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    僕はウナギだ。

    Eels are a summer delicacy in Japan that’s especially been in the news because one of the recent food-fraud scandals has involved the labeling of imported eels from China as domestic. The latest eel-related crime (no cracks about “giving the authorities the slip,” please) is somewhat more straightforward theft:

    Thieves are believed to have stolen 160 live eels from an outdoor water tank behind an eel restaurant in Kani, Gifu Prefecture, late Saturday or early Sunday, according to police.

    The eels had been delivered from Isshikicho, Aichi Prefecture. They reportedly had a value after preparation and cooking of about 300,000 yen.

    *******

    Well, this is interesting. How could I not have noticed? When you click through to the English edition of the Mainichi, the first page you get starts like this:

    The Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd. continued to post extremely inappropriate articles in the WaiWai column of the Mainichi Daily News (MDN), its English Web site. We have reported the results of an in-house investigation into the case on Pages 22 and 23 of the July 20 morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun.

    We continued to post articles that contained incorrect information about Japan and indecent sexual content. These articles, many of which were not checked, should not have been dispatched to Japan or the world. We apologize deeply for causing many people trouble and for betraying the public’s trust in the Mainichi Shimbun.

    The WaiWai column, for those who haven’t had the (guilty–and, really, not always pleasurable) pleasure, culled pieces from some of Japan’s (ahem) livelier popular rags and translated them into English.

    Like many other companies in Japan, Mainichi Newspapers apparently had few senior managers or editors who paid attention to what was going on in the English department, and it took a Japanese reader who actually knows English to write in complaining that WaiWai was making the Japanese look like wackos. The direct supervisor of the column editor had apparently warned him to ease up on the blue content but then failed to check whether he was actually doing so:

    Among the stories carried in the column was one titled “The Cook, the Beast, the Vice and its Lover” describing abnormal sexual preferences (September 2007) and another headlined “Ancient rice festival has reputation smeared by ‘therapeutic’ facial cream claims” linking a traditional festival to sexual practices (December 2005). The column also reported on Japanese tourists participating in tours involving illegal activity in some countries, including Ecuador and Belarus (July 2003). These stories were translated without confirming any of these claims.

    Other stories inappropriately took up issues of underage sex; did not explain how figures cited in the Japanese original were calculated, inviting misunderstanding; and portrayed the comments of several women in a magazine article as indicating a general trend. [If that last were a criterion, the entire New York Times Style section would have to be junked.–SRK]

    The lead paragraph of a story about a manga introducing the Defense Ministry’s policies, which features a young girl character, adds a description of the ministry not found in the original article, claiming it is “the successor of the government ministry that gave the world Pearl Harbor and the Rape of Nanking.” The explanation given by the column editor for this addition was that it served to accentuate the gap between the ministry and the manga character.

    It should be noted that the material on the Mainichi Daily News homepage leaned heavily toward reports of crimes and bizarre behavior, often with half-jokey headlines. That doesn’t excuse publishing misinformation, if that is indeed what happened. I’m only pointing out that the WaiWai column didn’t stick out the way it would have at, say, the English Asahi. Plenty of WaiWai stories were pretty plainly kernels of truth whirled into an entertaining froth with plenty of National Enquirer-ish flavoring of dubitable accuracy. Critical readers who already knew something about Japan were, I think, generally able to figure out which parts were likely to be dodgy. That doesn’t excuse staff writers for translating stories with little regard for accuracy; it also doesn’t excuse the editors who didn’t institute more systematic fact-checking even after they knew something was screwy. But I think it does make it unlikely that WaiWai stories convinced huge numbers of foreign readers that the majority of Japanese men were choosing blow-up dolls over live brides.

    3 Responses to “僕はウナギだ。”

    1. Maria says:

      Are you insinuating that the therapeutic facial cream I ordered is NOT going to be orgasmic??

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      That probably depends on how briskly you rub it in.

    3. Maria says:

      How consummate! 😉

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