Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Racism in Japan

A Google search for "ANA CM 批判" (ANA advert criticism) on the 29th: Almost all the hits on the first page are either completely neutral Japanese news articles, or news regarding LiLiCo's comments on the issue: "Do foreigners who come to Japan have so much free time [to make comments like that]?", and "as a foreigner myself, I find it very embarrassing".

Now, there are 2 points about this. Firstly, there are foreigners over here who feel, as I do, that crying out racism over adverts like that of the ANA actually is more of an embarrassment than the ad itself.

Secondly, LiLiCo's sentiment was regurgitated on the 2nd, 3rd and 7th results of a page full of otherwise neutral news.

On reflection, there is racism towards us with lighter hair and bigger noses in Japan*; however, I'm am dubious that the advert plays a significant role in this, and when criticism of the advert leads to news and blog articles that portray such criticism as childish (as I said it would), then I suspect that does more damage to the image of Westerners in Japan.

In my opinion, this is a cache 22. I'm beginning to think the advert should never have been released, and if someone finds the advert offensive, they have a right to speak out; however, the very act of speaking out makes us a target for more confusion.

It could be argued that we should speak out anyway, and this has been a way forward for a lot of civil rights movements. However, I don't feel oppressed here, and all while that is the case, I'm happy to find other ways of changing people's perceptions than complaining.

*that said, I've never been the victim of such racism, nor do I know anyone who was. In fact the closest I've come to Japanese racism is being told that my friend's friend (whom I didn't know) had been victimised, which represents 1 of more than a hundred overseas students at that time. Either I was lucky and surrounded by lucky people, or racism just isn't as big a problem in Okayama, where I did my exchange. In contrast, I've heard racism on my handful of visits to London, but again, perhaps that is more to do with location, the rest of the South that I've been to seems pretty OK.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Aedict3, all grown up

I know I've been going on somewhat about aedict 3 recently, but it has been developing at a considerable rate lately, and after giving it some more thorough use, I thought it worth a little note here.

I'm not sure exactly when it was brought in, but aedict now has a "live search" function. When I read that in the changelog, I wasn't particularly impressed; I figured how much time does it save having to not press a button? However, it is surprising how convenient this little feature is!

Firstly, I found the time savings are actually fairly considerable in most cases (qualitatively speaking). However, what I love most about this feature is that it provides a text glossing functionality akin to the Electronic Dictionary Research and Development group's very own site*.

What is the fuss about text glossing? Well, a lot of well-known apps like "Kingsoft Office" and "Adobe Reader" are terrible at selecting Japanese text. The problem appears to be that they are used to separating words by spaces and punctuation, as we do in English. However, Japanese doesn't use whitespace characters, and so when you hold your finger on a word in either of the above programs (and I'm sure they're not the only ones**), it selects between the two nearest punctuation, which might contain several words.

After selecting Japanese text in such a program, you then have 2 options: Firstly, you can use the fiddly text selection controls to highlight just the word you want to copy into the dictionary. Secondly, you can copy the whole sentence, then edit it once you've pasted into the dictionary.

The advantage in having text glossing is that you can just dump the whole sentence into the dictionary's input box, and you get a translation of all the words in the sentence. No fiddling with text selections, no editing of the sentence; a huge time saver, especially considering the text glossing is included in the live search, so you just paste, sit back and watch the magic.

Ultimately, my praise here is as much a reflection of my frustration with other programs (such as Kingsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat) that do the bare minimum to support Japanese text. Nonetheless, if you do a lot of work with Japanese documents (I do some freelance translation, and read the odd scientific article**** in Japanese), then you will frequently need to work around this problem. Aedict3 has made this process about as painless as I expect things will get, and for those who do a lot of reading of Japanese on their android devices, I highly recommend dishing out for Aedict3.

* For the unaware, the EDRDG is the home of edict and JMdict, which is integral to aedict. I'm not sure about the specifics, but without it, and the work of Jim Breen, we'd probably be a lot poorer in the dictionary department.

