I Stand Partially Corrected: Revisiting Google Translate & Related Tidbits

A few months back I posted about a hilariously off Google translation from English to Japanese of a status I’d originally posted to Facebook. After reading this massive article about how neural networks have dramatically improved the service, I got curious and figured I’d plug the exchange back in and see what it gave me now.

The original English:

Adult & three little kids walking down my street:

Kid: What’s that?
Dad(?): It’s a rooster.
Kid: What’s a rooster?
Dad: It goes *does an admirable impression of a rooster crowing*
Kid: Cock-a-doodle-do!
Kid 2: Cock-a-doodle-do!
Youngest Kid: *attempts to crow, ends up shrieking instead*

This made me smile as I sat in my window reading. lol

And now the new Google Translate result:




This is most definitely miles above the engine’s September attempt. Unlike that try, here the first sentence is completely correct, the sentences which used *description of action* are now at least grammatically if not contextually correct, and the very last bit of the last sentence has been corrected from an ultra-literal translation of “made me smile” in which “made” was interpreted in the sense of “create something” rather than “give rise to an action.” There are only two major problems with this translation: tone, and the engine’s inability to recognize misspelled words.

What I described was an informal exchange between a dad (I assume) and his three children. The use of the words “Dad” and “Kid” rather than “Father” and “Son” or “Child” partly indicated that in English. However, the tone of the Japanese translation is inconsistent. It used “Kiddo” for “kid” which feels informal, as does my narration which was translated in plain form. But the speech was translated into polite form, and “Dad” was translated to “Otou-san” (honorific way of saying “Father” when addressing your own father or when talking about another person’s father) when “Papa” would’ve been better for this scenario.

One thing I hadn’t realized when I made my first post about this translation was that I had misspelled the onomatopoeia for a rooster’s crow: “cock-a-doodle-doo” ends with two o’s, not one as I wrote it. Google Translate’s inability to interpret not what I wrote but what I meant to write created much of what made its first translation particularly funny. This time, instead of bringing a “huge cock” into the mix, it translated my misspelled sound effect as “Ojii-chan,” which is a somewhat affectionate-polite way to address your grandfather. How it got “Grandpa” from “cock-a-doodle-do” is beyond me.

I’ve actually come across a few similar cases doing translations from Japanese to English. For example, one customer wrote 通風 (“tsuufuu” meaning “ventilation”) in a list of diseases/conditions hot springs baths help to alleviate. Within that context, I figured this was a typo, and that the intended word was 痛風: also pronounced “tsuufuu,” but meaning “gout.” More amusing was 賛成用化粧品 (“sanseiyou keshouhin” meaning “cosmetics for [use by] agreements”) which appeared to be the product of the client typing in romaji input mode and hitting the “s” instead of the “d,” which would have gotten the correct 男性用化粧品 (“danseiyou keshouhin” meaning “cosmetics for men”).

Given the description of neural nets in the article, however, it’s only a matter of time before we can make Mr. Data even machines can spot things that don’t make sense and correct human errors in typing to produce translations of what was intended rather than what was typed. That said, I think there might be an unfortunate trend that would hasten the death of human translators somewhat unrelated to how good machines get at doing it, and that’s people accepting (paying for) sub-par translations and people not wanting to pay for things at all.

There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey.

Common Law of Business Balance

I remember seeing a post somewhere (probably Tumblr) a few months ago about an otome game with an absolutely dreadful translation, which the OP rightfully pointed out. But then they said they hoped that wouldn’t turn anyone off from the game, because really it had a good story, and I wondered how they could gauge that when the writing was so horrible, and if they realized that companies would have no reason to invest in proper translations if they could make money off fans with crappy ones. I think the post was about the game Ephemeral by Hunex. I can’t find the precise post I’m thinking of but this one has some screencaps, as does this review. It is bad. Anyone who doesn’t think so either has a poor grasp of the English language, or has only ever been exposed to bad writing.

In a similar vein, I couldn’t help but recall all the reviews for Voltage games in the App Store where people were complaining that it wasn’t “fair” to charge for the games, how they loved the characters and everything but that the games would be better if they were free, etc. If so many people in your customer base like what you make but repeatedly tell you it’s not worth paying for, would you feel motivated to improve your product, a move which would cost you money and necessitate raising prices to remain profitable? Probably not.

While the examples I’ve given here are about a relatively niche market, I think it holds true even when taking a wider view. Services like One Hour Translation and Gengo wouldn’t exist if people weren’t okay with getting inferior products. Even if computers never become capable of producing 100% human native speaker-level translations, the skill itself has already been deprofessionalized enough to lower rates for translators working in the lower ends of the industry. Simply being bilingual and a good translator probably won’t get you very far without a STEM or law background.

Well, ultimately, what can I say? We’re probably living in the Eternal Sphere. What humans are doing now with AI is perhaps what someone else did to make us and we just think we’re thinking. Je pense, mais je n’en sais rien.


Pros & Cons of Gengo, OR, Me Trying To Turn A Rant About the Lower End of Freelancing Into Something That Might Prove Useful for Others

I joined crowdsourced translation service Gengo in mid-2014 and at the time was glad for my first opportunity in paid translation, and how easy it was to get started. But once I got higher-paying end clients, I didn’t even bother logging in to the site. I didn’t do any work through Gengo in 2015, and didn’t start using it again until this past July. Several of the things that had seemed problematic to me about the service are still there, so I decided to write this out.


