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Gifu man, 71, sues NHK for distress over its excess use of foreign words

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A Gifu Prefecture man is suing NHK for mental distress allegedly caused by the broadcaster’s excessive use of foreign words.

Hoji Takahashi, 71, filed the complaint Tuesday with the Nagoya District Court and is seeking ¥1.41 million in damages.

Takahashi, an NHK subscriber, said the broadcaster has recently been loading its TV programs, whether news or entertainment, with loan words, such as “risuku” (risk), “toraburu” (trouble), and “shisutemu” (system). He also noted their use in NHK’s program titles, such as “BS Konsheruju” (“BS Concierge”).

Although many words like these have been adopted into Japanese, Takahashi said in his complaint that the deluge is causing him great emotional stress and accused NHK of irresponsibility by refusing to use native Japanese equivalents.

“With Japanese society increasingly Americanized, Takahashi believes that NHK, as Japan’s national broadcaster, shouldn’t go with the trend, but remain determined to prioritize the use of Japanese, which he thinks would go a long way toward protecting Japanese culture,” Mutsuo Miyata, the plaintiff’s lead attorney, told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Takahashi heads a small organization named Nihongo wo taisetsu ni suru kai, which translates as “group that appreciates the Japanese language.” But Miyata acknowledged that the group’s activities are sporadic and that he is practically the only recognized member.

“I contacted NHK with inquiries into this issue, but there was no response. So I decided to take this to court,” Kyodo News quoted Takahashi as saying. “I want the broadcaster to take into account the presence of elderly viewers like me when it’s creating shows.”

The use of loan words is not peculiar to NHK, but given the broadcaster’s national influence and public nature, Takahashi wanted to “sound a warning” about the media’s rising “belittlement” of Japanese viewers, said another lawyer representing him who did not wish to be named.

Takahashi said NHK must realize it has a diverse and widespread viewership and is thus obliged to keep its programming as “neutral” as possible. Its tendency toward foreign words “clearly signals its lack of consideration for the philosophical diversity of its audience,” the complaint reads.

NHK had yet to study the complaint, a representative said.

  • Peter Ireland

    Good for him! So many people are concerned about preserving biodiversity among plants, animals, and ‘primitive’ human cultures, but not so many when it comes to mainstream people and cultures. It feels like most of the English speaking countries I’m familiar with are swamped with American and Australian movies and TV shows, and by extension, their cultures. I even hear our kids talking with foreign accents now. When I read Kaori Shoji’s article on this site, “How top lowbrow U.S. humor translates in Japan”, I thought “Great, there’s still hope…”

  • Jeffrey

    “English words”? Sounds like katakana to me, which, in this case, is neither English nor Japanese.

    • Innigkeit

      It’s a “Japanized” reading of an ENGLISH word. The root and provenience are English. The distinction you’re trying to make is useless, the point of “Americanization” of Japan stands. I understand the old man.

      • Jeffrey

        I’m quite aware of what katakana is. However, as with most “loan words,” the meaning is often twisted and perfectly adequate Japanese exists. Dropping bastarized, usually English, into conversation or, particularly, in a news broadcast is worse than the use in pop music.

      • Innigkeit

        I see, thanks for the clarification.

      • John Baker

        Why do you call these words “bastardized”. From what viewpoint are they “bastardized”? If they have been adapted from English to now work within the Japanese language, they are obviously going to be different from the English source words. But does this matter?

    • John Baker

      They are clearly Japanese words. They have absorbed and adapted into Japanese to work within the language, well at least the ones referred to in the article. They have been borrowed from English but are now used in Japanese. There are obvious similarities and differences with the English source words but the words are now supposed to work within the rules of the Japanese language rather than within English.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    Well, languages do change – no language is immune to this. The Japanese spoken in the 1700s is very different from what it is now, including its written form . While I personally don’t like all these silly loan words, many of which don’t even correspond all that well to their native equivalents (as Jeffery pointed out) languages are fluid and keep morphing. We all enjoy holding on to the past, and often see it as “having been better” – but his actions go against an inevitable tide, whether good or bad. Certainly, they could use the native equivalents, but then again, how many Japanese of subsequent generations have issues with these words? Have they not now become part of the lingua franca?

    • YagiZaru

      Yeah. I agree with you in philosophy, but I’m guessing many of them haven’t become part of the lingua franca; they often seem to be used mainly because of fashion; looks, status etc, and any real meaning they have is left to vague guesses or lost entirely.

      • Glen Douglas Brügge

        True; I do think a lot of it is adopted for the “cool” factor – it seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the media to adopt, or rather create something new for the “wow” or “kakkoii” factor. For older Japanese it is probably very puzzling, especially in the mainstream. But as we all know, the tide of change just keeps coming.

