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Over the past few weeks, the Japanese organization SEALDs, which stands for Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, has been staging large-scale protests in opposition of those politicians who’ve proposed expanding the role of the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The gatherings have become regular features on news programs, with footage showing large groups of impassioned youths chanting for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to step down.

So after such a show of conviction, it must have been surprising for followers of SEALDs’ English Twitter account to see a tweet that suddenly announced the group is calling it quits.

Japan is in the midst of a debate about the role of the JSDF, with one side composed of those who hold that Article 9 of the Japanese constitution prohibits the use of any sort of armed force against outside entities. In contrast, there are those who argue that national defense in the modern era requires a more preemptive mindset than what was acceptable in previous generations.

It’s a complex issue, made more so by a host of historical, cultural, political, and economic issues, which are themselves made all the more complicated by the fact that Japan doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is a prominent member of the global community. As such, we’re not going to say which side is right or wrong, but instead pass judgement on something a bit more cut-and-dry: The sporadically sub-par English of the SEALDs English Twitter account.

To be fair, SEALDs’ motivations are strictly political, and not linguistic. As a clear example, the Japanese language lacks the sounds needed to properly pronounce “sea,” instead corrupting it to a sound equivalent to “she.” As such, SEALDs is actually pronounced by speakers of Japanese like “shields,” which seems to have influenced the creation of the group’s emblem, a shield with a megaphone, book, pen, headphones, and play button.

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But the visual image of a knight’s shield at least works well with the group’s desire to defend democracy and world peace. On the other hand, SEALDs’ less-than-sure grasp of the English language recently made it seem like the politically minded youths were ready to pack up their megaphones and capitulate.

“WE WILL STOP!!!!”? Wait, does that mean all of SEALDs’ protests were just empty youthful bluster?

Not really. As we’ve talked about before, the English and Japanese languages sometimes operate very differently on the fundamental level, and one particular difference is how they handle grammatical objects. For example, in English, you might ask your friend, “Did you buy the beer?” If he did, he could answer with “Yes, I bought the beer” or “Yes, I bought it.”

On the other hand, in Japanese, if you asked “Biiru wo katta no?” (“Did you buy the beer?”), it’d be perfectly fine to just say “Hai, katta.” which literally means “Yes, bought.” Not only is the sentence still understandable without the subject “I” and object “beer,” it’s actually more natural to omit them.

Because of this, it’s pretty safe to assume that what SEALDs really wanted to say was “We will stop Ando” or “We will stop the government from changing the role of the JSDF.” That didn’t stop English-savvy Japanese Internet commenters from pointing out the mistake, though.

“Umm, so you’re going to stop those noisy demonstrations?”

“SEALDs says it’s disbanding.”

“Geez, this is as bad as saying ‘Call me taxi’ <instead of ‘Call a taxi for me’>.”

“That’s elementary school-level English there.”

“Weren’t you guys students?”


As proof that SEALDs is still active (and also that it plays fast and loose with English phrasing), there’s this tweet announcing that on September 18 “It will be in front of the main gate of the Diet Building.”

▼ Could “it” be free ice cream? A petting zoo?

Odds are that it’s actually another protest. In the meantime, while we can’t blame SEALDs for trying to raise the loudest voice possible, when you’re unsure of exactly what you’re saying, four exclamation points might be a bit much.

Source: Hachima Kiko
Top image: Twitter/@SEALDs_Eng
Insert image: Twitter/@SEALDs_Eng