Osaka’s Olympic slogan in English won’t be winning any gold medals

Language finds itself in critical condition after hacks take stab at it

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — The English-language slogan that the city of Osaka will use to promote its 2008 Olympic bid is silly, meaningless and unnatural.

That’s the opinion expressed by some foreign residents and visitors when they heard the official phrase — “Warm Hearts Together (Cocolo Olympic Games).”

The slogan is an approved translation of the Japanese phrase that was chosen from public entries to a one-month contest at the end of November. It will be used to promote Osaka’s bid both at home and abroad.

But the English-language translation has drawn criticism from native speakers.

“What? What does ‘cocolo’ mean?” asked Steven Murphy, a 33-year-old American from San Francisco who was visiting Osaka in early December, when he heard the slogan.

“Good grief! Who was the idiot who decided on such a silly slogan that’s not even natural English?” asked Karen Browner, a Canadian teacher who has lived in the Osaka area for six months.

The answer is the Osaka Olympic Catch Phrase Committee, a group of 10 Japanese and one native English-language speaker — American David Willis.

According to Kazuhiro Mimura, an Osaka 2008 Olympic Bid spokesman, the committee members selected the winning phrase from nearly 6,400 entries nationwide at a meeting in late November.

The phrase was “kokoro o tsunagu itsutsu no rin,” which can be roughly translated as “the five rings that bind hearts.” The committee explained that it was their desire to have a slogan that represented the warmth and friendliness of Osakans, characteristics that will be conveyed to the world at an Osaka Olympics.

” ‘Warm Hearts Together (Cocolo Olympic Games)’ will be used on publicity brochures that will be given out to International Olympic Committee officials (this week),” Mimura said. “It will remain in use until the IOC decides the 2008 host city in July 2001.”

Although Mimura said the committee was in agreement with the winning phrase and its English translation, Willis expressed surprise.

“I don’t remember agreeing to ‘Cocolo Olympic Games’ when I reviewed the entries, and I wouldn’t have let that slide by,” he said.

Willis added that he only met with the committee once, for about 21/2 hours on Nov. 21.

“We probably looked at somewhere between 300 and 400 slogans that were chosen as finalists,” Willis said. “I remember there was a lot of debate about not just translating (literally) the winning Japanese phrase. Someone may have come in after the meeting and slipped in ‘Cocolo Olympic Games.’ ”

He added that the winning slogans were in line with the city’s efforts to promote Osaka as friendly and warm-hearted.

Local English-language copywriters suggested the reason for the strange slogan was the “Boss’s English” syndrome.

“The syndrome can often be seen in a competitive, bureaucratic environment,” said one American copywriter, speaking anonymously, who works for a major Osaka-based translation company.

“Unnatural English gets chosen by a non-native speaker in a position of authority. But when a native English speaker points out the English is strange, the boss and his staff become irritated. Pride and stubbornness take over, and the strange English remains so the boss and staff can save face.”

For the past several months, Osaka officials, especially Mayor Takafumi Isomura, have emphasized the need for an appropriate slogan in English and French, one that would neatly sum up the motivation and philosophy of the Osaka bid.

Slogans previously suggested include “Olympics on Water,” to highlight the use of an artificial island in Osaka Bay as the site of the main stadium.

But that failed to capture the public’s imagination and, despite a campaign for the 2008 Olympics that is more than six years old, an appropriate slogan has yet to be found.