Commentaries from the Judges (Japanese-to-English Division)  

James Davis
Ruth McCreery    
Ken Wagner



James Davis

General Comments 
This year’s passage dealt with drones, which are being used for a wider range of applications every year. All five finalists developed a good sense of the overall structure and purpose of this document, and all five translations are well done. Consequently, these comments deal with specific words and phrases. 

The term 機体 appears five times in the document. As a group the finalists translated 機体 in several different ways. Generally speaking, 機体 refers to the “airframe” of an aircraft, which encompasses the body of the aircraft but not the engines or any other element of the powertrain. In some instances 機体refers to the “fuselage” of an aircraft. In this document, however, 機体 refers specifically to the body of a drone (excluding the motors and battery). That is why the writer makes a distinction between 無人航空機 and 機体. If so, the best translation for 機体 in this context would be “body of a drone” or “drone airframe.” Translating 機体 as “drone” is not necessarily wrong, but if both 無人航空機 and 機体 are translated as “drone,” the distinction between the two Japanese terms is lost. In the first bullet point and associated paragraphs the writer focuses on improving the visibility of the 無人航空機 by improving the visibility of the 機体. The primary concern here is whether the body of a drone is visible to the pilot of an aircraft, not whether an aircraft is visible to the operator of a drone. This conclusion is reinforced by the presence of the phrase 無人航空機の視認性を向上させる in the middle of the sentence that follows the first bullet point. Thus, translating the first bullet point (機体の視認性の向上) as “Aircraft Visibility Improvement” is incorrect.

The phrase こととする appears four times in the document. In this context the phrase signifies that the panel that prepared the document has decided to take a specific action in the future or that the panel is making a recommendation for some future action. Phrases such as “we will (conduct) ...,” “the panel has decided to (conduct) ...,” or “the panel shall (conduct) ...” capture the intended meaning. On the other hand, “we launched (an investigation) ...” is not correct, because こととする refers to a future action—not a past action.

The word 啓蒙 appears three times—once in the form of 啓蒙強化 and twice in the form of 周知啓蒙. The word 啓蒙 often suggests that someone is educating or enlightening someone about something. In this context 啓蒙強化 could be translated as “heightening awareness” or “raising awareness” among potential drone operators of rules or regulations related to operating drones. In order to maintain the intended distinction between 啓蒙強化 and 周知啓蒙, the term 周知啓蒙 could be translated as “broadening awareness” among the same population regarding such rules or regulations.

Some confusion existed regarding the 航空情報 that is mentioned in the two paragraphs under the third bullet point. All five finalists recognized that in accordance with Article 99 of the Civil Aeronautics Act such information is provided to the crew of an aircraft by the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism. The first sentence in the first paragraph under the third bullet point ends with this clause: 飛行の許可や航空情報の発行手続きが必要である. All of the finalists understood that the 発行の許可 is requested by someone who intends to operate a drone. However, there were several opinions regarding the 発行手続き. The term 発行 is normally used to describe an action by an organization or a governmental body—not an action by an individual. Thus, the 航空情報の発行手続き probably refers to the issuance by the MLITT to aircraft crews of information regarding the proposed drone flight. In the following sentence the writer indicates that this information is subsequently confirmed by aircraft crews and by flight/aircraft dispatchers. (This is a reasonable sequence of events.) In the second paragraph under the same bullet point the writer describes a misunderstanding on the part of some drone operators. In the description of this misunderstanding the writer uses the phrase 飛行の許可を取得し航空情報が発行された場合. All of the finalists understood that the 許可 was obtained by the drone operator prior to the drone flight. However, the phrase 航空情報が発行された probably refers to the issuance of information by the MLITT to aircraft crews—not to the filing of information by the drone operator. (If the drone operator knows that information about the flight of his/her drone has been distributed to aircraft crews, then the drone operator may think the flight of his/her drone has priority. That is the heart of the misunderstanding described here.) In the final clause of this paragraph (which ends with こととする), the writer describes how the panel intends to respond to this misunderstanding. There is significant potential for confusion on several of these points.

