NHK Misinterprets Obama’s Remarks on Okinawa Bases

At Prime Minister Abe and President Obama’s joint press conference on April 28, Obama stated, “I reaffirmed our commitment to move forward with the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.” (Full transcript of the press conference can be read here.)

However, when Japan’s major television network NHK broadcast the press conference live with simultaneous interpretation of Obama’s remarks from English to Japanese, the interpreter somehow managed to turn that sentence into, “Regarding the relocation of Futenma Air Station in OKinawa, I want to deal with this situation more flexibly (沖縄の普天間基地の移転について、より柔軟に対応したいと思います).” The mistranslation was then reported as fact in all of Japan’s major newspapers (though not in Okinawa’s local newspapers, as far as I know). The next morning, NHK and all newspapers issued a correction with the correct text of Obama’s remarks.

Reactions on the internet from the right wing generally consist of “the interpreter/NHK did it on purpose because they are Chinese spies who want to trick the Japanese people into opposing the Henoko base construction,” while from the left wing some said, “they did it on purpose because the Japanese government doesn’t want the Japanese people to know that the U.S. military really wants to leave Okinawa and go to Guam instead.”

Personally, I think the interpreter either just doesn’t understand English very well or got distracted and just made something up. As a student of interpretation, I can attest that it is extremely difficult, but one fundamental rule is never to make something up if you don’t catch what the speaker said.

Of the approximately 18,000 marines on Okinawa, 8,000-9,000 are planned to move to Guam and Australia, and the rest at Futenma are planned to move to the Henoko base after it is built. This has been the plan for years, and no change was made during Abe’s recent visit, nor did anyone signal that they intended to consider making a change.

Edited to add: On second thought, if the interpreter was not well-versed on the issue, as most people aren’t, he/she probably got confused as to why Obama was suddenly talking about Guam, and made a failed attempt to guess at the general point he was making.


One thought on “NHK Misinterprets Obama’s Remarks on Okinawa Bases

  1. D May 3, 2015 / 6:49 pm

    I think the interpreter would have a prejudice that the Henoko relocation issue. If Prime Minister Abe stated it instead of President Obama I would make sence. In addition, the words of the interpretation are what the Japanese Prime Minister would state, not the U.S. President. He or she would not understand it well.


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