Porn star calls for peace between China and Japan

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The online Wall Street Journal's Real Time Report has this story:

Ex-Porn Star’s Viral Call for Sino-Japanese Peace [SFW]

Sola Aoi (蒼井そら, Aoi Sora; also known as Sora Aoi, a stage name; her real name is unknown) is a Japanese Adult Video idol, nude model, and media personality. On her blog, Sola Aoi made a call for friendship between China and Japan. This is the way it looked originally:




This caused a furor among Chinese bloggers, who thought — judging from the position of the two characters — that she was giving priority to Japan. So she quickly changed her appeal to this:




But the bloggers were mistaken, since vertically oriented texts are read from right to left, as all Japanese know. Mainland Chinese, whose writing goes horizontally from left to right, are accustomed to thinking of the left side as having preference.

This issue was discussed earlier on Language Log in "Burlesque Matinée at the Max Planck Gesellschaft". See also "The MaxPlanckForschung Cover Fiasco: How It Happened".

[A tip of the hat to Shaun Kindred and Randy Alexander]


  1. Lazar said,

    September 22, 2012 @ 7:08 pm

    The funny thing is that Chakhar Mongolian (the Mongolian of Inner Mongolia in the PRC), the only remaining language that's always written in vertical text, is written "the wrong way" – unlike vertical Chinese or Japanese, it's read left to right. This is because it uses an Arabic-derived script which, in imitation of Sinospheric writing, was turned 90 degrees to the left. I like that there's an alternative to the humdrum Cyrillic of Outer Mongolia, but for ease of use I think the Inner Mongolians should follow the example of the modern-day Sinospheric languages and flip their script back to the horizontal.

  2. Gianni said,

    September 22, 2012 @ 8:07 pm

    According to this webpage: Aoi Sora's original name is Suzuki Miho 鈴木美穂.

  3. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    September 22, 2012 @ 10:25 pm

    So vertical writing is obsolete in PRC? That's interesting. I still see vertically written Chinese here and there, but I guess you only see it outside the mainland.

  4. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    September 22, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

    Hang on a minute! The first two characters in the original version are arranged horizontally, and the right-to-left rule only applies to the sequence of lines, not the sequence of characters, right? So if the characters themselves are arranged in a mix of horizontal and vertical, are you still meant to read horizontal characters from right to left?

  5. Yoshi said,

    September 22, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

    The reason why she didn't write down all characters vertically is to avoid giving an impression that one country has priority over the other, I suppose. It is ironic that the horizontal arrangement caused dispute anyway.

  6. L said,

    September 22, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

    I'm a second generation Chinese American and I'm fairly certain that calligraphy running vertically is read line-by-line from right to left. However, any text running horizontally is read from left to right. From what I know of three years of studying Japanese, this is also true in Japanese.

    I believe the intended effect of the placement is for the reader to parse it as a vertical text, and to see "Chinese" and "Japanese" side by side, at the same time, as if equally. The intriguing thing to me is that this was parsed as a horizontal text followed by a vertical one.

    Here's a visual metaphor in English.

  7. leoboiko said,

    September 22, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

    Jonathan: Pre-modern text in Japan was read right-to-left even when horizontal (for example in signs and such). So if you assume that the vertical arranging imply old-style writing, one could argue that the horizontals would be right to left.

    On the other hand, modern vertical text sometimes include short horizontal sections (e.g. arabic numbers or punctuation) that are meant to be read left to right. Examples of such “tate-chū-yoko”: 1, 2, 3.

  8. Plane said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 12:55 am

    Jonathan, isn't it appropriate to interpret them as two sub-columns, even if they have only one character apiece?

    I'm just a student of Japanese, but my character dictionary has plenty of such sub-columns, often with only one character apiece. I'd love to be corrected if my understanding is incorrect.

  9. Carl said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 2:00 am

    If you see pictures from pre-War Japan, it sometimes looks like the characters are written horizontally R-L. So, painted on a taxi would be the letters |シクタ instead of タクシー. A newspaper headline might be 争戦米日. Even today, you'll still see that the plaques on many temples seem to be written R-L. The trick is that it's really written vertically but only one character tall in height.

    Regarding Ms. Aoi, her nom d'amour isn't as good as "Misty Mounds," but it's not bad either: "Blue-well Sky." The Wikipedia page listing her oeuvre is also filled with translations of interest to the pruriently minded linguist. :-) For example, 妄想的特殊浴場 is "Delusional Special Bath," ギリモザ LOTION HELL is "Risky Mosaic Lotion Hell," and her first film is purely English "Happy Go Lucky." (Is Japan at risk of losing its native terms for smut?)