Pro 1: Getting started is super easy

No interviews, no resumes. Just pass their tests, submit a W-9, give them your PayPal address, and you’re good to go.

Pro 2: Payments are timely

Gengo pays out twice a month (although you have to request the payout manually) through PayPal, so you know any money you make is definitely coming to you. I have never had a problem with payments.


Con 1: The pay rate is abysmal

Before I got into translating, I had the privilege of speaking with professionals in the field, and being directed to free online resources such as the Honyaku mailing list. The consensus was that for Japanese to English translation, the absolute lowest rate anyone should be working for was 10 cents (American) per Japanese character (moji) in the original text. Armed with that knowledge, Gengo’s standard rate of less than 2 cents per character (0.018, to be exact) is a pimp slap in the face. The “pro” rate of 0.048 per moji is still less than half of what should be the lowest rate in the industry. At standard level, it’s still possible to achieve semi-decent wages if you can manage translation speeds of at least 1,100 moji per hour, yielding about 20USD an hour, or about 15USD after taxes. However…

Con 2: Speed efficiencies are hard to achieve when jobs cover a massive range of topics

My former main end client (which I’ll get into a bit later) had a rate not much better than Gengo’s at 3 cents per moji. However, after a couple of months, I was able to reach speeds of 1,000 moji per hour on average, yielding 30USD gross, or about 23 net. Sometimes I’d even get close to 2,000 moji per hour, for 60USD gross. Not bad at all! But I was only able to achieve this because I was working within the same framework every time. Every now and then I’d come across a reference that I didn’t get, or some entertainment industry lingo that I had to look up, but overall, I wasn’t reaching for the dictionary much, and I was already familiar with the tone each character/story should have, so I could bust out good translations without even reading through the entire script first as I had been doing in the beginning.

In contrast, on Gengo, while they do seem to be making some effort to better code jobs so that what shows up on translator dashboards aligns with their interests or is at least similar to what they have worked on before (I think I’ve been internally coded as an onsen specialist? Ahaha…), overall, the jobs are all over the place. When there are lots of jobs available, you might luck out and have the luxury of choosing something you’re already familiar with. But when there aren’t many gigs on the dashboard, you might be tempted to take on something that you don’t know about but looks easy enough. I’ve done this a few times, and almost always end up taking so much time that the hourly rate goes below 10USD, which I consider my At Least I Still Have Some Pride bare minimum. Things like Googling place names isn’t hard, but when you’re translating a travel brochure full of them, it is time-consuming.

Also, Gengo doesn’t seem to have enough returning clients (at least, not in the Japanese to English pair) to make the “preferred translator” designation make a big difference. Being a certain client’s preferred translator means that client’s jobs will go to you and their at least one other preferred translator first before being released to the general pool of translators, but if the client is someone that needs something once a month or even less, the chances of you even seeing a job from that client again are low. That I know of, I’ve been designated a preferred translator by three clients, and Gengo set me as a preferred translator for two others. Out of those five, only one posts jobs with any regularity, and even though I’ve mastered the tone this client wants, I still do have to spend a great deal of time Googling place names or people names.

Con 3: You’re expected to provide customer service but aren’t paid for it at all

If 0.018 per moji is what you get paid for the act of translating a character into an English word, what’s the pay for reading a customer’s questions/concerns and responding to them? Nothing. Gengo translators essentially have to provide customer service for free. Granted, not every job will involve talking to the customer at all, but when it happens, it takes up more of your time with no additional pay. What’s worse, it tends to happen most when the customer submitted a very short request (one or two sentences) but didn’t indicate any context at all. It’s hard to know what people are going for sometimes with two sentences and no background, and when you get it wrong and have to go back and forth with the customer, it’s even more annoying because the pay rate was so low to begin with that having to spend even a second more on the job means you, the translator, as a business, are operating at a loss.

The outcome can be the same when customers submit very short translation requests but include 10 pages worth of translation notes which, of course, you don’t get paid to read. Once I picked up a job worth $1.52 to translate a flyer for a neighborhood festival. Or rather, to translate the headings for each feature of the festival. The customer explained what each feature of the festival was in great detail, which helped me come up with the most perfect translation for the heading, but that meant that I had to spend that much more time on it. Financially it was a loss at the point I submitted the job, but I had the further bad luck of the customer being someone who had some familiarity with English and thus felt that they could judge whether what I had written was accurate or not. They were very sweet (I imagine there was a baa-chan or jii-chan on the other end of the internet) but I basically ended up giving them an English lesson over the comments section of Gengo, ultimately spending like four hours on a job worth $1.52. That’s 38 cents per hour. Thirty. Eight. Cents. PER HOUR. That job happened to be chosen for review by a senior translator, and they noted how great my customer service had been, but I felt so, so, used afterward. It would have been much more rewarding to straight up volunteer for that neighborhood association, but to have a company make a profit, no matter how small, while I, who did the work, take a loss? I’m not here to do charity work for for-profit companies!

