This month, the word 忖度 (sontaku) has been popping up in the headlines as the Japanese media comes under scrutiny for its alleged deference to the scandal-hit talent agency Johnny & Associates.
A 記者会見 (kisha kaiken, press conference) held on Sept. 7, in which the agency acknowledged acts of sexual abuse committed by its late founder Johnny Kitagawa, could prove to be a 分岐点 (bunkiten, literally a point of diverging roads or railways, but similar to “watershed moment”) in re-evaluating practices with the issue.
忖度 is a difficult word to translate into English. Both kanji characters mean “estimate” and “assess,” but the gravity of 忖度 differs dramatically depending on the context. Some consider it to simply be the need to 行間を読む (gyōkan o yomu, read between the lines) or, as it’s more commonly expressed in Japanese, 空気を読む (kūki o yomu, to read the air).