  10. Plane said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 2:15 am

    Actually, horizontal writing right-to-left in Japanese is not a special case of vertical writing; both directions were used early on, but left-to-right became much more popular. Evidence that current R-L horizontal writing is, in fact, not a special case of vertical writing, can be seen in that the long vowel marker is indeed written horizontally and not vertically as you have it, Carl.

  11. Plane said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 2:18 am

    I'm not sure whether my post will get filtered if I post a URL, but here is some photographic evidence of the horizontal long vowel marker in 右横書き:

  12. Mr Fnortner said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 3:01 am

    Given the RL order rule, shouldn't VM's original translation have been: China-Japan friendship?

  13. Victor Mair said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 7:05 am

    @Mr Fnortner

    You have a very good point there, and I initially considered translating the first example as you suggest; I actually went back and forth several times on that matter, but finally decided to do it the way I did for several reasons:

    1. to convey the impression felt by the Chinese bloggers who read the first two characters LR

    2. so as not to confuse Language Log readers, who horizontally are overwhelmingly oriented LR

    3. to keep the English translations of the individual characters in exactly the same positions as the transcriptions and the characters themselves

    In other words, with my carefully arranged transcriptions and translations, I was trying to maintain a strictly positional character-by-character and syllable-by-syllable approach, not to supply an idiomatic rendering in English. I thought it would be clearer for most of my readers if I left the explanation of the real meaning intended by Sola Aoi to my prose analysis.

  14. leoboiko said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 9:37 am

    Plane, aren’t those photographs quite new though? Here’s a 1914 map with vertical dashes on horizontal right-to-left text, as Carl says was the norm pre-war:

  15. Mal in China said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 9:54 am

    Jonathan Gress-Wright said,September 22, 2012 @ 10:25 pm

    "I still see vertically written Chinese here and there, but I guess you only see it outside the mainland."

    There are several signs written vertically at my university in north-east China.
    One at the main entrance running vertically down a column and another at the

  16. Mal in China said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 10:03 am

    Whoops- cont…
    School of Language and Literature where I work.

    When the School of Foreign Languages),merged with the School of Chinese, it was a pragmatic and cost saving exercise to do it in this way. The Chinese characters replaced a huge sign above the main entrance that was signed in English only.

  17. L said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 11:28 am

    > I'm a second generation Chinese American

    No, I'm not – I do not have this honor. This is another "L" – I will henceforth appear under some other handle (to be decided).

    Please talk among yourselves.

  18. Rodger C said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

    Mongolian script is Syriac-derived, not Arabic-derived.

  19. Mr Fnortner said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 1:25 pm

    @L (not the same one): There is precedent here–thanks to Andrew (not the same one)–to suffix an ambiguous handle with "not the same one". It might work for you.

    @Professor Mair: thank you for the answer. It would have been startling to read the translation the other way around. Your approach and elaboration brought the point home easily.

  20. Plane said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    Yes, they are recent. There are pre-war examples of R-L horizontal writing which can't be interpreted as a special case of vertical writing, however, so I don't believe you can make that generalization about it:

  21. M (was L) said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

    I have chosen a new handle. The old one can go to L.

  22. Gon said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

    @Lazar: I have read that it was the arabic (and syriac?) scribes that turned their paper 90 degrees after writing (compare the numerals). If that is the case the mongols just kept the paper with the lines vertical.

  23. Matt said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

    I think that the first picture is best understood as an example of warigaki 割書, where a single vertical column of text is temporarily divided into two smaller columns, which are indeed read right-column, left-column (even if they are only one character each).

    (Note: Warigaki is a special case, and in general Plane's point about R->L horizontal writing not being a special case of vertical writing is true. Leo's old map is a prewar exception that proves the contemporary rule.)

    Meanwhile, the second picture is probably best understood as a L-R line, a tate-chu-yoko as Leo's other comment explains, since she specifically wrote it that way with the expectation that people would read it that way.

  24. Matt said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

    Er, the top of the second picture. Obviously everything from 人民 down is a column.

  25. Jean-Michel said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

    Adding to the confusion: multiple-column vertical writing is often employed in mainland newspapers, since it allows headlines to be crammed into spaces where there otherwise wouldn't be enough room–except the columns are typically read from left to right, following the usual order for horizontal writing. Left-to-right vertical writing is also sometimes used in modern calligraphy, no doubt over the objections of more traditionally-minded calligraphers.

  26. blahedo said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

    I'm surprised nobody's commented on the tag at the end of the headline: apparently now "SFW" is sufficiently well-understood and sufficiently standard that it's acceptable for use in a Wall Street Journal header—on a WSJ blog, to be sure, but it still raised my eyebrows to see it there.

  27. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    September 24, 2012 @ 12:44 am

    This recent expression of Chinese blogger umbrage re/ Japanese 'porn actress' Sora Aoi's plea for amity between here native Japan and mainland China is somewhat reminiscent of Hollywood insider pettiness re/ which film star's name should appear first on the theater marquee, the poster credits, or first-off on the end-credits-roll, when clearly both so-called major actors have contributed in equal measure to advancing the film's narrative, and appeared for roughly the same amount of time, on-screen*. (Kind of a flip of the coin, I'd say.)