If you see a job on Gengo where the customer rejected another translator’s work, and they’re being demanding about things like word choice, run. If they know English that much more than the translators, they should’ve translated it themselves. I once took such a job, thinking as long as I avoided the mistakes the first translator had apparently made, it would be okay, but nope. There was the customer, nit picking like “‘Ax’ sounds like a big ax, could you write ‘hand ax’ instead?” and I’m over here like WHY CAN’T YOU DO THAT YOURSELF DO YOU REALIZE YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME TOO. Of course I didn’t say that, I just replied in keigo to the effect of “I’m terribly sorry, I will correct it,” but IRL I was more like:


Similarly, sometimes customers will spam the triple brackets feature to try to reduce their cost as much as possible. (Everything written within triple brackets is not to be translated, thus the customer isn’t charged for anything written within triple brackets.) So for example, let’s say the translation is for the text of the classic tale Momotaro. Let’s say the customer submits it like this:


What I would submit as a translator would thus be:

A long, long time ago, in a certain village, there lived an old man and an old woman.
The [[[おじいさん]]] went to cut some trees on the mountain, while the [[[おばあさん]]] went to do the washing at the river.

Do you see the problem with this? Sure, for the customer, it seems like a smart thing to do; once they see that おばあさん gets translated to “an old woman,” they can just plug that in themselves without having to pay to have the same word translated again. But the thing is, in this case, since I didn’t translate obaa-san to “Grandma,” the customer has to know when to use “the” and when to use “an,” something which is often difficult for non-native English users/speakers. Even if I had used “Grandma” like a name to save the customer that particular (articular?) headache, this practice makes me feel used as a translator, because it’s not like I can ignore everything in triple brackets: I may not have to type it out in English again, but I still have to read it and place it at the appropriate point within the English sentence. I can’t merely leave them in the same physical spot they appeared in within the Japanese sentence like:

[[[おじいさん]]] went to cut some trees on the mountain,  [[[おばあさん]]] while went to do the washing at the river.

Or bunch them all together at the beginning:

[[[おじいさん]]][[[おばあさん]]] went to cut some trees on the mountain, while went to do the washing at the river.

What kind of sense would that make?

Plus, it also ties my hands as a translator. There could be instances where repeating the thing in brackets would actually be unnatural or completely unnecessary in English, but since the Gengo interface prohibits translators from submitting jobs without every single instance of bracketed content intact, I either have to submit an unnatural translation, or bend over backwards to find a way to include that content even though it’s unnecessary.

So while it’s cheap on the customer’s end to do this, it could potentially have a negative impact on the output, and it’s insulting to the translator. People forget that when they pay for services from humans, they’re paying for that person’s skill and their time. When customers abuse triple brackets on Gengo, they take the translator’s time and skill but rob them of payment for both. I actually had this problem with the game scripts I was working on for the end client as well; there were codes throughout which were not included in the character count because technically I wasn’t translating them, but I still had to read them, interpret them, and write accordingly. These things that I wasn’t translating in the sense of “converting from Japanese to English” but was still having to process could add as much as 10,000 more characters to a script, or $300 worth of work. That’s a nice chunk of change to have to give away for free, ain’t it?

Things Which Could Be Seen As Either Pros or Cons Depending on the Person

Gray Area 1: Gengo is kinda sorta deceptive to customers, a bit insulting to translators in its word choice, and adds to the problem of deprofessionalization going on in many industries which ultimately lowers wages for all workers

I’m giving Gengo some leeway on this because even though I personally believe this is a definite CON, some things could be open to interpretation.

Recently a customer asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to so I looked at Gengo’s website from the customer side for the first time since I first heard of Gengo and several things caught my eye.

First, under “How it works,” it says “Our certified translators get to work within minutes…” (Emphasis mine.) I don’t recall having to submit any proof of certification when I applied to Gengo, not even a resume nor proof of my JLPT score. I’m not a certified translator, unless Gengo counts people passing its own test as certification. If that’s the case, isn’t that deceptive to customers? If I see an agency saying they have “certified translators,” I assume that means they have been certified by an external body, not the same agency offering their services.

Then, in the Customer Support article “How is Gengo different from a traditional agency,” it says “For years people have been paying for translation services from expensive experts. This means (most of the time) you get an excellent result but it costs a lot of money. We decided to to [sic] offer customers something a little bit different. Gengo specializes in doing simple, short texts rather than long, complex documents in specialist subjects. So we don’t charge you for that expertise that you don’t need…” (Emphasis mine.)

Yet later I saw this while reading the Gengo blog post “Eight hilarious localization fails in advertising”: “Find out how Gengo can help your business expand into overseas markets with a community of experienced translators worldwide, who are knowledgeable in specific industries.” (Emphasis mine again.)

Doesn’t “experienced translators knowledgeable in specific industries” imply a certain level of expertise? Expertise which Gengo translators supposedly don’t have which is why customers don’t need to pay so much? And isn’t it deceptive to customers to say Gengo translators are “experienced” when experience is not a prerequisite to become a Gengo translator? In the Translator Support article “What qualifications or experience do you need to translate with Gengo?” it says:  “You don’t need translation qualifications or experience to become a Gengo translator; we’re happy to work with anyone who can pass our translation tests and consistently translate to our standards. This makes Gengo a great option for both established translators and beginners with strong language skills.” So Gengo tells translators they don’t need experience, it tells customers the lack of experience is why their service is cheaper, but then it tells customers they have knowledgeable translators.


I suppose in its defense Gengo could argue that references to “experienced translators” refer to translators at the Pro level, but when they make the blanket statement, it sounds like they’re talking about the service as a whole. Realistically, I doubt someone with that much experience and knowledge would be picking up random jobs on Gengo. The higher up you go in the field, the more likely you are to find people so good they actually have to turn down projects. Projects that pay well, I mean. So I doubt they’re working on Gengo unless they’re just really bored and doing it out of morbid curiosity.

