Friday, November 30, 2012

What’s in a Word?

Maybe everything, according to noted Japan analyst Michael Cucek. He examines the language of the Liberal Democratic Party's electoral Manifesto on the Senkaku (Daiyu Islands) and finds it more strident than it seems. The translation of one word can mean the difference between benign administration and uncompromising defense.

Cucek reviews a much-quoted translation of the relevant passage or “Promise #132” in the Manifesto by Yuka Hayashi and Alexander Martin of the Wall Street Journal on November 21:

We will consider installing a permanent presence of government employees to protect the islands, and implementing improvements and support of the nearby fishery environment," the party said. "We will endeavor to achieve the stable maintenance and management of the islands and the surrounding waters."

[132 尖閣諸島の実効支配強化と安定的な維持管理

Cucek’s translation is as follows:

132: In order to strengthen effective control over the Senkaku Islands, and maintain stable management of them .
We will revise the policies regarding the Senkaku Islands, which, while being our national territory, have been subject to a policy of non-habitation. We shall strengthen our effective control. We will study the permanent and uninterrupted presence of civil servants in order to protect the islands -- and upgrades and financial support of the local fisheries environment. We will strive to maintain stable management of the islands and the surrounding waters.
 At first you do not see much difference. However, Cucek chooses the term civil servants rather than the more generic government employees. He selects this translation because the term the LDP Manifesto uses is komuin. Thus, the LDP leaders have noted slyly that Japanese Self Defense Forces may be stationed on the disputed islands. This is because members of the Self Defense Forces are civil servants. They are, in fact, "special employment national civil servants" (tokubetsushoku kokka komuin--Link - J).

Whether this "promise" to station civil servants (komuin) on the islands will be executed when Abe comes to power is another question. The Manifesto merely promises to re-examine the current policy of leaving the islands uninhabited and to study the possibility of permanent occupation. Since the promise is merely to take a look at changes in current policies, not to effect actual change, the LDP and Abe cannot be held accountable for inaction post-election.

It is this sort of Sophism that enrages Japan’s neighbors, confuses voters, and embarrasses its allies. Too clever by half, as they say in English. Which translates as nothing but trouble.

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