    Hmm… and since when have the personal opinions, or sentiments of 'porn stars' re/ high-profile affairs of state, or breaking global conflict between nations, been either credible, newsworthy, or of any significant import, whatsoever?

    But maybe in Japan, 'porn stars' have more cultural clout in matters of global ethics, and international 'intercourse' than we give them credit for? I could see where a 'cunning linguist' could change a few minds.(Oh behave!)

    Curiously, just last month, the Romney GOP camp apparently went into paroxysms of perplexity (and minor damage control, no doubt), when former bombshell porn 'actress' extraordinaire, Jenna Jameson, publicly came out in full support of Romney & Co., on the airwaves of CBS/ NEWS, no less. (With friends like these, who needs enemies.)

    Jameson was quoted as saying, " 'I'm looking forward to a Republican being in office. When you're rich, you want a Republican in office.' " (Sheer eloquence….. NOT!)

    No doubt Ms. Jameson can count herself as one of the exclusive super affluent 1%-ters in the U.S., having parlayed her sexual prowess, and girl-next-door good looks in film, into a multi-million-dollar porn-'Jenna'-X-rated' bonanza.

    Her expressed favoring Romney seems slightly counter-intuitive, though, considering the core conservative hardline GOP base, who might enjoy a little mild pornography now-and-then, in the privacy of their sprawling McMansions; yet, in public, tend to rail adamantly against the sheer depravity, and moral repugnance of XXX-rated fare.

    Can we say "hypocrite", boys and girls?

    *I apologize for that ridiculously long sentence. Clearly, I need a good editor….. badly.

  28. Victor Mair said,

    September 24, 2012 @ 5:48 am


    I was worried that no one would understand SFW, so I hyperlinked it to the Urban Dictionary.

  29. Mark said,

    September 24, 2012 @ 9:42 am

    @Carl, @Plane;

    The modern writing backward on taxis and vans in Japan was explained to me as a recognition that you read the text as it streams by… they write it "backwards" on one side and normally on the other to aid reading it while in motion. Thus the backward examples on that first link are all on the right side of the vehicles.

    This is from the English notes of a Manga I read years ago… I don't have personal experience but it fits what you are seeing on modern vehicles.

  30. Mary Kuhner said,

    September 24, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    If Mark is right about the reason for backwards writing on Japanese motor vehicles, it would be the exact same reasoning that leads to roads with CROSSING/ RAILROAD or AHEAD/ STOP painted on them in the US. I have to say, no matter how fast I am moving I do not read those correctly. I believe there was an LL article about this arguing that in general people don't. I wonder why anyone thinks they do? Maybe it is more likely in Japanese, which apparently is a bit more free with direction of writing than English?

  31. M (was L) said,

    September 24, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

    I have often marvelled at the vehicles labelled ECNALUBMA above the grille – that's only an approximation, because the kindergartener who prepared the label got some of the letters backwards.

  32. Jean-Michel said,

    September 24, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

    Text is often written "backwards" on the right side of mainland Chinese vehicles as well—the only modern exception to the left-to-right rule that I know of, outside of calligraphy. Sometimes the accompanying English text is written backwards as well, either letter-by-letter (e.g. "YCNEGA LEVART GNAIJEHZ") or word-by-word ("AGENCY TRAVEL ZHEJIANG").

    @Alex McCrae:

    But maybe in Japan, 'porn stars' have more cultural clout in matters of global ethics, and international 'intercourse' than we give them credit for?

    Well, maybe, but bear in mind that Sora Aoi's comments were made on her Chinese blog, which is one of the most popular in the world. Some Japanese porn stars have become big names in Hong Kong (which has a tradition of casting them in locally-produced softcore films), but Aoi might be the first one to achieve mainstream renown in the mainland.

  33. M (was L) said,

    September 25, 2012 @ 1:28 am

    Not to suggest for one moment that a porn star might pander to whatever her audience likes, perish the thought, but could she just maybe be trying to hold onto her popularilty in China despite being Japanese, at a time when Japanese seem to be displiked in China? Not that, heaven forfend, any porn star would even consider manipulating audiences.

    What's significant is that her opinion is somehow worth noting. How many of Jenna's fans ask themselves what they think of her politics?

    I fully appreciate that what's of interest here is how it was written, perhaps more than what was said – not that any porn star would give any preference to form over substance, of course – and that, through various crosscultural nuances she managed to make them even angrier; which is not to suggest that any porn star is unlearned in any way.

    Thankfully neither popular politics nor mass culture are crowdsourced. That would make them as bad as dictionaries.

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