Additional comments on selected points in the individual translations follow. Many of these comments focus on the specific context of this document. Searching through dictionaries or glossaries to gain information about terms that we do not know is an essential element of the translation process. However, linking the kind of general information that is found in many references to the specific context of the document we are translating is equally important. Background research is often necessary in order to make good choices among possible meanings for specific words or phrases. Such research consumes time, but that is one way that we, as translators, gain and maintain knowledge about the field(s) in which we specialize.


E13 had no difficulty with field-specific terms such as “no-fly zones” or “advanced satellite positioning system,” he understood the overall flow of information in the document, and this translation is very readable. However, several specific words and phrases proved to be difficult.

In the third paragraph under the first bullet point we encounter the phrase “...が審査要領で求められている.” E13 expresses this as “it is required that ... are taken as key considerations for examinations.”  In this particular context the 審査 is probably a request for permission to operate a drone and 要領 probably refers to the guidelines or procedure to be followed when making such a request. If so, this portion could read, “the permit application guidelines require that ....”

In the first paragraph under the third bullet point the source text refers to 法第99条の規定, which E13 translates as “the legal provisions of Article 99.” In Section 7 we encounter the phrase 航空法に基づく審査要領, which E13 expresses as “the examination procedures, which are based on aviation law.” The term 第99条 certainly refers to “Article 99,” but this article must be an element of some specific law. The subsequent reference to 航空法, which is the “Civil Aeronautics Act,” suggests that 第99条 appears in the 航空法. The following website is a valuable resource for obtaining an English translation of a Japanese law: Although the top page on this website states that the translations that appear on the website are not official and are to be used for information only, this website is widely used by translators and others. If we read Article 99 of this law—entitled 情報の提供 or “Provision of Information”, we find that this article contains exactly the information described in the text. If so, 法第99条の規定 could be rendered “the provisions of Article 99 in the Civil Aeronautics Act.” Similarly, the phrase 航空法に基づく審査要領 could be expressed as “the permit application guidelines, as specified in the Civil Aeronautics Act.”

The final paragraph of the source text contains the phrase 官民一体となって. E13 uses the phrase “cooperating with civilians.” The word “civilians” is usually used when making a distinction between people who belong to the military and people who do not. In this context there is no reference to the military. Either “cooperation between the public sector and the private sector” or “cooperation between the government and the private sector” would be a better fit in this context.


E21 incorporated a number of well-turned phrases into her translation. Phrases such as “the panel has decided,” “the panel seeks,” and “the panel will conduct” reinforce the idea that this report was commissioned in order to provide recommendations for future action. E21 also recognized each reference to the Civil Aeronautics Act, decided to use “websites” for ホームページ, and referred to “government-private cooperation.”

However, E21 used the term “aerodrome” for 空港. “Aerodrome” is certainly a possible translation for 空港. This term is widely used in Commonwealth countries, and it appears several times in the English translation of the Civil Aeronautics Act on the website mentioned above. Even so, it may be better to use “airport” in this translation. Also, E21 rendered 審査要領 as “assessment summary.” In this context 審査要領 probably refers to the “permit application guidelines” that should be followed when someone applies for permission to operate a drone. E21 also used the phrase “non-fly zone;” most people say “no-fly zone.” These points are minor distractions from a very solid translation.


In the first sentence E25 referred to “the visibility of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.” This was a good choice, because both terms are widely used. However, E25 struggled with some of the detailed portions of this document.

