought any explanatory text is superfluous because their pieces stand on their own. This indicates they take it for granted that everyone shares the same way of associating their highly suggestive words with specific thoughts and feelings. Today there are an estimated 5 to 10 million Japanese who claim to be appreciative of Haiku, some of them even composing their own pieces at times. The Saijiki was compiled so these self-styled Haiku poets can familiarize themselves with this universal rules for associations.

The rulebook says every piece should have one
季語, Kigo or a season word, in it. For instance, a tomato should always represent a summer month with its bright red image. There's no penalty involved there, except your entry can't win in a Haiku competition if you violate the rule by describing a tomato as a green fruit or something that represents a winter crop as is the case with the southern hemisphere. If you don't accept these basic premises, you can't share your thoughts or feelings with others in the 17-syllable format. In short you can't break the sacred rule if you aren't ready to shut yourself out of the society where false harmony always prevails. Today tens of millions of Japanese constantly up to chitchat on the web. They have inherited the intellectual heritage which was pauperized after Basho.

英語教育

Another important fallout of the high-context culture is the disastrous consequence of
英語教育, Eigo Kyoiku or the Japanese way of learning English. As I pointed out eight years ago, their painful efforts to improve English proficiency have never paid off despite their largest exposure to the language in the non-English-speaking countries. TOEFL score-wise and otherwise, the Japanese are permanent cellar dwellers along with the North Koreans. The only conceivable reason behind this trend is because they never understand that English, or any other language for that matter, is nothing but a tool for communication. To English learners in Japan, the language is the goal in itself because they don't have their own thoughts and feelings to share with English-speaking people. or any other group of people.

It will never cross their minds that they should stop acting like suckers with tens of thousands of self-proclaimed English teachers whose qualification hinges solely on their blue eyes.



The bad news to this Toransureetaa is that the curse of words seems really unbreakable. But the good news is I'm about to say goodbye to the evil spirit which actually inhabits these lowly souls.



POSTSCRIPT: I hope these Chinese ideograms aren't garbled on your computer.

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