When two languages cross, some degree of misunderstanding inevitably results. That this is particularly true with Japanese and English is the thesis proposed by Robin Gill in "Orientalism & Occidentalism: Is Mistranslating Culture Inevitable?"
Japanese and English, Gill suggests, are exceptionally far removed - "exotic" - to each other.
As Gill writes, "All intercultural exchange is a form of translation." This, of course, implies that things often do not carry over as directly as one might assume.
Take country music in Japan.
Conservative political commentator George F. Will, recalls Gill, once expressed doubts about the authenticity of the "miserable slice of life" depicted in country music; while conceding that the music was "defending an endangered constitutional right: The Right to be Unhappy!"
However, in Japan they're often surprised to hear that country in the United States can be ridiculed for the number of painful, tear-jerking songs it counts in its ranks (cue the joke about playing a country song backwards and getting your dog, truck, wife, and house back).
In Japan, country music is "as happy and 'dry' as 'Home on the range' and 'Oklahoma.'
"True to form, Japanese go for happy country. John Denver? Yes!
"George Jones. Who?"
Gill explains that while karaoke machines stock "Jambalaya," they do not feature "Your Cold, Cold Heart." Particularly fascinating is that, in the translated versions of "The Tennessee Waltz" and "The Green, Green Grass of Home," there is apparently "Nothing about a lover being stolen by a friend or the singer's ending up under that green grass.
"The part that sends the shivers running up and down your spine is gone, and all you get are stale memories and nostalgia."
The Japanese, Gill writes, have their own "sad and wet" music genre: enka. Most Japanese, she adds, do not like it, saying the same uncomplimentary things about it that certain Americans have long said about country.
"But, fan or not, they all agree that enka is very Japanese - the tear-stained crystallization of the long-suffering Japanese heart.
"And country, therefore, being quintessentially American, is by definition the exact opposite."