** Because how do you write a program to detect word edges in Japanese? It would be very difficult, I think. A work around would be to only select contiguous kanji characters. This would make selecting hiragana words more difficult***; however, because hiragana is phonetic, it is easy to reproduce by typing elsewhere, if needs be.

*** you'd have to drag the selection over the characters you wanted, which people do when they want to select more than one word of English anyway. So not spectacularly more difficult, really.

**** scientific articles are commonly distributed as pdf files.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Racism bad! Naughty Japan!

So, recently ANA pulled an advert because it was deemed racist. Go ahead and watch that link.

Personally I thought it was hilarious, but then I've been absorbing Japanese comedy for a few years now. Sure it picks on a stereotype, but I think Rupert Wingfield Hayes' analysis on this is pretty much on the mark*.

What annoys me more than anything is the reflex RACISM! reaction that lead to the advert getting pulled.

I'm not sure where the apparent outcry originated, but by the gods I hope it wasn't foreigners. Why? Because it does foreigners much more harm to the reputation of Westerners to complain about the advert's racism than this advert itself does.

In case you don't follow my logic here, remember what happened to all the foreigners when Fukushima underwent meltdown? About 500,000 of them smegged off, and as a result, the term "flyjin" was coined. Yes, that's even more derogatory than the advert, and twice as funny, in my opinion.

The point is, every time a kneejerk reaction like this occurs, it will make us foreigners look like complete pansies. As I commented on that article (see the link. Let's see if it passes moderation! **):

The cry for racism at every conceivable opportunity paints us increasingly as childish. Respect is earned by your actions, when one's notable actions consist primarily of such demands for respect, it to an extent undermines the other favourable attributes one might have.

Finally, A non-racism argument for you: If you had to employ someone, would you choose the one that was defensive when you accidentally laughed at a mistake on their CV, or the one who laughed with you?

In other words, if one's default position is to complain about racism in this way then it is closed minded: insofar as having a default position is closed minded. The open-minded stance is to try and understand the person stood opposite you, and work on what we have in common. You can have virtues such as justice, but equally when your sense of justice is causing you pain, is this indicative of injustice, or of a flaw in your sense of justice? Since laws change between countries, we can assume that justice (to some extent) is different between people. I'll leave that as a thought exercise for the reader ***.

Anyway, foreigners say worse things about themselves, and being big-nosed and blonde-haired actually puts you at the nice end of Japanese racism which is actually probably more fun than living in Japan as a Japanese (but I evidently have little experience in that area).

Finally, and more seriously, there are far, far worse aspects of Japanese media**** we could be picking on, like the biassed reporting of the war, or appeasement of far-right stances.

*For those too lazy to click the link (or if it dies), Mr Hayes reminds us that in Japan, blonde hair and a big nose aren't traits that are looked down upon. I would add that I'm not so sure when it comes to nose size... I never heard of a Japanese person getting a nose-job to look more Western.. But blonde hair is something commonly praised over here.

**To be honest, given the awful puntuation, I've half a mind to ask they delete it anyway, haw haw haw

*** all 2 of them, lol, though I think they are both clever enough to work out where I was going with this

****e.g. the insistence on popularising the band AKB48, even though everyone knows it causes bleeding in the ears of humans and other intelligent animals.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Aedict3 Slow and steady wins the race

A while back I posted about the glaring deficiencies between the paid-for Aedict3 and the freely available Aedict 2.

This week, Aedict 3 was updated and with it, so far as I can see, all of the features from aedict 2.

Its reassuring that the author is still working on the project, and I feel that my meagre investment in buying the paid-for version is starting to go the distance. That said, I'd still say that aedict3 has done little more than catch up with its predecessor. There are some nice changes, but these are entirely cosmetic so far as I can see. Nonetheless, it feels like there is momentum in the project, and perhaps aedict3 will soon surpass version 2.

The bottom line at the moment is that I still recommend version 2 if you're starting to seriously read in Japanese.

EDIT: Aedict 3 has finally overtaken it's older sibling, and I think people should now start seriously considering getting hold of it, especially if they read a lot of Japanese on their device see this blog post