Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pronouncing Patriotism

In a post of a few days back -- which lost me the readership of an old friend but won me thanks from one of three Japan political scientists whose opinions I care about -- I reported on the national broadcaster NHK and its seeming struggles with the pronunciation of the name of the country, whether it is "Nihon" or "Nippon."

I noted in the post that former DPJ House of Representatives member Iwakuni Tetsundo had gone so far as to put the question of the pronunciation of the country's name to the government, to which the Aso Cabinet responded, officially, that "Nihon" and "Nippon" are equally correct. I promised at the time that I would try to find out from Iwakuni-sensei himself the reasons why he asked for a government assertion of the correct pronunciation of the country's name.

Yesterday, in an email, Iwakuni-sensei responded. His response was much longer and detailed than I anticipated. As a consequence I will post the gist of it here, rather that merely insert a few words into the earlier post, as I promised.

Iwakuni-sensei starts out by saying that the question he submitted to the Cabinet on June 19, 2009 (Link - J) speaks for itself. However, his interest in the pronunciation question was piqued by discussions going on within the House of Representatives Education Committee. Members from the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition would say "Nihon." The Socialists would say "Nippon." The Communists would say "Nihon." Moreover, looking at what children were being taught in school, the first year elementary school textbooks introduced the country as "Nihon." However, by the third year, readings of the Chinese characters for the country name expanded to "Nippon" without explanation.

Looking around, Iwakuni-sensei found inconsistencies in the speech of government officials. Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, when he announced the dispatch of Self Defense Forces personnel to Iraq, peppered his speech with various iterations of "Nippon" -- but when discussing the dispatch at other times referred to the country as "Nihon." Bank of Japan Governor Hayami Masaru, a Protestant Christian, introduced himself as "Nihon Ginko no Hayami desu" ("I'm Hayami of the Bank of Japan") even though on the nation's currency (pull out a bill if you have one on you) the name of the issuing authority is "Nippon Ginko."

More interesting still is the choice of the members of the Imperial Family: they never say "Nippon."

In part this is due to tradition. The "pa-pi-pu-pe-po" sounds do not appear in speech before the late Edo Period. They are nowhere to be found in the Manyoshu. They cannot be found in any of the reign or imperial names.

However, more important to the Imperial Family of today is the association between the undemocratic Meiji Constitution Imperial State -- the Dai Nippon Teikoku -- and usage of the plosive consonant version of the country name. As Iwakuni-sensei told a Chicago audience in October last year, during the war years persons who used "Nihon" for the country name put themselves at risk of having their status as citizens challenged.

If the current Heisei Emperor -- an opponent of all coerced expressions of patriotism, as was illustrated by his famous flambeing of the nationalist Tokyo Board of Education member Yonenaga Kunio* -- never says "Nippon" nor allows his sons to say it , one would not be far wrong in guessing the plosive consonant country name carries too much historical baggage for safe daily use.


* At the Emperor's Autumn Garden Party in 2004, Yonenaga introduced himself with a preening "It my job to see to it that in all the middle schools of Japan, everyone is made to raise the flag and sing the national anthem." The emperor replied, with deadly wistful understatement and indirection, "You know, it would desirable that it were done in a way that could not be called forcible" ("Yahari, kyosei ni naru to iu koto de wa nai koto ga tomoshii nozomashii desu ne.").


sigma1 said...

This was very educational actually. Now can I be included in one of the political scientists whose opinions you care about ;-) Well, maybe after a few more months!

Brian B. said...

"The "pa-pi-pu-pe-po" sounds do not appear in speech before the late Edo Period. They are nowhere to be found in the Manyoshu. They cannot be found in any of the reign or imperial names."

Actually, there was a 'p' consonant in Old Japanese (the Japanese of the Nara Period). It's just that they underwent sound change and are now reflected in Modern Japanese as /h/. The process went something like: (at the beginning of words) p > f > h; (between vowels) p > f > w, then w disappeared before all vowels except /a/.

I would say that 'pa-pi-pu-pe-po' were just written はひふへほ but they were all written in Manyo-gana because katakana didn't exist yet.

Fernando said...

