By on December 3, 2012

When the Mitsubishi Pajero was brought to these shores, as the Mitsubishi Montero and the Dodge Raider, the bosses at Mitsubishi figured they’d just move the steering wheel to the other side and translate the text on all the controls from Japanese to English, end of story. As I learned while working for a localization company a few years back, this job is not always as simple as it looks.
These days, there’s no way focus groups and multiple layers of PowerPoint-enhanced bureaucracy would ever let hyphenated text get by on a vehicle’s instrument panel, but back in 1980s Japan— for example, on the “SECU-RITY” indicator light on a 1987 Nissan Maxima— engineers were in charge. The message gets across? Fine, we’re done!
As a technical writer, which was my trade for more than a decade prior to getting into this here automotive-journalism racket, I had some of my stuff translated into other languages every once in a while. Going from English into, say, German or French, your text bloats like crazy and you have a hell of a time shrinking your diagrams to make everything fit on your pages. Going from English into a language that uses ideographic characters (e.g., Chinese or Japanese), you find that your stuff now takes up half the space. My guess is that the original tailgate-lock switch on JDM Pajeros had a pair of kanji characters, Mitsubishi paid a few yen to Hideki’s Cut-Rate Localization Service and Drain Opening Company to provide English versions, and it was all good. Seeing this sort of thing is refreshing these days, because focus groups lead to fun-expunged Corollas.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

25 Comments on “What the Hell, the Japanese Characters Fit the Switch Just Fine!...”


  • avatar

    Did this one come equipped with the “Danger Ball”?

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    So these were the trucks with the gyroscope in the dash…I have vague memories of doing doughnuts in a snow covered parking lot with a friend’s sawing wildly at the wheel and a bunch of 7 year olds giggling in the back.

  • avatar
    rnc

    Yes the gyroscope, my brother had raider verson, if I remember correctly the only thing it was useful for was nothing, things were kind of dangerous at speed (and by speed I mean making turns that would be simple for an late BoF explorer could put one of these on its side)

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    Wouldn’t the original design have used international icons rather than Japanese characters?

    I used to notice in the 80s and 90s that U.S.-spec models of Japanese and American origin used English, whereas Canadian-spec models of the same car used icons.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      It could also have something to do with 12 out of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories being officially bilingual. If English barely fit on the switches, imagine trying to fit both English and French.

      • 0 avatar
        nrcote

        >>> 12 out of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories
        >>> being officially bilingual

        Huh? 12 out of 13? I thought it was *1* out of 13, i.e. N.-B.

      • 0 avatar
        ranwhenparked

        New Brunswick is the only province that is officially bilingual, but the three territories all recognize French as well (along with indigenous languages). Also, most other provinces are essentially de facto bilingual, with provisions in the laws for education and public services in French, stopping short of officially recognizing it. Quebec is really the only province without any level of recognized bilingualism.

      • 0 avatar
        Lemmy-powered

        My point was that writing it out in full was a US-specific thing. Most other countries that I’ve driven in (Americas, Asia, Europe) use icons, and there likely was never a Japanese character in the JDM version.

      • 0 avatar
        nrcote

        @ranwhenparked
        >>> Also, most other provinces are essentially de facto bilingual

        It’s English only in British Columbia, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario (but bilingualism is recognized) and Prince Edward Island.

        http://www.slmc.uottawa.ca/?q=english_french_legal

        I live in Ontario.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      There is a difference between Canadian-spec and US-spec instrument panels that prevails to this day. The parking-brake and brake-fluid warning lamp (most cars use the same warning light for both conditions) in the USA appears to be required to be labelled with the English word “BRAKE”. On Canadian-spec vehicles (every one I’ve ever owned), it is labelled with the corresponding ISO symbol. The instruments and controls on my Canadian-spec vehicle have very few words – almost all symbols.

      The “lock” and “unlock” buttons, and the icon on the instrument panel for the security system, are all variations on the symbol of a key or a padlock. I guess they hadn’t yet thought of doing it that way in the 1980′s.

  • avatar
    ringomon

    Only tangentially related comment that will probably interest few here, but I like listeing to the sound of myself type so I’ll post it anyways.

    Related to the space requirements of English vs. Japanese, I’m an avid twitter user (I know) in both English and Japanese, and the 140 character limit that makes it hard to get out a clear thought in English lends itself to essentially a paragraph worth of content in Japanese. Given that most Japanese words only require 2 characters, (a few more for verb conjugations or loan words), you can really write a lot in that space. Really changes the tone of the service.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    I lived in Japan from 90-94, and frequented junkyards (MM, you would have been in heaven) regularly just out of sheer boredom. Not once do I recall seeing any controls labeled in Kanji. Aside from the odd sticker, everything was in English.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    “Not once do I recall seeing any controls labeled in Kanji. Aside from the odd sticker, everything was in English.”

    That’s what I was thinking. I’ve never seen very many controls even in JDM-spec, Japan-assembled, Japanese-brand cars that weren’t in English.

    For what it’s worth, my 2002 Mitsubishi Diamante had the “SECU – RITY” light laid out exactly like the Maxima’s pictured above, but in the Optitron gauge cluster. And my ’95 Avalon’s outside temp disply in the center of the dash says “OUT – SIDE” on two different lines. Yes, it’s a Toyota, but it was designed in California specifically for the American market and was built in Kentucky.

    I don’t think this is a lost in translation thing, I think it’s just how the things happen to be designed and laid out.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack

      http://www.japantradecar.com/CarPhotos/6189-4.jpg

      Above is a link to an interior shot of the Toyota Progres (the E has a mark over it, and the name is pronounced “Progray,” apparently), a very, very niche JDM-only one-generation early 2000s sedan which was never even intended for sale outside of Japan. As you can see, the radio buttons are all clearly labeled with English words like “TUNE,” “TAPE,” “CD,” etc. Not a Japanese character in sight.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack

      http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/990/3201/2474100097_large.jpg

      Here’s another shot. This one is a 1990 Toyota Soarer with the absurdly techy digital dash. We’ve got “Fuel,” “ODO,” “x1000r/min.”

      To my knowledge, this dash was never offered in the US market Lexus SC – only Optitron analog gauges. The Japanese just don’t label their car interiors in Japanese.

      Kanji for gas: ● 油 (yu) = gas.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack

      One final post… This is what the Kanji symbol for “Security” looks like. Apparently it’s pronounced “Anzen.”

      http://japanese.about.com/library/bl50kanji9_anzen.htm

  • avatar
    luvmyv8

    I know that second photo well…. from my ’88 Maxima GXE. I remember that orangle light and it’s ‘ding ding’ door chime….. and that trunk switch that you flipped up to open. Great car that’s still alive, amazingly.

  • avatar
    Feds

    As the owner of a real-live JDM import, the only buttons in the car that are labeled in Japanese are the ones specific to the touch-screen GPS. The rest of the buttons in the Delica are English, though the How-to-use-the-4wd sticker and the fuse panel is Japanese.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    “this job is not always as simple as it looks”

    It’s not a simple job by any extent.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Found a JDM-only car where all controls are in kanji including window switches – the Toyota Crown. Check out its wikipedia page and image at the link below.

    Murilee, if I can figure out a way to get one of these onto the track for the 24 hours of Lemons (preferably the V12 model), will you waive BS laps?

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/1997_Toyota_Century_03.jpg

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Lemmy – love the IL-62 avatar. It’s “Classic”.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • J & J Sutherland, Canada
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India