In Defense of David-kun Part I of II

There’s a video that has been getting some play on the internet for the past year or so, going under the title “Davido-kun loves Japan.”  It’s about an eight-minute segment of a longer TV program in which two comedians are (apparently) going around meeting some people in a dormitory populated mainly by foreign students somewhere in the Kansai area.  The video quality is very low, and I don’t watch enough TV to be able to tell you anything about the show.  I’d guess it was made within the last ten years.

David kun

It’s a pretty silly show and in the clip we meet David, an American studying in Japan who frequents maid cafes.  He speaks a little Japanese which he cheerfully uses and the two comedians make a real effort to strike a balance of talking in such a way that they can communicate with him but at the same time put on a good show for the Japanese-speaking audience.

They tease him about walking barefoot in the halls, visit his dorm room, look around at all of his maid cafe goods, find out that he pays for it with his parents’ money (for which they tell him to straighten-up), he teaches them some dances (of the type you might do at a maid cafe), then they get a recommendation for a different room to go visit for the next segment.

Nothing particularly special; it’s the sort of feel-good entertainment that can make you grin while you get ready for work (or whatever, I don’t know what time-slot it was on), and David plays the part of the guy-we’re-learning-about-right-now very well (or in any case it was edited to make him appear so).  This is a very common theme in Japanese television, a sort of ‘the world is a diverse place’ or ‘everyone is unique and special’ kind of segment.  The thinking is that everyone has some quirk about them, some thing that they are particularly interested in, and it can be fun to learn about other people’s obsessions.  Whether you’re trying to make the perfect sword or the perfect bowl of ramen, become the best pianist or the best ukulele player, or trying to convince millions of people to like a particular kind of poison that they don’t particularly like (see the current NHK morning drama, “Massan”), being ‘too’ obsessed with something is a staple of narratives here.

So there is nothing particularly interesting here, except that it seems to be getting kicked around the English-speaking part of the internet as exhibit number one that Japanese people hate Japan-obsessed foreigners (i.e. weeaboos).  Why do people think this?  Well, it seems the translator had a bit of an agenda.  The translation is not wholly inaccurate, but inaccuracies have been inserted, usually intentionally but sometimes accidentally, to make it seem like the Japanese comedians are really tearing poor David apart rather than just having some friendly fun with him.

This starts before we even play the video as right in the title we have our subject’s name rendered as “Davido.”  Not the English ‘David’ nor the ro-maji ‘Deibiddo’ that the show uses on screen.  Nope, just slap an ‘O’ on the end of David because it looks funnier that way.

If we start to look at the translations we next  get いい (ii, lit. good) rendered as “oh this looks good lol.”  Not only is our translator not going to use proper capitalization, etc. but they’re going to add in laughing sound effects for a video?  If the people onscreen are laughing we can obviously just hear them laughing.

Then we get やさしそう (yasashisou, lit. looks kind) as “you look… kind” even though the person does not pause at all when saying it, nor in my opinion is there any hint of sarcasm in their voice.

Right afterwards アメリカ (amerika, lit. the United States) is put up for a brief second as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Let me pause right here for a moment to talk about something.  You know, I never liked that cartoon “Ren and Stimpy.”  Lots of my friends growing up did, but I never found it funny or entertaining.  However, I can recognize that there are lots of different kinds of comedy that appeal to different kinds of people.  The ‘intentional mistranslation’ is one such style of comedy I have come across from time to time over the years, and while it has never appealed to me, I guess some people get a laugh out of it.  But what I can’t understand at all is how this video is revealed to be a joke translation right in the first minute yet people keep taking it seriously.  While it is true that some intentional mistranslations just put whatever words they want over the entire video, that is not the only kind there can be.  In this case, this translator has decided to translate the parts that they think they can actually understand faithfully, and then insert extra jokes into this base translation to make a humorous video.  (At least I hope that was their entire agenda.)

Why would you trust that you are getting the true meaning of what is being said when it is so clear right from the start that the translator is taking you for a ride?  I wish someone could explain this mystery to me.

Anyway, getting back the video, 二十一(niijuuichi, lit. twenty-one) just means twenty-one, not “twenty-one numbers.”  Dropping the -歳 (-sai, lit. -years old), while carrying a different feeling than simply dropping ‘-years old’ off of one’s age in English, does not make it sound as weird as the translator seems to think.  In any case, when they repeat it back, they are not making fun of him for dropping the -sai as the translation implies.

はっ (ha, lit. yes) is a standard shortened form of hai, meaning yes, and is not an “EXASPERATED NOISE” as the translation gives us.

東京まで?(toukyou made, lit. to Tokyo) is a simple confirmation of the fact that he, living in Kansai (probably Osaka, but the clip doesn’t actually tell us), often goes to Akihabara (sometimes shortened to Akiba), which is in Tokyo.  The given translation, “how about tokyo?” makes no sense in this context.

“do you go anywhere else in japan?”  is the translator mishearing bashi (bridge) as basho (place) and trying to make a logical sentence out of the result.  日本場所はいきました?doesn’t really mean anything, whereas 日本橋はいきました?(nihonbashi wa ikimashita, lit. Did you go to Nipponbashi?) is asking him if he has been to Nipponbashi, the location of Den Den Town, Osaka’s equivalent of Akihabara’s Electric Town.  (Note that while technically called Nipponbashi to distinguish itself from Tokyo’s Nihonbashi, a center of government and business, many people also refer to Osaka’s as ‘Nihonbashi’ [they are written exactly the same].  The comedians will use both forms by the end of the video.)