The Bank of Japan's own answer to the Nihon/Nippon question is pretty noncomittal. But it seems that Hayami deviated from the BOJ line.

From the BOJ website:

A.「日本銀行」の読み方については、法律などで「○○と読む」と決められている訳ではなく、また、日本の国名を「ニッポン」と読むか、あるいは「ニホン」と読むのかという問題に似て、二者択一的に決めるのは難しいところです。ただ、お札の裏に「NIPPON GINKO」と印刷してあることもあって、日本銀行では「ニッポンギンコウ」と呼ぶようにしております。

Bryce said...

NHK, via Google, tells me that it does have official policy on this and has been saying Nippon all along.

And from memory, "Ohayo Nippon" was always thus, was it not?

FWIW, I listen to NHK radio news every day, and try and tune in to the TV news broadcasts when I can. I haven't noticed a change.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the quote was 「強制になるということではないことが望ましいですね」...should be nozomashii not tomoshii.

Also, I never did thank you for the Gavan Gray article Google cache link, so...thanks!

MTC said...

Anonymous -

Thank you for spotting the mistake. I have inserted the correction.

MTC said...

Bryce -

I reference this document in my earlier post. This 2004 review of the issue seems to have been produced as a corrective for an earlier document, which answered the question by saying, ""Nippon' is in the style guide."

As for the robotic announcers on Ohayo Nippon I believe you are correct. What perked up my ears was when the announcers of Newswatch 9 seemed have made a shift.

I would love to look throught NW9 broadcasts of last year and find out that I have been wrong. Since I have never before made note of the pronunciation, my guess is that I am not.

Bryce said...

Gah! That's what happens when you chirp in while grading papers. However, interesting that we seem to have come to two different conclusions on what it means. I think that it simply means, "Yeah, it's in the style guide so we'll use it whenever we want, even though we acknowledge current trends and the historical context. Really." By the way, as well as both pronunciations in the style guide, there are also odd constructions like "nippongo" alongside "nihongo." For some reason I would never have thought that an NHK announcer would use "nipponjin," but that's in there too.

Anyway, a simple, if not totally rigorous way to test the theory would be to plug "NHK ニュース 日本" into Youtube and pick the first pre-election news stories that appear to see what they say. 

The first is a fluff piece from NHK Okinawa about "nihon soba" in the prefecture being "nippon ichi hayai." This simply indicates to me that there are some collocations for which NHK requires "nihon" and others that require "nippon." This is probably confirmed when the announcer actually corrects herself at around 0:53 on the tape.

Skipping over the next "not real news show" piece (an Ohayo Nippon tape clearly labelled as such, although, oddly, the "robotic announcers" do say "nihon" when it is attached to "miss universe," and for purely educational reasons I'll link to it below) we get to the more serious news.

The second piece, then, is a story about an academic fair highlighting Japan's universities. Whenever the presumably established name of the fair is mentioned, Japan is pronounced as "nihon," as per that name. Whenever Japan stands alone in constructions such as "the universities of Japan" it is "nippon." Always and often. On pre-second-term Abe NHK.

Finally, the third piece, on the hostages taken in Iraq in 2004. Not only is "nippon" mentioned a number of times, but (gasp) "nipponjin" is used exclusively for "Japanese people." Several times. Including when the announcer is reading a message collected from JCP leader Shii Kazuo. NHK's man in Baghdad, who seems to be freestyling also uses "nippon". Nihon is only mentioned twice, and only in constructions; once in "nihongo" (see, they don't go THAT far) and again in "nihon taishikan." Through the whole piece, I count ten "nippons" but only two "nihons," and those two are within fairly well established words. In 2004.

You can keep going if you want. The next one is about "Nippon Mirai no Tou." I'm not sure if that's the official name of that rather progressive party or not. Probably not, given that its leader says "nihon" when she's talking about Japan.

Skipping down to find the next newsy non-Ohayo piece: an interview with Magosaki Ukeru, who I'm guessing is not Abe's favorite former diplomat given his views on the U.S.-Japan alliance. Still, the announcer uses "nippon" exclusively. How inconsiderate!

