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2019.06.22 Name for Japan's New Era Mistranslated by Sign Language Interpreter
May first of this year marked the beginning of a new era, Reiwa. The whole country celebrated. The transition seemed to have been without any critical hitch as the name of the new era had been announced a month prior. However, at an April 1 press conference in which Japan's next era name was announced, the sign language interpreter misheard, then mistranslated the name.

A sign language interpreter stands next to Suga at press conferences and delivers his remarks to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. When Suga announced that the next Imperial era name would be Reiwa, the sign language interpreter signed the syllabic phonetic characters for Meiwa. After seeing the written era name that Suga held up, the interpreter corrected the era name to the phonetic characters for Reiwa, but the mistake created a buzz on the internet and elsewhere.

The Cabinet Public Relations Office explains that sign language interpreters are asked to interpret what they hear at press conferences, which hinted that there was no prior briefing available to the interpreter.

The announcement of the name for the new era is a historical event. When sign interpreters cover lectures and other events, they commonly are given the contents and other resources related to the lecture or talk so they can prepare for the event. According to the Cabinet PR office, however, information on news conferences had not been given to sign language interpreters in the past, and this time was no exception.

Nobutaka Kamei, an anthropology professor at Aichi Prefectural University who is certified as a sign language interpreter, remarks, "Interpreters have a duty of confidentiality. If they had been told the era name several minutes before the announcement, the mistake could have been avoided. I hope the government changes its ways after this incident."

The statement praised NHK for broadcasting the announcement live with the sign language interpreter visible, even though other broadcasters did not. It also praised the government for having a sign language interpreter at its press conferences. But it also pointed out that Japan still has a ways to go. "In other countries, it is increasingly common for television broadcasts to come with sign language interpreters, but there has been little progress in Japan. We call for prompt action," it said.