What the Hell, the Japanese Characters Fit the Switch Just Fine!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
what the hell the japanese characters fit the switch just fine

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.

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  • Randy in rocklin The Japanese can be so smart and yet so dumb. I'm America-Japanese and they really can be dumb sometimes like their masking paranoia.
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