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Elderly Japanese man sues public TV network for overusing English

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NHK (wikimedia commons)
NHK (wikimedia commons)

To a surprising degree, the Japanese language is littered with foreign loan words, many of them English. Terms ranging from "internet" to the quotidian "rice," and everything in between, get shoehorned into the native syllabary, turning "compliance" into the tongue-twisting "conpuraiansu." Many, including the country’s Ministry of Education, have recognized the increase in foreign vernacular as a problem, but one 71-year-old man from Gifu Prefecture has had enough. He’s suing the national broadcaster NHK for "undue mental distress" because he can’t understand what people are saying on TV.

Takahashi is asking for 1.41 million yen in compensation

Hoji Takahashi is asking for 1.41 million yen (around $14,000) in compensation, and has joined the Place Importance on Japanese Association to help spread his message. He claims that NHK is violating section 709 of the civil code, which holds people financially accountable for violating others’ rights to freedom and security.

Speaking to The Guardian, linguist Makoto Yamazaki said that while he thinks the suit is ridiculous, it does draw attention to an important issue. "It’s OK for people in the same company or group to use, say, specialized words, but when they are picked up by the media it becomes a problem," he said, noting that politicians are particularly fond of the newer, exciting-sounding vocabulary. In many cases native Japanese expressions are abandoned in favor of trendier loan word equivalents.

Takahashi isn’t looking for a quick payout — he says he’d tried to contact NHK several times to no avail. "I want the broadcaster to take into account elderly viewers like me when it is creating shows," he told Kyodo News.