iSummit2008: The Japanese-English divide

The 2008 iSummit in Sapporo, Japan ended last week after three days of keynotes and lab sessions on open content and open culture. Blogger Shinya Ichinohe (shinyai), who attended the event, reflected on his experiences in a blog post entitled “End of iSummit 08: The Division between Japanese-language and English-language sessions” (iSummit 08終了:日本語セッションと英語セッションの分断). While grateful for all that he learned in the sessions and keynote presentations, shinyai also regrets the division which emerged at the summit between Japanese-language and English-language tracks.

In the post, he writes:


iSummit08, held in Sapporo, Japan, has come to a close. I hesitated [about coming], but in the end I'm glad that I came and participated for three days. I wanted to go to the outing in Moerenuma park on the last day, but I wasn't able to because of the timing of my flight.
It was an extremely rewarding experience, I gained a great deal of new insights, and above all I met a great many positive and upbeat people, so for me it was really a lot of fun. The effort that the organizers put into promoting interaction [between attendees] was wonderful. Even now, I am still in a kind of state of excitement.

iSummit についての参加前の理解は、Creative Commonsのイベントで、法律家や技術者が集まり、クリエイティブコモンズの未来について語ったり、あるいはCCライセンスのコンテンツのワークショップが行われたりするイベント、というものであった。中核部分の理解としては間違っていないと思うが、実はもっと射程は広く、「文化」という切り口で、グローバルな社会の発展について議論するという場所と理解したほうがよさそうだ。たとえば教育のLabでは、Freeな教育コンテンツをいかにして世界中で共有して、各国の教育の改善に寄与するかが、話し合われていた。Labはワークショップ形式なので、参加者では議論に参加し、議論をまとめていくものが多く、日本人は(僕も含めて)ついていくので精いっぱいという人が多かったように思う。

Prior to participating, my understanding of iSummit was that it was a Creative Commons event where legal and technology specialists come together, where the future of Creative Commons licenses is discussed, and where workshops on CC-licensed contents are held. While I don't believe that the basic essence of this interpretation is incorrect, the scope [of topics covered in the event] is actually quite a bit broader; it would be better to think of iSummit, in terms of the dimension of “culture”, as a place where developments in global society are debated. In the Education Lab, for example, there were discussions about how free education contents could be shared around the world, and how one could contribute to the improvement of education in each nation of the world. The Labs took on the form of workshops, allowing all participants to contribute to the discussions. There were many contexts in which arguments were brought together and summarized, and for many Japanese people (myself included) just following [these discussions] required all of one's effort.

一方 Keynoteやパネルは、日本語のもの、英語のものがそれぞれあり、同時通訳があったりなかったり。Labsなどの小部屋のセッションが並行している時間帯が多いので、同時通訳のない日本語のセッションは、国際会議なんだけど日本人だけが集うという、妙な状態になった。僕は日本語のセッション、たとえば、著作権政策についての田村善之先生や津田大介さんが登壇するセッションとか、いくつか非常に興味のあるセッションをあえてスキップして、わからないながらもあえて英語のLabに参加するようにした。

On the other hand, there were Keynotes and panel discussions in both Japanese and English, in some cases with simultaneous translation, in other cases not. Japanese-language sessions without simultaneous interpreting were held in time slots that coincided with many lab sessions in the smaller rooms, resulting in a strange situation where, despite being an international event, only Japanese people ended up attending [these Japanese-language sessions]. I actually ventured to skip a number of sessions that I was really interested in, sessions about copyright policy with Yoshiyuki Tamura and Daisuke Tsuda, in order to participate in English-language Labs that I had difficulty understanding.


I still haven't digested [everything that happened], and I'm planning in the future to have a look at the blogs and project webpages that were introduced [in the summit sessions] to learn more about them. But more than anything else, what left an impression on me [at this summit] was the division between the Japanese-language space and the English-language space. Many of the sessions in Japanese and in English focused on the topic of how to to quickly and efficiently circulate contents, and were entirely synchronized. However there was almost no synergy [between Japanese and English sessions]. If things like “Niconicommons” [ja], “Hatsune Miku” (初音ミク) and Kadokawa's “authorization” were well-explained in English, I think many people may have had an interest in them, but they were presented in Japanese (although there was [simultaneous] interpreting for Tsuguhiko Kadokawa's presentation). For this reason, almost nothing [of these topics] was conveyed to participants who could not speak Japanese.