    • hilldomain

      I agree they all change and Japanese is a mishmass anyways of Chinese and other languages. What is there to preserve? the so called Japanese culture is not really even Japanese. But who cares all cultures borrow from other cultures. I never can understand why Japanese people are so protective and defensive of “culture” when most of what is called Japanese culture is actually Chines or Korean. Even the imperial family has Korean origins and the Yayoi people obviously came out of Korea.

      • Paldo

        From China during the Qin Dynasty when Xu Fu was sent by the emperor to find some longitivity medicine, bring heaps of things including the Chinese language

    • John Baker

      But many of the loanwords DO correspond to their native equivalents, like テーブル and ケース and ハウス. I think these can be very useful to give a head start for Japanese learners of English. I agree with your points about going against the tide. This is called reactionary prescriptivism which is, ultimately, an effort made in vain.

  • Kyoko Sakata

    Oh please let the gaijin also complain about the katakana Japanese use! I absolutely HATE katakana. I love the Japanese language. I wouldn’t sue NHK but I am sure there are thousands who would love to study the proper Japnese words for things. Katakana English is not English! Get the Ministry of Education involved.

    • Eija Niskanen

      I agree! I am an advanced level Japanese speaker, and I find katakana the most difficult to read and write. I am constantly stumbling with my computer or keitai to figure our how long loan words are written and never get them right. I also think that the huge use of katakana words destroys Japanese people’s ability to learn English. They learn something like “kurenshingu” – now what the heck does that mean?

    • Jeffrey

      The last thing you want to do is get the Ministry of Education involved as they have proven since the war that they don’t care about foreign language acquisition in the least. In fact, its policies purposely run counter to better foreign language acquisition. Why is it that no one studies Chinese, Korean or any continental European languages at the secondary school level as was the case up through the Taisho era?

    • John Baker

      But what do you think the “Japanese language” actually is? It is a well-known fact that it consists of native vocabulary (和語), Chinese-origin vocabulary (漢語) and foreign vocabulary (外来語). So when you say you love the Japanese language, what do you mean? Just the native vocabulary and not the Chinese-origin and foreign words? Or the native and Chinese-origin but not foreign.

      When you say ‘proper’ Japanese words for things do you mean Chinese-origin words? Like 空港 which is a loan translation in 漢語 of air port. Is this word ok? But it is Chinese-origin and therefore, technically, foreign.
      What about words like 天ぷら and タバコ which are foreign. Do you hate these? Why?

  • kyushuphil

    Shhh! Don’t tell anybody.

    The truth is that TV broadcasts not only come with English-laden tilt, but — more systematically so — with encrypted instructions to all viewers.

    This is top industry secret — so, shhhh, don’t tell — but all broadcasts technologically also manipulate the brain cells to motivate viewers to movement excitement. This is vital because it is key to the parallel sets of instruction from advertisers to go buy cars — and go drive them — just go out and fill the roadways with more movement.

    The same science that stimulates motion-envy also turns on brain cells to quick flashings of light — all necessary to keep the neon sign industry, the shopping mall hegemons, and their parent, the nuke energy pushers, successfully selling their addictions.

    Consumerism doesn’t happen in Japan because the imported marketers and advertisers know the Japanese better than do the Japanese. It’s science. It’s technology. All wired into the electromagnetic cues emanating from all those happy boxes in almost all homes.

  • Robert_in_Japan

    It doesn’t get any funnier than this! It almost reads as piece for Comedy Central, especially whereby Miyata says that the activities are sporadic (especially after the sake has been poured for about three hours!) and that he is the only recognized member (the others are unrecognizable because of the sake. And let us not forget the stress of hearing katakana. I know, as an American, listening to katakana also makes me stressed. And a diverse audience (of course) does not want to hear katakana–the man has done research on this as katakana is NOT objective. Really–the humor here is GREAT. I guess his pension money is not covering his pachinko bills. Too bad.

  • Hanten

    Kowaii so! The poor man! I feel truly sorry for him but that was after I laughed myself silly. My apologies to the man and the writer if they’re offended. The whole world is globalising along with Japan but surely there are other ways to protect Japanese language and culture?

    • 151E

      Speaking of protecting the Japanese language, I think you meant to say ‘kawai sou’ and not ‘kowaii so’. (⌒.−)=★

      • Hanten

        Thank you. You’re correct.

  • Ron NJ

    The sooner they stop butchering foreign languages and meanings of words, the better! More power to this guy, I say.

    • Jeffrey

      That’s not his point, though, is it? If he were complaining because it’s pathetic, annoying and meaningless, then you’d have a point. My guess is that he doesn’t even think about how horrible katakana is in the broader context of language use in Japan and how it’s actually an impediment (particularly because so much of it is phonetically incorrect) to learning or at least recognizing English.