Etc...etc...etc... OK, an imperfect method, but random, and it clearly shows that NHK announcers used "nippon" before Abe, and maybe even that they actually used it more often than "nihon" when the word was not somehow modified. Another method would be to ask a few NHK journalists who you know don't lie to you to see what their opinion is. I've done this. They're not aware of any change.

If you wanted to do a more thorough test, you could probably check out NHK's very serious news radio podcasts before December. But I wouldn't advise it.

Bryce said...

Because this is just silly. If there were some conspiracy theory within NHK, then don't you think a bunch of Japanese intellectuals would have picked up on it and would be holding a series of panel discussions about it? Or at the very least given a rather irritated interview to somebody about it? I'm pretty sure you don't believe the hoary old chestnut about Japan being a "system of irresponsibility" where everyone conforms.

Isn't there a more simple explanation? Can't it be that "nippon" just sounded less offensive to you before December 2012?

MTC said...

Bryce -

Your sampling attempt is laudable. It is also near to useless because it is non-systematic. As to 2004 and prior years, it would be surprising to find instances of NHK announcers using of "Nihon" as the country name because until 2004 the NHK style guide had "Nippon" as the definitive stand-alone country name.

I will follow up on your suggestion as to the NHK radio podcasts. I will also see whether or not a member of the general public can gain access to last years' evening newscasts at one of NHK's many bureaus and research centers.

Bryce said...

"It is also near to useless because it is non-systematic."

As opposed to, say, thinking you heard something that wasn't quite right one morning and running with it as evidence of some sort of plan by the media to curry favor with the government? Well, twenty minutes of internet research is usually the most I give to conspiracy theories.

By the way, NHK does actually publish dictionaries with what its broadcasting studies office sees as "correct" pronunciation (which is what I mean when I say style guide). The 2001 edition lists both Nihon and Nippon as acceptable.

MTC said...

Bryce -

I am going to find out whether my memories of Inoue Asahi and Ogoshi Kensuke using "Nihon" as the country name prior to November 2012 are illusiory or not. Since NHK (and all other broadcasters, for that matter) scrape the Internet clean of privately archived newscasts, and offer no free access to their own, I must wait for access to NHK archives.

I am likely to find out that your memory is right and mine wrong -- just look all the web pages declaiming, "What is with NHK announcers? Why do they all say "Nippon" when most of us, their viewers/listeners, say "Nihon"?

I am aware of the pronunciation guides. The problem is the announcers are not taking the liberties the guides allow. If, as your 2001 list says, "Nippon" and "Nihon" are both correct, why do none of the announcers or journalists use the more popular "Nihon"? Why are they perpetuating a pronunciation that seems to have been brought into the mainstream by the Satsuma oligarchs?

Why do politicians switch from one pronunciation to the other, depending on the circumstances? Why does Aso Taro, when he is playing the nationalist grandee, say "Nippon" -- but when he is channeling his grandfather say, "Nihon"? What does he think he is saying, in both instances?

Why care? Because the most pernicious forms of censorship and discipline are the ones that are self-imposed, based upon rules one imagines are there. And because the atari mae rules are ones that reveal truth.

So let us both take a break until I make the trip to Kamiyacho or Shibuya or Yokohama or wherever it is that NHK lets folks look at seven month old newscasts.

Pax vobiscum.

MTC said...

Bryce -

For some reason Blogger is not registering your latest comment.

Here is the text of your comment as it is reported in my email:

You may want to point out to your readers that Eisuke's response came after your loaded and equally sarcastic question and insults about his English.

I have never insulted Takahashi Eisuke's English.

I did once, on the apologist website Japologism have a minor flame war with a famous troll named "Aceface" whose diction violated the Natty Bumppo Rule, which is:

"...when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it."

"Aceface" has not, to this day, revealed his identity to me.

Eisuke Takahashi said...

Eisuke Takahashi is Aceface.
It's true because he's typing this himself.

So I'm famous for doing what I am?
All those hours infront of my PC weren't spend on nothing.

Bryce said...

Whatever. I know what you said, because you said it on my Facebook wall. And because you seem to think it is okay to rip comments from that wall in order to make my friends look stupid without providing the proper context of the conversation, you are now blocked from it. I'm also blocking myself from this site. Goodbye.