The paragraph under the second bullet point consists of a single sentence. E25 wisely broke this long Japanese sentence into three English sentences. This is often an effective strategy, but when long sentences are broken into shorter sentences it is important to provide the continuity that is needed in order to fully convey the meaning that appears in the source text. If we first look at the structure of the sentence, it appears that 規制強化 is a goal or objective, and the panel will 検討する several issues or strategies, which are listed in the sentence, in order to achieve that goal/objective. Next, we note the combination of the particle や and a comma following the noun 活用. We also note the presence of another comma following the noun ルール. This particle and these commas suggest that the panel will investigate some kind of 活用, some kind of ルール, and 啓蒙強化. One possible translation for this sentence is the following: “With respect to strengthening regulations regarding drone flights in the vicinity of an airport the panel will investigate the implementation of geofencing, whereby a sophisticated satellite-positioning system is used to physically prevent the flight of a drone within a no-fly zone. We will also investigate the introduction of more stringent rules to prevent drones from closely approaching or colliding with aircraft, as well as methods to raise/heighten awareness of those rules by drone operators.” (The portions in italics do not literally appear in the source text but are probably needed in order to fully convey the intended meaning to the English-language reader.)

In the first paragraph under the third bullet point E25 rendered the term 運行管理者 as “operating staff.” If we consider that the topic of the sentence is 航空情報 and the term 運行管理者 appears together with 航空機乗務員, we realize that 運行管理者 probably refers to “flight dispatchers” or “aircraft dispatchers.” E25 recognized both references to the Civil Aeronautics Act, but the first reference reads “Civil Aeronautics Act” and the second reference reads “Civil Aeronautics Law.” In any translation it is important to render proper nouns consistently.


E27 was the only finalist to use the abbreviation “UAV,” which is a widely used alternative to the word “drone” when translating 無人飛行機. E27 wisely included the meaning of this abbreviation (“unmanned aerial vehicle”) in the first sentence of the translation. E27 also handled 審査要領 well.

For the word 機体 E27 used “specifications” in some instances (at the end of the first paragraph under the first bullet point and again at the beginning of the third paragraph under the same bullet point) but simply used “UAV” or “UAVs” in other instances. It is true that specifications of the drone body or airframe are relevant to the discussion under the first bullet point, but the word “specifications” is too general to capture the writer’s intended meaning. If E27 was not satisfied with “body of a body” or “drone airframe,” another option would be “airframe design,” which was the choice of E36.

In the first paragraph under the third bullet point the text refers to 航空機乗務員や運航管理者. E27 translated 航空機乗務員 as “aircrews,” but rendered 運航管理者 as “aircrafts.” The term 運航管理者 probably refers to “flight dispatchers” or “aircraft dispatchers.”


E36 did very well in most respects, but a few points are worth noting. E36 chose to translate 無人飛行機 as “unmanned aircraft system,” which is also abbreviated as “UAS.” The U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) are among the organizations that have adopted “unmanned aircraft system” or “UAS,” although “drone” and “unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)” are used far more widely by the general public. However, “UAS” tends to be used when a writer is thinking about the development of an entire system, which includes not only the drone itself but also ground-based support equipment (such as a flight controller) and various types of communication or control software. In this particular document “drone” or “UAV” would be a better choice than “UAS.”

E36 translated each occurrence of 機体 as “airframe,” which is reasonable. However, in the third paragraph under the first bullet point E36 translated 夜間飛行 as “airframes operated at night.” As mentioned above, the term “airframe” excludes the powertrain, so this should be rendered “drones operated at night” or “UAVs operated at night.”

Ruth McCreery

I would like to congratulate all the finalists on their largely successful efforts to turn an example of painful bureaucratic prose in a field new to most of us into accurate, readable English.?

This year’s winner, E36, began well by translating the subhead その他 not as “Other” but as “Other Considerations,” a much more natural usage in a report than “Other,” which the others stuck with. E36 continued to go beyond the literal, amplifying the translation with additional explanations that, usually, helped. Unfortunately, the first sentence is an example of taking that too far: Why “from inside an aircraft,” which raises the possibility of someone on the outside of an aircraft needing to spot drones? (I am imagining a daredevil standing on the aircraft’s wing.) The same sentence also refers to a drone as an “unmanned aircraft system (UAS)” rather than as a UA (the term used by Japan’s Civil Aviation Bureau), UAV, or simply drone. That is a poor choice, since a system is necessarily not visible. (Yes, UAS is used by some, including the US Federal Aviation Administration, for the unmanned aircraft, rather than the system consisting of the aircraft, controller, and system for communicating between them, but that is no reason to reinforce an unfortunate usage.)?