Gray Area 2: Payment is through PayPal

Well, now there’s also Payoneer, but I have no idea what that is, and it wasn’t an option when I joined anyway.

For me, getting paid through PayPal wasn’t that great because it severely limited what I could do with the money I made. The only online retailer I use regularly doesn’t take it. I didn’t trust PayPal enough to link it to my bank account either. Eventually I needed cash bad enough that I opened another bank account to use exclusively with PayPal, but for me it’s still a potential security breach which I would rather not have to worry about.

Gray Area 3: You get none of the glory of being associated with the companies that use Gengo

Gengo’s “Case Studies” page is full of brands anyone would love to have on their resumé: YouTube, HuffPo, Coach, Shiseido… But on Gengo, you’re nothing but a number, and you can’t take credit for your work. So while I’ve done translations through Gengo several times for, for example, a certain Japanese design firm I would love to be associated with, I can’t say it. My mouth is NDA’d shut. Furthermore, I have no way to prove that I even did such and such pages on their website, because there aren’t individual per-job contracts on Gengo. Some customers also remove their jobs from Gengo’s database after they’ve been completed, so there’s no easily accessible record, on my end, of my ever having done work for X Company through Gengo. While I was contractually obligated to sign over the rights to the English translations I did for That Certain Mobile Game Company I had been working for, I have the individual contracts (work orders) that prove that I did such and such stories. And while I currently have no intention of looking for work in the game industry again, if I ever needed to prove that I translated some story that had been really popular with fans, I can do so with the work orders. I can’t say the same thing about a lot of the work I’ve done through Gengo.

Gray Area 4: You will see others taking credit for your work

I don’t mind as much when I see the things I’ve translated on websites where no individual is credited for the text, but I’ve done things which ended up being blog posts, and the poster puts my translation on their blog with their name and their photo and doesn’t indicate anywhere that the text is a translation; in short, they’re making it look as if they produced content which they didn’t. Even worse: one time there was a job on Gengo that was a translation of a certain Hikaru Utada song. Was that content even allowed on Gengo? Technically? I’m not sure, but I figured if the person wanted it for personal, private enjoyment, who could object to them paying their own money to have it translated? Especially since there were already at least two translations of the song floating around on the internet. There was one line which I think other fan translators had misinterpreted. So I translated the song, and wrote down the phrase that was particularly unique to my translation so I could Google it later, see if the customer had posted it anywhere or just kept it for themselves. A few days later, sure enough, there was a new translation on the interwebs, and while the person posting it had changed the line I thought others were wrong about to match those perhaps wrong interpretations, there were other tell-tale clauses that led me to believe this person was the client from Gengo. Meh, I can’t really be mad at another fan translator, right? But then I saw the PayPal “Donate” button on their page.


You do not get to pretend like you’re translating this content and then get paid several times over for somebody else’s work! I made what, 5 bucks translating this song on Gengo? But if grateful fans donate to this person, they could potentially make much more than I did doing the actual work! To say nothing of the fact that if there’s one thing that can vindicate fans posting translations of copyrighted materials, it’s not taking money for doing so. Financially, I take a loss translating The Air Moon, because that translation is now the main reason I even pay $110 a year to keep Warped Frost with the space & design upgrades and the custom domain name. So to me, it’s like getting slapped in the face to see other fan translators taking credit for another fan translator’s work and having the gall to ask for donations. Granted, the customer had no way of knowing another fan translator would pick up their order, but still.

Gray Area 5: The main way to be profitable is to not do your best

And I hate this mentality. I hate not doing things as well as they could be done. But if I really sat up here giving every Gengo job the level of serious thought I would prefer to give things, I’d be making three or four dollars an hour, or 38 cents like that one time. And hell if I go down that road! Not for something I can do thanks to four years of college study, four years of living in Japan, and countless hours of independent study. Being able to translate is in itself specialized knowledge even if Gengo doesn’t define it as such to justify its horrible rates. Of course, staying profitable while working fast requires that you already have a very high level of translation ability. I currently have a 9.8 rating from Senior Translator reviews even though I don’t give every job my all. I’m looking at the clock like mad on Gengo. Speaking of which…

Gray Area 6: Decide your schedule yourself

It probably strikes readers as odd that this would be here rather than in the PROS section. After all, being able to set your own schedule is often touted as one of the greatest perks of freelancing. But what’s the major caveat?


As far as Gengo is concerned, this is probably an area that they ARE good for. You’re given a few hours to do most jobs, and should be completing them within at least a fourth of the time that Gengo gives you anyway, otherwise it’s not profitable. There’s a convenient timer on the top of the job page and the bottom of your browser window that helps keep you on task. If you’re not good with time management, or your schedule is super fragmented due to other jobs, school, or family obligations, the availability of short jobs on Gengo is great.

