Three minor rants to conclude what has been a rather stop-start September. (Apologies for the irregular updates, but seriously, who puts a bank holiday on a Thursday? Last Wednesday felt like Friday and Friday felt like Monday. This doesn’t count as part of the three, by the way.)
(1) Guatemara? Who are they?
As Mario Rodriguez celebrated the goal at Nagai the other week that stopped the new-look Samurai Blue in their tracks, his eye might have been caught by the following text on the scoreboard behind the net:
JAPAN 2-1 GUATEMARA
Despite the fact that ‘Guatemala’ was correctly spelled on the colour screen at the opposite end of the ground, this error ultimately went unrectified for about 40 minutes from kick-off until a quiet bit of editing just before half-time. (There’s a slightly blurred image here; a much better close-up taken from my own vantage point seems to have somehow disappeared from my friend’s iPhone before he was able to forward it to me. I’m sure that wouldn’t happen if I had an iPhone. I don’t know. Again, not part of the three.)
Now, it matters not a jot that several Japanese struggle with English; indeed, it is far more embarrassing that so many Brits and Americans fail to see the hypocrisy in insisting overseas visitors speak our local tongue while refusing to pay a similar courtesy on their own holidays abroad. There really ought not be any condemnation of the stereotypically common confusion between ‘l’ and ‘r’ either, since neither of these English phonemes find a natural home within the Japanese language. Instead, there is an alveolar lateral flap whose sound falls roughly in between the two – denoted as [ɺ] in the IPA but usually written as ‘r’ when convenience necessitates the Latin alphabet – and which causes at least as many initial problems to the foreigners that do actually try to speak and pronounce Japanese.
No, the problem here is that the scoreboard operator did not check – or, most likely, even think to check – the correct spelling. In a century where Google and Wikipedia are never more than two clicks away on a laptop or mobile telephone, such negligence is at best unacceptable. At worst, this was both arrogant and deeply disrespectful to the Guatemalan footballers who were, after all, guests of this country.
The case of the Nagai scoreboard was, of course, no isolated incident. From brand names and football merchandise, to greeting cards (or worse) that read ‘Congratulation!’ and worryingly inappropriate slogans on children’s T-shirts, ‘Engrish’ remains rife in virtually all walks of life in Japan. From personal experience, even when a large company does have the common sense to ask a native speaker to take care of things – there are plenty of us about – it is bafflingly frustrating just how often the English prose is still then unilaterally mutilated by a Japanese ‘editor’ prior to publication or presentation.
If we assume that a certain amount of multilingualism is an essential tool for global communications and competitiveness then the premise is really rather simple. A visiting client or VIP will always feel welcome and more at ease when greeted by a host or guide who has learnt his language, and should cheerfully forgive any mistakes or slip-ups in pronunciation. Nonsense in writing like the examples cited above, however, comes across as inexcusably shoddy and gives foreigners – important or otherwise – every excuse to poke fun and take their business elsewhere.
(2) Another derby insult
On the terraces at Gamba Osaka – when we’re not drying ourselves off with grammatically incorrect towels – ‘pigs’ is the obvious casual jibe of choice to be directed at a local rival that chooses to dress itself in pink and be sponsored by a company named Nippon Ham. However, this is apparently no longer acceptable, for fans from the blue half of this city have now been firmly warned ahead of both derby matches in this, Cerezo Osaka’s first season back in the top flight since relegation in 2006, that any such association will be looked upon most unsympathetically and carries the risk of lengthy stadium bans. When one supporter missed the memo and briefly displayed a cartoon pig flag before this month’s meeting at Banpaku, members of the central supporters’ groups were later forced to cut short their celebrations at the Gamba victory to be reprimanded by stewards who had received official complaints from the opposite end.
I have written about this at length before and would advise anyone who doubts my reasoning to refer to the column I wrote in the wake of this year’s previous derby back in March, but since the attitude being taken towards Gamba fans remains utterly ridiculous, I shall briefly recap. The presence of two football clubs in baseball-mad Osaka may not always be ideal, but the resultant derbies provide the ideal opportunity to promote football in this area through identity and positive rivalry if utilized correctly (it was not for nothing that former Japan boss Ivica Osim recently suggested on SkyPerfecTV that Japanese football should actively pursue rivalries with China and South Korea in order to develop beyond its recent achievements). Any actual violence or songs that are genuinely insensitive, racist, or otherwise inciting to trouble must of course be severely condemned, but a certain amount of humorous ‘banter’ is both an inevitable consequence of Japan’s attempts to adopt the culture of the global game and indeed a desirable part of its whole appeal. And besides, who actually gets really, seriously offended when a team of footballers gets compared to barn animals?
Here’s my idea: you keep on calling us ‘monkeys from Suita’, and we’ll keep on calling you ‘pigs’. And I’ll gently tease my Cerezo-supporting friends on Monday when Gamba win, and they’ll tease me back when we lose.
(3) Does anybody else care anyway?
During the normally excellent Yabecchi FC on Sunday night (why Japan generally does highlights programmes so well when its live coverage is usually so poor, I’m uncertain), a wry smile came across my face when the producers denied us a second look at Lucas’s 30-yard winner for Gamba Osaka at Kawasaki Frontale – in what, behind a 5-1 win for leaders Nagoya Grampus at Nihondaira, was easily the second most significant result of the weekend. “I bet we’d have got a replay if that had been Urawa,” I muttered cynically to myself.
Sure enough, no more than ten seconds later, viewers were treated to as many as three different camera angles from which to enjoy Reds midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi’s opener from similar distance in their mid-table clash with Albirex Niigata. Even a well-taken but otherwise quite unspectacular second goal from Sergio Escudero got a second airing too.
Now, I know what I’ve just said about football in Kansai having its troubles, but come on, throw us a frickin’ bone here. It’s a bit depressing when the sports media bias towards Kanto becomes quite this predictable.
* As of next month, this column will no longer be translated into Japanese by me personally but by a native speaker; in the interests of efficiency, timeliness, and – having just re-read rant (1) – total linguistic accuracy.