Foreign media were as horrified as American media at the chaos of Tuesday’s first presidential debate, and one paper in particular — Japan’s Asahi Shimbun — even took the time to translate “shitshow.”
That was the not-so-delicate term chosen by CNN anchor Dana Bash to describe the showdown between President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden.
The Asahi Shimbun, widely regarded as one of Japan’s most respected broadsheet newspapers, ran a live blog highlighting notable moments in the debate. As of Thursday, the blog was headlined “The Worst Debate in History,” and CNN’s comments were included to represent media opinion. The paper translated “shitshow” as “kuso mitai na shō” — literally, “a show that is like shit.”
Saori Ibuki, a reporter for BuzzFeed Japan who previously interned at the Japanese edition of HuffPost, shared this translation on Twitter, as well as a glimpse at how Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, aired the chaotic debate for local audiences.
“People in Japan who watched it on NHK ... had to watch three men shout over each other while three interpreters interpreted over each other simultaneously,” she wrote in response to another tweet of a New York Times story from Friday headlined, ”‘I Feel Sorry for Americans’: A Baffled World Watches the U.S.”
People in Japan who watched it on NHK (our public broadcaster) had to watch three men shout over each other while three interpreters interpreted over each other simultaneously soooo yes but not really?🤔 pic.twitter.com/1gItayw55f https://t.co/vWV8Top38J— 伊吹早織 Saori Ibuki (@ciaolivia) September 30, 2020
Some people asked how “shitshow” was translated into Japanese. Asahi Shimbun, one of our major national newspapers, translated as くそみたいなショー (Kuso mitai na shō): “a show that is like shit”. https://t.co/zvWh8RXQEJ— 伊吹早織 Saori Ibuki (@ciaolivia) September 30, 2020
A number of voices responded to Ibuki’s tweets, which went viral.
Some argued that the overly literal “shitshow” translation failed to communicate the nature of the debate and offered more creative alternative translations, such as “a festival of shit.”
Others pointed out that the interpreters on NHK were still using relatively formal Japanese and not quite communicating the tension that existed between Trump and Biden on stage.
While the debate was indeed “a show that is like shit,” I think of the term “shitshow” more closely meaning “a festival of shit” or “a spectacle of shit”. Is this just me?— emily bihl (@emilybihl) September 30, 2020
Too literal. Doesn't convey the full impact.— E. Z. Hoogenblatter - Anti-Racism, Anti-Racist (@xwordy) September 30, 2020
Agree, I think it misses mark. ‘Shitshow’ essentially means a ‘disaster’, ‘disastrous performance’ or ‘debacle’. It’s quite a strong negative; Asahi Shimbun is being too restrained.— 💧IronChefBubbleGum (@ICBubbleGum) October 1, 2020
It's interesting how, despite the aggressive attitude Biden and Trump have towards each other, the translators used polite language when interpreting them. Like あなた and using です.— Brianna (@AkaruiSakura) September 30, 2020
The Asahi Shimbun translation of “shitshow” was included in a Politico story that rounded up debate stories from various news outlets around the globe.
Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle deliberated over the word “clusterfuck,” another term used to describe the debate, and defined it as “a complex and utterly disordered and mismanaged situation: a muddled mess,” according to Politico.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.