      • John Baker

        Can I ask what you mean by “phonetically incorrect”? The word has been adapted to fit the phonological rules of Japanese. Therefore the loanwords are ‘correct’ in the context of Japanese phonology. They are not ‘meant’ to be used to learn English so are not ‘phonetically incorrect’. But I contend that the loanwords can actually be a very powerful resource for learning English. There ARE similarities with the English language equivalents (form & meaning) and these should be pointed out, along with the differences, to Japanese learners of English. The fact is, students are bringing a knowledge of these loanwords with them when they study English. Just like English speakers can recognise, partially understand some French words. Check out a book by Frank Daulton on the “Japan’s built-in lexicon of English based loanwords”. A great read.

      • Jeffrey

        Ask a Japanese person to say Hawaii or pizza sometime. Two examples of almost too many to list showing that those names don’t follow Japanese phonetic rules in spite of the fact that both can be rendered perfectly in katakana. Sometimes it works, most of the time it’s just an annoyance.

    • John Baker

      Why? What is the problem? And why use the negative word of butchering when a phrase like ‘creatively adapting’ would be more appropriate. Nothing is getting butchered. The English word still keeps it form and meaning within the English language, and takes on a creatively adapted one in Japanese. They are put to different uses in the different languages.

  • Ben Snyder

    This is the most creative attempt to recoup a lifetime’s worth of NHK subscriber fees that I have ever seen.

  • Paldo

    jp is already the 51st state of the USA! so why worry?

  • Skab Tee

    Takahashi-san. Pick up your リモコン. Press チャネル. Watch 日本テレビ instead.

    • hilldomain

      haha all loan words.=EE=

  • Robert_in_Japan

    I also love how Japan is becoming americanized–whatever that is. Hey, let us NOT forget that Canada is probably to blame on this one too. And what about the Brits over there. They share some blame. So, let’s say we divide up the blame: America 20%, Canada 50% and Britain 30%. (Humor for the day)

  • C321

    Nevermind English words, Japanese is (shock!) full of CHINESE words! Worse still almost all the writing is Chinese!

  • David Foley

    I wonder if native English speakers can sue also for the basterdization of English through katakana. It can be very emotionally distressing to us tax paying foreigners making a living in Japan. Or maybe the Chinese can sue for pirating their characters. They probably have a better historical claim on them than they do on the Senkakus. Lets all sue everyone for trying to communicate! And while we are at it ストップTPP!

  • nobuo takamura

    This argument is quite old and strangely new one for me, especialy for people who are interested in loan words in Japan. Many, many years ago people in Japan were made to adapt themselves to any definitions coined by the bureaucrats mandatorily for any foreign words, most of which have come into quite another word in terms of sound and semantics. I think THIS litigation is a first complaint made by an excellent citizen.

  • Brian Ryskind

    The people arguing in favor of the old man have no idea how trivial and stupid this is. If an American tried to sue NBC because he wanted them to call it “raw fish on top of rice” instead of “sushi”, or because the coverage of Egypt called it a “coup d’état” instead of “sudden deposition of government”, they’d be laughed at as either an idiot or racist. That he thinks getting rid of extremely common loan words makes it appeal to a wider audience is disgusting. It’s a step backwards from globalization.

    • John Baker

      Yes, definitely. The problem is that one person’s viewpoint makes the news and makes it seem like the whole of Japan is against loanwords in that the Japanese language is being damaged in some way, if such a thing is actually possible. The very fact that this became news showed how much of an isolated opinion it is.

  • David E. Spence

    Give it a rest. English is probably the biggest “olio” of a language on earth, with far more “loan words” than Japanese has (Oops, I used one of those pesky loan words, didn’t I?). Native English speakers slaughter the pronunciation of Japanese (which is far easier to speak than English) and most words imported into English from most languages. Anyone want to go out to a “carry-okie” bar? If not, you will have to commit “harry-carry.” Any of you guys live in “Toe-key-oh?” All these “foreign” words in English are driving me crazy. If the Japanese did not use katakana for foreign words, how would they (and you) know for certain they were foreign words (given the limitation in phonetic possibilities)? The latest fad in the US is Spanglish, the meanings of which (and often the pronunciation) require special translators. The Japanese speak, read and write “Japanese.” Newly imported “loan words” are a problem for many people, for a while (not unlike the problem we have in English). Can you imagine how Japanese must feel when assaulted with such the loan words they encounter in the States? Many Japanese do feel there are too many “loan words” used in Japan but, that’s their problem, not ours. You will all go home and, maybe, you will find yourself going out to a “carry-okie” bar with friends (because if you pronounce it correctly, no on in the States will know what you are talking about. As I said, give it a rest. It is certainly not the most pressing of the problems the Japanese are facing.