With these last three mistakes, I’d say we’ve rather established that the translator, with all the time in the world on his hands, and not being interviewed by a couple of Japanese comedians in front of a TV camera, is actually probably a lot worse at Japanese than our subject David whom he is trying to make fun of for having poor Japanese.  And honestly the mistakes are getting a little numerous at this point, so I’ll cover them a little more quickly from here on.  If you want more detail about any particular point, just ask me in a comment.

When referring to the fact that he doesn’t wear any slippers, the comedian does not say “what is wrong with you.”  What he says is closer to, “Is it really OK not to wear slippers?”  Also, David says nothing about “socks.”

The comedian doesn’t say “i’d be super grossed out” though that might be what he is thinking.  What he says is more like “I really wouldn’t like it.”  He also doesn’t say anything about wearing them at least for “guests.”

“look at this, he has a tatami room, what a huge weeb lol”  If that America line earlier didn’t tip you off, you would think red flags should be going up by now.  Why would you think “weeaboo” let alone “weeb” is in common Japanese parlance?  That is a nonsense word that people at 4-chan lifted from a nonsense webcomic and randomly assigned a meaning to.  And why would tatami rooms be out of place in Japan?  Lots of people have tatami rooms in their homes.  And what is the translator even implying here, that David got a western-style dorm room but somehow got tatami professionally installed in it?  It makes no sense.  Their actual comments on the tatami are about how dirty it is to be dragging filth from the hallway, etc. onto the tatami.  Tatami are where people sit and lay on, so the whole floor of a tatami room can be thought of like the seat of a chair, or the surface of a bed.  People make a point to keep them clean, which is why you always remove your shoes or slippers before stepping on them.  Not wearing slippers in the first place somewhat defeats your ability to keep from tracking dirt onto these ideally clean surfaces.

“this is really… something” again has no pause in the Japanese.  It is unclear what the implication is in the original, but the meaning is simply “This is really nice,” or even, “This is really something.”  No ellipsis or any of it’s implications are present in the original Japanese I’m afraid.

すごい (sugoi) is not “terrible.”  It just means “amazing.”  As they say in the video, it’s not necessarily a compliment, but it is certainly not a direct insult either.

Where it says “do you think this looks good or something?” they are actually simply asking if these sorts of cell-phone straps (or perhaps a phone with a lot of straps) suits him.  There is none of the implications that “or something” has in English, they’re basically just asking him if he likes it.

At “(i’m pretty sure they are just messing with him here)” they are actually trying to use the English word “cool.”

“that’s the best part” is actually “that’s no good.”  They’re having a laugh with him about how it is obviously bad to be blowing money on lots of visits to maid cafes when you’re not even working, and in fact blowing your parents money on such expensive things.

Needless to say at this point, but they don’t say anything resembling “otaku atrocities.”

When talking about otagei (dances that fans do), “oh you totally look like it” is much more likely “I want to see it.”

“are you like, one of THOSE otagei?” doesn’t even make sense since otagei is a kind of dance and not a kind of person.  The actual line would be more like, “You’ll show us one of those dances?” with an excited intonation, and none of the implications in English of emphasizing “THOSE.”

I can’t hear “it’s like throwing your money away,” though I’m not perfectly clear on what the one comedian says at that point.  The other jokes about spending his parents money to go to Nipponbashi to do these dances.

“how can you dance without shoes?” is an obvious invention, because you would never be wearing shoes in a tatami room anyway.  Rather, the one comedian is complaining that his floors are dirty, most likely implying that it is because he tracks stuff in from outside by not wearing slippers in the halls and then taking them off before walking on the tatami.

“when are you going back to ohio? we want you to leave” is actually, as the song ends, “Alright!  Now you should be probably head home; head home to Ohio.”  He is not telling him to leave Japan, it is much more like “Alright you’ve had your fun, now you should get on with your life and stop spending your parents’ money on these kinds of things.”  It’s “I’m worried about you,” and not, “Get the hell out of my country.”

“do you have something to say?” is actually “Are you (still) studying/Are you still in school?”  He’s simply teasing out the explanation for why David would be in Japan until May, which otherwise would sound like he’s staying until May just to keep playing around in maid cafes.

The section that starts with “this is the best part” (which is actually him saying “This is no good.”) is basically them trying to do a comedy skit with David.  The idea is that David won’t be able to not dance when the music is playing.  So the one comedian is dancing to encourage him, while the other is pretending like he is trying to have a serious conversation with David, who will always revert to dancing because the music is too infectious.  All of the subs from here until they start asking about women range from very incorrect to completely made up.

So, to sum-up, they’re not giving him as much of a hard time as it would appear based on the subs.  They certainly tease him a bit, mainly about wasting his parents money and not keeping his tatami clean, but they are generally friendly and trying to laugh with him rather than at him.  They are certainly not saying, “Look at this weeb, everyone laugh at him for liking Japanese things.”

Next time I’ll be looking at some internet comments about this video.  Brace yourselves.

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