逆に日本人は日本語のセッションに集い、自分たちのコンテキストだけで話している人が多かったし、すでに出ているCNETやInternet Watchの記事も、日本語のセッションのことばかりが扱われている。英語のセッションのことを日本語で紹介するプレス関係者は、おそらくいなかったのではないか。

Conversely, Japanese people gathered at the Japanese sessions, most of them only speaking among people who were already in their own context. Articles that have come out since the event in CNET and Internet Watch also cover only the Japanese sessions. I guess there wasn't anybody from the press introducing the content of the English-language sessions in Japanese.


Maybe that's just the way things are and there is nothing that can be done about it, but this division [between language groups] is extremely unfortunate. There was one context, in the last Japanese-language session, where Joi Ito quoted from one of the keynote presentations about trends abroad, appealing to Kadokawa and Crypton to use CC licenses. It was an extremely interesting exchange, and it was an excellent context within which to share with participants from other countries the situation concerning CC licenses in Japan, but nearly all of the people who were at the session were Japanese.

Global Voices Online、Asiajin、Techcrunchの日本関係の記事、Joiito Blogなど、日本のことを英語で書いているブログは、この「ボトルネック」状態にあって、非常に重要な役割をはたしているということを、あらためて感じた。僕の英語力では、それらに匹敵するような役割はまだ果たせないけれども、それに準じる何かを、やっていこうと強く感じた。

I recognized once again the extremely important role played by sites like Global Voices Online, Asiajin, as well as by articles about Japan on Techcrunch, and by posts on Joi Ito's blog, sites that are situated in this [information] “bottleneck”, introducing Japanese issues in English. At my level of English ability, I cannot rival these sites in this role, but I nonetheless felt strongly the urge to do something along these lines as well.


  • I didn’t catch this critique (and wasn’t able to make the event myself) so I appreciate the coverage. Shinyai has some understandably appropriate criticism but I think that it comes down to 1) costs to provide translation, and 2) multiple-tracks (common at any large event). iCommons probably did what it could to provide as much translation as possible but there are limits considering it’s NPO status and the costs involved. I would also say that any large cross-cultural event in a nation where English is not the main language will have this division in the participation no matter what. I think it’s stronger in places like Japan where English is less often used than in nations where English is commonly used as a second language.

    p.s. the url to shinyai’s post is 404. The accurate one is this:

  • Hi Gen,

    Thanks for your comment. I think Ichinohe-san’s post was less of a “criticism” than it was an observation (albeit of course a disappointing one). Having attended the event, I can confirm what he is describing.

    (Thanks for pointing out the URL mistake, just fixed it.)

  • Hey Chris,

    Thanks for graciously pointing out the one thing that really puzzled me throughout the iSummit08. For me it was a BIG SURPRISE the fact that English does not function as the ‘hub language’ in Japan the way it does in other parts of the world.

    The fact can only highlight the importance of initiatives such as GV Lingua, which, we could say, ‘generatively’ came out from a ‘hub language’ principled project such as GVO.

    For me, the iSummit08 main insight is that translation is the one emerging issue as we go deeper in understanding what the notion of a true global commons stands for.

    Thanks for helping me better understand my ‘Japanese experience’ at the iSummit08.

  • I wasn’t at the iSummit, but had a similar experience at the World Social Forum in Brazil. There were very few English-speaking participants and sessions. And North Americans and Europeans in particular were surprised how much English was a minority language. Volunteer translators at the World Social Forum did an admirable job of translating even small sessions, but it is exhausting to communicate through interpreters. Logistically, I guess the best solution is to mix panelists up better so you don’t get this sort of divide between audience members for different sessions.

  • […] Salzberg’s post on GV has touched upon this issue already. All I want to do is add a little personal flavor. There […]

  • […] page at Global Voices, and the two articles I posted there: one a general recap, and the other a translation of a post by Shinya Ichinohe about the division between Japanese and English speaking …. For those interested in the challenges of language and culture in organizing international events […]

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