Getting The Terms Right: Accountability and Risk Communication in the Japanese Language


I have talked about Jun Kurihara previously in my blog posts ( 1 in Japanese2 ). He widely reads and erudite, and boasts a repertoire that ranges from classics to contemporary books written in several languages. He uses his considerable linguistic ability to access literature in various languages, making his insights to be sharper and insightful. It is always a joy to talk with him, and we are never short for topics to talk about.

He is one of the few people who understand when I use the word accountability. In Japan, it is often translated to mean ‘responsibility to explain’, but this is a serious misunderstanding. The word accountability is used to denote ‘the fulfilment of duties and responsibilities one carries, encompassing more than the mere explanation that the wrong translation suggests.

Regarding this topic, Professor Kiyoshi Yamamoto’s ( in Japanese ; in English, ‘How ‘Accountability’ has become ‘Responsibility of Explain’ in Japanese’ ) excellent book is worth reading. And Mr. Kurihara has already started quoting him, as I shall talk about later.

Last year in June, when I was presenting at the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S, I stated that in Japan the the word ‘Accountability’ means ‘Responsibility to explain’, thus a typical case of ‘Lost in Translation’, there was a strange reactions, ‘uproar’ , among the audience.

In a similar case, Mr. Kurihara has commented on the word ‘Risk Communication’ within his column ( in Japanese ), and if one reads it, one can understand why I have not used this word within the NAIIC Report.

Loaning words from a different language ( in this case English ) is fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding, and we need to make sure that we understand in what sense the word is being used.