When I was younger and only had to do one thing at a time (that is, only work, or only study), time management was never an issue. I was great at it. And if I did fall behind, I had the physical stamina and psychological desire to pull all-nighters to get back on track. These days, I’m not as young as I used to be, and more importantly, in work settings I hardly ever come across content I genuinely enjoy reading, much less having to translate. These two things in particular are probably what doomed me in the end with my former main translation client, the game company. When I first started working for them, I had also started attending grad school part time. A couple of months in, and they weren’t giving me not even half the volume their job posting had promised. So I took on another job, with an NPO, and my time management woes began. It was all too easy to let the job which was bringing me the most money but with which I had the least connection take a backseat to the job that made me miserable but was here in real time, in the flesh, as well as to classes and family obligations. Things like having to clean the litter box because my cat just dropped a stink bomb would keep interrupting me while trying to work on my main client’s scripts. I resigned from the NPO job (after gaining 40 pounds because of it) and thought I would be able to manage my time better. At first, after a break, I was submitting work on time. But then, the company started getting back to me late, and the way the producer I was working with was responding, it felt like they were doing it on purpose. So there I was, already not satisfied with the job, but also being, apparently, penalized for being on time when this client had been accepting late translations from me for a year and a half already without docking my pay—which they were totally contractually allowed to do so I wouldn’t have fought it—and I just kinda turned into Petty Crocker. The last thing I did for them I did while I was in Japan for the LAST VISUALIVE, and while I could have submitted it on time if I had followed my original plan of holing up in my hotel room in Sapporo and only leaving for the concert, in that moment, I said to myself, “I’m in a new place, a place that took thousands of dollars to get to, why not take a chance and see what happens?”

You know how they say freelancing’s great because you can travel while you do it?

Yeah, about that.

Realistically, would you want to? Would you want to work instead of play if you’re in a new place? If you can, you’re some kind of special. I bow to your self-control! I learned the hard way that I can’t. I went sightseeing in Sapporo. I spoke to a docent about the beautiful cursive handwriting in hundred-year old student notebooks in the Tokeidai Museum, I walked into an esoteric Buddhist temple right when they were about to perform a goma fire ritual, I found the limited-time Kit Kat Chocolatory and was able to get great souvenirs. Then when I got back to the hotel and started working, I got bored with what I was reading again, and thought, “This is a great chance to watch Japanese TV.” So I turned on the television, and watching commercials felt more fulfilling than what I was translating.

That time was apparently the last straw for this client. A few months after not getting requests from them again, I wrote to ask if they were dropping me, which I would totally understand but would like to know for sure. I was given the ambiguous answer that they might have things for me in the future, but not right now. I took that as a “Yes we’re done with you” and started looking for other work in earnest. It’s been a rough couple of months once I depleted my savings and my car decided it was going to need a new catalytic converter right now, but at least I won’t go hungry because you can reload a Starbucks card with PayPal, and I can get money into my PayPal by prostituting myself on Gengo for a bit. Actually, there are probably many working girls who make far more than I do. I’ve read that sugar daddying is a thing now? Like there’s an app for that these days? Unfortunately I’m at the upper end of the Millennial age range, in that ambiguous, sometimes classified as Gen X spot, so I don’t think I can compete with all the pretty young things. orz Ahaha…

On the one hand, if it hadn’t been for this client, I wouldn’t have been able to do half of my Master’s program without student loans, buy a car, “see my mechanic more than my momma” as the song goes, and go to the VISUALIVE. So in that sense, I’m grateful to them. But on the other, “you can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right,” as another song goes. I realized that even though I do get a bit worn down from social interactions, even though I’m pretty introverted, I need to have communication with the people I’m working with. Not just, “Do this, sign that, here’s your check,” which I had thought would be the ideal working environment for me until I was actually in it for a while. Some of the producers were better about communicating than others (I worked with 3 different ones in under two years) but I was still not really connected to the team. And as my horrible NPO job taught me, I will go all out for a job that chews me up and spits me out if I feel like I’m personally responsible to even just one person who will see my face. A trait which I figure will come in quite handy if I manage to get the funds to finish this Master’s and end up an art teacher in a public school. ^o^;

Neener Neener, My Culture’s Older Therefore More Valider Than Yours

I can’t sleep. I think it’s because I didn’t drink enough caffeine today. Whatever the cause of this insomnia, rather than toss and turn, I picked up GACKTIONARY. To be honest I’ve never read the whole thing. When I pick it up, I usually read the headings and let that determine if I’ll read the rest. There’s some good stuff in there, but there are also things I don’t agree with. And usually, I leave it at that. But it really annoys me when GACKT asserts as facts things that he has no qualifications to say. Take this passage from entry #32:


It’s often said that Japanese people’s mannerisms are very passive, and Westerners’ gestures are very big, right? If you ask, “why is it that Westerners use such large gestures?”, the reason is simple. Why do those people living in America use such large gestures? It’s simple. It’s because, in short, compared to our language, English has few expressions which are grammatically specific as masculine speech or feminine speech. They can do nothing but express that through gestures and mannerisms. So, they express femininity through their bodies. Their bodies speak with them. Body language is necessary because their words are lacking. But from the start, we’ve had something that could be sufficient for everything through words alone, which is why we could express things through just the beauty of our words without the need to move our hands.

Perhaps I should’ve started off by saying that this entry is about how he likes for women to speak “properly” or “beautifully,” which to him means “like a woman should.” Ignoring the issues of restrictive gender roles and the fact that no one ever said the sole purpose of gestures was to constantly be slapping people over the head with gender expression (since you can’t see my gestures, let me tell you since apparently it’s crucial that you constantly be reminded of this, but I’M A WOMAN! </sarcasm>), what bothered me about this was the Japanese Exceptionalism (better known as Nihonjinron). Whereas I as a biased Westerner would say that gestures enrich our communication, perhaps GACKT as a biased Japanese sees this feature of English through a lens of deficiency stemming from Nihonjinron: English has X. But Japanese doesn’t have X. There’s no way any language can have something over Japanese, so there must be something wrong with English that requires the use of X.

