One of the also-rans in the competition for the best buzzword of 2014 was the little word “shine.” It stirred some discussion this summer when it appeared as a one-word heading in the blog of Prime Minister Abe’s just-established Kagayaku Josei Ō en Kaigi (輝く女性応援会議, Council for Supporting Women to Shine). As various commentators on the Internet speculated, the message might become a little weird when the word is not read according to English pronunciation rules but in Romanized Japanese instead. In this case, it would be a blunt imperative of the verb shinu (死ぬ), which means “to die.”

This is apparently not what Abe intended to express, as Kaori Shoji acknowledged when she commented on this initiative in the Dec. 1 edition of this paper. However, it appeared funny enough to be picked up by various foreign papers, including The Independent, which devoted a whole article to it in their “weird news” section. Even though Japanese bloggers were quick to assure that there was little chance of people in Japan reading “shine” the wrong way, the prime minister’s little gaffe relates to a general problem with regard to the reading (and writing) of Roman alphabet terms in Japan.

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