December 15, 2017

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Sontaku: Key Word in Moritomo Gakuen Scandal


Sontaku is a Japanese word that means to infer what the other person is thinking when the person does not express anything explicitly. Sontaku is often used in bureaucracy, and is not a word usually used by regular citizens in their daily lives. Many Japanese people heard the word, sontaku for the first time through the news reports on Moritomo Gakuen.

In the reports of Moritomo Gakuen, the word, sontaku has been used many times, since the crucial problem of the scandal is whether or not there were explicit orders made by Prime Minister Abe and the first lady, Akie Abe regarding the discount of national land, or if the discount was made by bureaucrats who acted with sontaku of the higher authorities’ will.

This word is very difficult to translate into English and at the press conference by Yasunori Kagoike at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on March 23rd, 2017, the translator was having a hard time translating the word. Takashi Yamaguchi, a bilingual lawyer of Kagoike, who was sitting next to the interpreter intervened into the translation twice, and the second time that he intervened, Yamaguchi told the interpreter to use the word, sontaku as it is difficult to translate.

Due to the frequent use in media, many say that sontaku is likely to be nominated for the Buzzwords Award of 2017.  Buzzwords Awards are hosted by a publisher, Jiyukokuminsha, and are announced in December annually. These awards are given to people who are related to the buzzwords ranking in the top ten.

For advanced Japanese learners out there, sontaku could be an interesting word to add your vocabulary.

Below is the transcript of the interventions.

The First Time


Interpreter:  I think that he…there was a surmise…he read between the lines about what… There was a…excuse me.

Takashi Yamaguchi (Kagoike’s bilingual lawyer):  I think he is just missing a couple of words.

Interpreter: Yeah.

Yamaguchi: When he says sontaku, that means that was done by people around him, and not by Abe. Sontaku is not the word you use by yourself. When he says sontaku, probably people around or people who are underlings of Abe.

Interpreter : May be your heard what he has just said. Perhaps that it was not Abe himself who was involved in these influence but the people around him, his underlings.

Another Interpreter:  The word, is sontaku leading confusion in English translation.  There are several different ways to say this whether it is conjecture, surmise, reading between the lines. Reading what someone is implying. So there is no direct word in English which is why led to this. Just to add some information.

Interpreter: Thank you. Sorry about that.

The Second Time

Interpreter: The question is whether or not this moving along of the process of bad things and other or not or if there were some back channels that were used.

Yamaguchi: Why don’t you use the word,  sontaku? (Yamaguchi says this to the first interpreter.)

The second interpreter: Yeah.

Interpreter: Maybe there was this reverse sontaku, a reverse version of lots of things moving along in the other direction.


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