GACKT has never (as far as I know) lived in a Western country. If he had, he would know that what most Japanese people are taught in schools about gestures is exaggerated; furthermore he would be aware that despite the fact that he can communicate to some extent in English, he is nowhere near fluent, thus he would kindly refrain from educating people about a topic he can’t really instruct them on. How could someone who doesn’t know the difference between calling your S.O. “baby” and calling a mass of people “babies,” or the huge semantic difference between a sentence-final “anyway” and the same word at the beginning of a sentence, think that he knows the nuances of what makes gendered speech in English, or even how much of it exists? GACKT has come a long way in his English expression ability, but realistically it doesn’t take that much to communicate. Babies do it without using words at all. Let’s see newborns get Holier Than Thou about that!

As for the gestures, I think Western gestures aren’t as big as most Japanese people apparently imagine them to be. As a Westerner who had the privilege of judging middle school English recitation contests in Fukuoka, I saw that children were trained to gesture through speeches to the point it went from oratory to mime. Nobody delivers a speech like that! Watch J.K. Rowling’s Harvard speech, which was used for the prefectural high school speech contest in 2011, and you’ll notice that she doesn’t even use her hands; she speaks with her eyes. When comedians do impressions of Obama or Bill Clinton or other modern politicians, they do that thumb pointing thing, and we can immediately recognize it as a politician’s gesture because most people don’t move their hands that way when talking. The mime thing isn’t as bad at the high school level (at least, it wasn’t in my experience), but the tendency for Japanese Teachers of English to tell students that they have to gesture is still there, but they don’t offer concrete examples of how to go about doing that in a way that’s natural for them and appropriate to the setting. Even in more casual social settings, which are likely more what GACKT was thinking of when he wrote this, you don’t have people turning to mime to express themselves, though some people certainly get more animated than others.

As far as traditional binary gender expressions go, I think most Americans are able to tell whether a person is a man or a woman from things like voice pitch, consistency of said pitch, number of words used, and certain vocabulary choices. In the traditional gender binary, I wouldn’t expect a man to walk into a room and greet his male friends with “Hey Guys!♪” in a singsongy voice; he might say it in an excited voice, but there wouldn’t be as much variation in the pitch within those two words as there would be were a woman saying the same thing to the same people. Grammatically, written Japanese can be vague about gender because it’s unnecessary to state the subject of a sentence in many occasions. (Side note: I wouldn’t want to leave out that saying that Japanese “omits” the subject is, potentially, viewing Japanese through a lens of deficiency. Maybe subjects don’t exist in Japanese!) So sure, “atashi” is the feminine “I” while “ore” is the masculine “I” in informal speech, sentence-final “wa” is a marker of feminine speech outside of certain dialects, and women are in general expected to be more polite. So let’s look at English. Sure, “I” is unisex, but in situations where Japanese would make no gender nor marital status distinctions by addressing people as Last Name-san, in English there’s Mr., Mrs., and Ms. Last Name. Women’s greater vocal pitch variation or the fact that they get associated with vocal fry despite the fact that men do it too is sort of like a “wa” at the end of a sentence. And in the Western world as well, women traditionally weren’t “ladylike” if they cussed or otherwise spoke rudely.

Those are just some examples, but if we put more on the scales, I think they’ll still even out. I don’t say “Such language has to do X because it’s deficient.” I say “X is a feature of such language because it is.”

I tend to refrain from saying “Japanese is such and such” and “Japan is this and that” because I know that four years in Japan is a very short time in terms of truly mastering a language and culture at the level a native speaker would. I know more than someone who’s never lived there, but I still tend to present my experiences with that caveat, because I think it’s important to say. Also, the suburbs of Fukuoka City are culturally not the same as Tokyo. Many non-Japanese in the blogosphere and vlogosphere talk about “In Japan” when really they should be saying “In the Tokyo metropolitan area.” Then there’s the issue of being in the global eye. I remember how that video was making the rounds during the World Cup (IIRC) of Japanese fans picking up after themselves in the stadium in Brazil even though they’d lost the game. “Japanese are so clean and respectful!” was the message. And they were in that instance, most definitely. But do all Japanese act like that at home, which is the implied message? I went to several baseball games in Fukuoka, where one of the features is that fans buy long balloons to blow up then release during the 7th inning stretch, and again at the end of the game if the home team wins. The balloons aren’t tied; the point is to have them fly around as they deflate, then they fall down unto the stands. Nobody picks them up. There would be spilled food and drinks on the stadium floor too. It was what you’d expect to see in a stadium. While there I thought, “See, Japanese are regular people too. They’re not these perfect stoic Zen drones, they make and leave messes.” Then that video was going around, and Japanese people who’d I gone to baseball games with were posting it on Facebook like “See how wonderful we Japanese are! ♡” and I was like “…So we’re just gonna act like Yahoo Dome isn’t always a filthy mess at the end of SoftBank Hawks games? Okay cool gotcha.”

Hahh, let’s see if I can sleep now. ^_^;

All Souls’ Dance Party

Back when I lived in one of the raggediest kyoushokuin juutaku (teachers’ housing) in Fukuoka Prefecture, I dreamed of getting a fog machine, speakers, and turning the place into a haunted house. While I never did it, I did decide that a big part of the soundtrack had to be from Castlevania. Especially the Michiru Yamane ones. At the same time, I didn’t want to make a playlist that tried too hard to smack you over the head with Halloweenity, nor include tracks as predictable as “This is Halloween” or “Thriller.” Not that those aren’t great tracks (I love them both), but everyone can see those coming. Thus, “All Souls’ Dance Party” came into the world. I’ve created the playlist on YouTube for your listening pleasure.

