The Kotaku Article Regarding Persona 5’s Localization, and the Source Which it Cites, are False
I’ve been following the drama surrounding the English localization of Persona 5, and a Kotaku article heavily featuring Nathaniel Chapman’s discussion of Japanese Shogi trivia happened to catch my eye.
In this article, a game developer named Nathaniel Chapman is quoted at length for his insights into the Japanese language as well as the Japanese game of Shogi. However, as I will presently demonstrate, Chapman’s claims, and thus Kotaku’s article, are blatantly mistaken.
Here, as quoted by Kotaku, Chapman has mis-identified the character on the promoted side of a Shogi pawn as the hiragana と.
In fact, this character is 金 (meaning “gold”, pronounced “kin”) and in the game of Shogi is referred to as と金 (pronounced “tokin”) when indicating the character on the promoted side of a pawn. The cause for its appearance is indeed because it is a stylized calligraphic form (くずし字) of the kanji 金. It is not the hiragana と (pronounced “to”).
The reason why it is called “tokin” is not because it has been shortened by omission as Chapman suggests, but because here 金 is written in such a way that it has come to visibly approximate the hiragana と, thus the name “tokin”.
In this tweet, Chapman has correctly identified a mildly stylized 金. However, the 金 written on the promoted side of a Shogi pawn is stylized to a much greater degree.
The reason for this can be easily explained.
In the game of Shogi, the three rows furthest away from the player are called the promotion zone. Any piece besides a king or gold general which performs a move partially or fully within this area can be promoted to a more powerful piece.
There are four pieces which, when promoted, take on the same parameters as the gold (金) general. They are, in order of initial value:
To indicate that they function in the same way as a gold general when promoted, all four of these pieces have the character 金 on their opposite faces. The level to which the character 金 is stylized corresponds to what that piece’s initial value was.
Therefore, the 金 on a silver general is very formally written while the 金 on a pawn is written so “messily” that it has come to resemble a と.
This part is merely my conjecture, but perhaps this speaks to our historical cultural belief that you can’t escape your humble roots, even if you move up the social ladder.
There are other examples of this in Shogi which further corroborate this argument. For example, the bishop and rook pieces both have the characters for dragon on their promoted sides.
As of this writing, Chris Kohler has yet to update his article to reflect any of this apart from a small change to indicate that the developers of Persona 5 had contacted the author and informed him that the translation was correct. Instead, the author of the article persists in quoting Chapman despite the inaccuracy of his claims.
In conclusion, the translator who was in charge of this line of dialogue in the English localization of Persona 5 was not only correct, but has demonstrated a great deal of respect for the culture of the source material. There is nothing in this translation that could be considered a “fail”, save that it expects a high degree of Japanese cultural insight from the player.
- I grew up playing Shogi with my family, to whom I always lost.