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Japan: ‘Yoshiharu Habu and Modern Shogi’, an Open Translation Project

Categories: East Asia, Japan, Ideas, Language, Literature, Media & Journalism, Technology

A volunteer translation project sprang up and translated all of Mochio Umeda's book “Watching Shogi from Silicon Valley – Habu Yoshiharu and Modern Times” (シリコンバレーから将棋を観る-羽生善治と現代 [1]) into English in under a week.

'Shogi Game' by Flickr user thrig [2]

‘Shogi Game’ by Flickr user thrig

Yoshiharu Habu [3] is a highly-respected professional shogi (also known as Japanese chess [4]) player. Easily the most recognizable figure in all things shogi, he is regarded by some as the ultimate strategist of our time. Mochio Umeda is a Silicon Valley-based VC, whom Asiajin calls Japan's leading web visionary [5]. He is the author of the bestselling book ‘Web Shinkaron’ (Theory of Web Evolution), covered by GV here [6] in 2007.

Umeda is a big shogi fan, although he doesn't play himself – a distinction that he stresses numerous times in his book. A few days before it was published, Umeda announced on his blog that the content was available for open sourced translation in any language. The timing couldn't have been better as it coincided with Golden Week [7] and 10+ people answered the call for volunteers by Shota Yakushiji [8] for an English translation project.

Using Google Groups and the project collaboration tool Hatena::groups [9], the group worked around the clock for six days on the initial translation, which was then released on PBworks. The members are mostly in their 20s and have minimal translation experience.

In the past two weeks, tensions have been running high in the Hatena community over the candid comments by Chika Watanabe [12] – an IT consultant based in San Francisco – regarding the future of Japan:


I've tried to keep this to myself till now, but I decided to say it out loud.
1) I don't think Japan will ever get back on its feet.
2) I want you to seriously consider studying abroad and staying to work.

Watanabe's blog ‘On/Off and Beyond [13]‘ is widely-read among the Japanese tech crowd and the uproar over these comments is a story in itself.

Shota Yakushiji, the driving force behind the translation project, refers to her statement [14] and talks about hope as his motivation for the project:


> 日本はもう立ち直れないと思う。

なんて言われて悔しいじゃないですか。僕はまだ立ち直れないなんて信じたくない。Wisdom of Crowdsの風が吹き荒れてが日本を救う、そんな日が来ることを信じたい。

There's a limit to what 10+ members can do, but there's hope in what 120 million members [the population of Japan] can achieve.

> I don't think Japan will ever get back on its feet.

Let's not take this lying down. I'm not ready to believe that Japan won't be able to recover. That the wild winds of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ will blow and save Japan – I want to believe that such a day will come.

Professional shogi player Endo Yusuke, who participated in the project, commented [15]:


What's good about this project is that you can't tell how it will end. There's no excitement if you know that ‘this comes after that’. Not knowing what comes next – this is what drives us to bust our tails. The opportunity to observe up-close how and where this energy will be channeled is exciting to me.

The translation is a work in progress and anybody is welcome to help improve the quality or create related content based on the text. There's also a French translation [16] in the works, run by Yoshihisa Yamada.

Elsewhere on the web: Michi Kaifu, of Tech Mom from Silicon Valley fame [17], gives an overview [18] of the project. Takuya Honnma [19] writes about the project in the context of spreading Japanese culture. Yoko Ishikura's Blog [20] links to an impressive series of YouTube clips [21] on the rules of shogi.

Thanks to Taku Nakajima [22] for suggestions on this article.