Sephiroth carving pumpkins with Masamune

Sephiroth carving pumpkins with Masamune

In case some of the videos are blocked, here’s the tracklist. Enjoy~

  1. Bloody Tears – Akihiro Honda Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
  2. Soul Dracula – Hot Blood
  3. Cave of Jigramunt – Michiru Yamane Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
  4. Every Day is Halloween – Ministry
  5. Howling at the Moon – Phantogram Voices
  6. Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab – Michiru Yamane Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
  7. Dance of Pales – Michiru Yamane Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
  8. Play Dead – Björk Debut
  9. Empezar de 0 – Thalia El Sexto Sentido
  10. Requiem for the Lost Ones – Shirou Sagisu Bleach OST
  11. Wandering Ghosts – Michiru Yamane Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
  12. Control – The Birthday Massacre Pins and Needles
  13. Fall in Love – Phantogram Voices
  14. Lu:na – Gackt MOON
  15. Lullaby – The Cure Disintegration

On Becoming Able to Interact With People Right When People Interact More With Their Phones

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but this made me want to write it down. I don’t have any IKEA furniture so I don’t know if they’re any good, but their commercial sure is hilarious. I love the super serious painter and the tense string music.

I’m not here to lament, necessarily, that people are supposedly losing the ability to communicate face-to-face, that they’re slaves to their screens, or what have you, but rather to share why I feel particularly…ironic? out of place? being toyed with by the Universe? when I find myself in a group of people who are all in their smartphones.

I’ve lived most of my life with relatively little interaction with anyone other than my mother and two brothers, and with us studying/working long hours, sticking to different schedules, moving in and out, etc., sharing a permanent address hasn’t always meant really sharing a life. So basically, I’ve felt alone most of the time.

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—

“The Raven” may have drawn me to Edgar Allen Poe, but “Alone” was the first (and for two decades, the only) work that I could, as they say, “really relate to.” At least up to the part quoted above. He kinda lost me for a bit with the fountain to the red cliff and the mountain but when the demon comes in I think I get it again.

Anyway, as a child, I was never good at starting conversations. I’d talk your ear off once you lent it to me, but I was never the one to ask for it. In 10th grade, at the beginning of the school year, I didn’t know anybody in my lunch hour. Somewhat mortified, I sat down at a table by myself in Old Cass Tech’s huge cafeteria. But I came up with a solution to my problem of being alone: I buried my face in my textbooks as I ate my school lunch, pretending to study. This way, I figured, other kids wouldn’t look at me and think, “She’s eating by herself,” they’d look at me and think, “She’s busy studying.” Some nice juniors eventually invited me over to their table, and I sat with them the rest of the year, but the habit of pretending to be deeply engaged in something while out in public to try to draw attention away from the fact that I was alone persisted through my undergraduate days. Although by then I was also doing it because heaven forbid fat people eat in public, but that’s another story. The main thing I want to point out here is that I frequently made a visible display of disengaging from society because I felt myself unable to make any other choice.

Eventually I grew older and just a tad wiser, less neurotic perhaps, and became able to engage with people a bit more normally. But when a protracted job hunt led to me working from home, I ended up, once again, seriously deprived of meaningful human interaction. When I started grad school two years ago I had a really difficult time speaking because I had hardly been doing it. I started reading the textbooks out loud just to use my voice. My mouth and tongue would hurt after about 10 minutes. That’s how little I was speaking. I lived my life in front of a screen, mostly in silence.

While that was going on, I started reconnecting with a friend in Detroit. She started inviting me to things like Slow Roll and Bikes & Yoga, and introducing me to some of her friends. I was a bit nervous at first considering how rusty I was at purely social (as opposed to work or academic) settings, but her friends were all cool people that were easy to get along with and talk to.

One day, we went on a bike ride through the city. We went to Wendy’s then went to the little park next to/below the MacArthur Bridge to eat outdoors. Once everybody finished eating, the conversation slowly died down as one by one, they took out their smartphones. I sat there. I took out my flip phone and put it on the table mostly to be an ass. Eventually my friend looked up, and we laughed about the fact that I was the only one without a smartphone.

Photo taken with a camera. The kind that can't send text messages.

Photo of my bike on the MacArthur Bridge (AKA Belle Isle Bridge), taken with a camera. The kind that can’t send text messages.

Another time, we were sitting in a coney island waiting for our order to come. Five of us. Again, the conversation slowly died down as people started using their phones. And then, there were two. That’s when the one guy in the group said something like “Ugh, what a time to have my battery die.” The other three were playing games. I said to him, “We could just like…talk.” Another friend heard that, laughed, put her phone away, said something about how people don’t know how to interact in person anymore, and slowly everyone came back to the present time and space.

I didn’t say it, but I was thinking, “You guys are the only friends I have. You guys are the only people I see on a somewhat regular basis, and even that’s just once a week. I want to hang out with you. I have finally learned how to people, but now all the people who knew how to people are always using their phones, they’re doing by choice what I had to do with books because I didn’t know what else to do, what kind of joke is this, Universe?”

To end on a less emo note, last November I had started working with a personal trainer, and I came up with the idea of using Twitter so that I could easily track what I was eating and share it with her. At first having to take a picture of everything I ate was novel, then I started playing with my food (arranging it into smiley faces and such), but after three months or so it just became another horrible chore. I did, however, take a photo of Corn Flakes that was far more dramatic than Corn Flakes has any business being:

Corn Flakes Chiaroscuro

Corn Flakes Chiaroscuro

No, wait, I lied, let’s end on a semi-emo note. XD

An Illustration Of Why You Shouldn’t Use Google Translate Unless You’re Fluent In Both Languages And Just Need a Good Laugh

Perhaps automatic translation has made strides in the past few years, but it still has a long way to go when it comes to working between Japanese and English.

The other day I posted this heartwarming scene to Facebook:

Adult & three little kids walking down my street:

Kid: What’s that?
Dad(?): It’s a rooster.
Kid: What’s a rooster?
Dad: It goes *does an admirable impression of a rooster crowing*
Kid: Cock-a-doodle-do!
Kid 2: Cock-a-doodle-do!
Youngest Kid: *attempts to crow, ends up shrieking instead*

This made me smile as I sat in my window reading. lol

The next day I noticed that some unexpected people had liked the status, people who aren’t native English speakers and probably don’t speak it at a terribly high level (though maybe they do now, I haven’t seen some of them in like 6 years). So I wondered if they had just liked the stat for the sake of interacting with it, if they’d understood it, or if they’d read a machine translation of it and…well, what did that say? So I plugged it into Google, and it gave me this.




This is a horrible translation for several reasons, but if you just re-translate it back into English you might not see some of them, because some words will end up correct in English even though the wrong word was used in Japanese. So let’s human translate Google Translate’s attempt:

Adult & walk my street three small children
[The way that the children were “counted” was grammatically incorrect]

Kid: What is that?

Father(?): That is a rooster.

Kid: What is a rooster?

Father is: that goes **Performs an admirable impression of a rooster’s crow
[Invisible problems here: Japanese does not idiomatically use the verb “go” in this sense; the word used for “impression” means “impression” in the sense of “He made a good impression on me” rather than the intended “impersonation”; Google doesn’t understand the convention of narrating actions in the third person within asterisks—though to be fair perhaps such a convention doesn’t exist at all in Japanese.]

Kid: Cock is–doodle-does!
[Google Translate failed to recognize this as onomatopoeia, taking it as four separate words instead; yet, as with the asterisks before, seemed at a loss over what to do with the hyphens. The katakana word that it chose for “cock” can mean “cook” as in “chef,” “cock” as in “male bird,” or “cock” as in “penis.”]

Kid 2: Huge cock–doodle I do!
[Not gonna lie, this cracked. me. UP. Unlike the first instance of “cock,” which was rendered with a katakana word that at least had the correct meaning within its pool of possible meanings, there’s no doubt as to what  kyokon means, and it ain’t “rooster.” Also, for further inexplicable reasons, it chose  itasu, the humble form of the verb “do” in respectful language.]

Young child: * is, instead of trying to do crow finishes shrieking
[Here it took “crow” as a noun rather than a verb, so it used the Japanese word for the bird. Also, while “finishes shrieking” could potentially sound like the intended “ends up shrieking,” what the Japanese implied was actually that there was already shrieking going on, and that instead of trying to crow, the child stopped that shrieking, ultimately yielding silence.]

I sat reading my window, this made me into a smile. LOL
[The word used for “reading” can mean regular reading as of a novel but usually has some extra nuance, for example, a machine reading data, a person reading someone’s mind, reading between the lines, etc. Also, Google Translate attempted to convey “made me smile” by keeping the two verbs, but the thing is that the construction “made (someone) do (something)” is expressed in Japanese by conjugating the action verb with an ending that reflects the “made~”, so you end up with one only one verb when you translate this construction correctly.]

There you have it, folks, an analysis of some of the things that can go horribly horribly wrong when you use Google Translate and its peers. Sometimes those mistakes end up being pretty entertaining, but a lot of the hilarity would fly over your head if you weren’t bilingual.

After tearing Google Translate apart, I suppose it’s only fair that I should translate this myself. That said, I wouldn’t present the story the same way were I to have Japanese speakers primarily in mind. For one, that narrating actions in third person bit doesn’t really translate (as far as I know). Also, I’m a big proponent of using what you know rather than trying to sound as if all your languages are at the same level. I mean, even if I consider my Japanese to be strong, my English level is still far beyond that. So if I attempt to write something in Japanese at the same level as I can write it in English, I’ll probably fail. That’s why I don’t bother. I just use whatever words come naturally, like so:







Videos in which GACKT…

Sits in a chair:

Secret Garden
Kimi no Tame ni Dekiru Koto
Juuni-gatsu no Love Song
Kimi ni Aitakute
No ni Saku Hana no You ni
PS I Love U

Sits in a chair and dies:


Dies outside of a  chair:

Kimi ga Oikaketa Yume
Returner ~Yami no Shuuen~

Dies outside of a chair but in a sitting position:

Tsuki no Uta
Until the Last Day

Dies la petite mort or pretends to do so:

Black Stone

Does not die but appears very hungry:


Goes down to Georgia:


Is an inspiration to little kids:

The Next Decade

Has red Kool-Aid raining on this blonde chick:


Wears a burlap sack:


Sits in an ear canal:

Arittake no Ai de

Gets you every time:

Love Letter


I could be wrong about some of these as I didn’t actually go through and watch them all again but I had a dadaistic compulsion to make this list.