E36 and E21 also set the voice of the text appropriately in the first paragraph, using “the panel” instead of “we” as in the translations by E13 and E25. That impersonal, third-person treatment of the entity producing this report fits well with bureaucratic prose. E27’s more literal use of the passive also works, but the text tends to become less readable.

As Judges Jim and Ken have pointed out, 航空情報の発行手続き was a serious obstacle. E27 managed to avoid inverting who was supplying information to whom, as did E13. E36 got it backwards (“operators . . . file aeronautical information”). E21 and E25 tried to wriggle out by eliding the actors, producing ambiguous and inaccurate results.

E36 and E25 both gave into the temptation simply to use the English original of a katakana term instead of translating it: ホームページ as “homepage” instead of “website.”?

E27 stayed close to the original in use of the passive voice and convoluted sentence structures, but, in addition to sorting out 航空情報の発行手続き reasonably well, came up with some perfectly bureaucratic, but non-literal, translations, including “enhancing public awareness,” “a public awareness campaign,” and “collaboration between the public and private sector.”

E25’s English is awkward, and the translation included a number of serious errors. Notably, under the second bullet point, we have より厳格なルール rendered as “This is an inflexible policy,” which skips over the より, mishandles 厳格 (“strict” or “rigorous” would work much better than “inflexible,” which often has negative implications), and, with the “This,” conflates stricter rules with the use of geofencing. Similarly, the final paragraph introduces “a meeting convened” out of nowhere.

E21 also produced a less than readable, confusing translation. For example, the second paragraph states that “drone operators should obtain pre-flight weather information ... to prevent reduced visibility in cloudy/foggy conditions.” Having weather information cannot prevent reduced visibility. The “to prevent” phrase belongs with the next sentence, which is about not flying under such conditions.?

E13’s translation was generally well written but had some errors and omissions in the second and third paragraphs and some grammatical errors. (“Criteria” is plural, for example.) Unlike the others, E13 apparently did not realize that 航空法 could refer to a specific law and attempt to find a standard translation of its title. That oversight is probably why E13 left “Article 99” two paragraphs earlier hanging without providing any context.?


Ken Wagner

I would like to start by congratulating the winner and finalists of this year’s contest and extend my appreciation to everyone who participated with no guarantee of any type of reward. This text was difficult to translate, dry, and grueling. In that light, everyone deserves as extra note of appreciation.    

This year’s contest passage was a summary of the work by a committee dealing with improving drone safety. Upon casual reading, it appears to be a fairly straightforward description of technical and administrative changes for improving safety. However, like much or maybe most Japanese bureaucratic writing, it proved to be extremely convoluted and difficult to express well in English. It certain places it was nearly impossible to understand when every element of a sentence had to be accounted for.    

The vocabulary also presented a unique challenge. Usually, proper specialty-field terminology provides an anchor for the translation and makes the translation sound legitimate, at least to the translator him- or herself. However, some of the official terminology in this passage was either so vague or odd sounding to a non-aviator’s ear that it didn’t seem to improve the translation. For example, the term “aeronautical information” for 航空情報, while easily and widely verifiable, sounds as vague as calling a recipe “food information” and “obstacle limitation surface” for 制限表面 sounds like a bad translation from Japanese. The correct usage of these two verifiable terms indicated how effectively the contestants researched the translation. The proper translation of 審査要領 was hard to pin down in the context of this report (something indicating that this was an inspection for granting flight permission). Also, the Japanese for the word drone itself could be and was translated a number of ways including “drone,” “unmanned aircraft,” and “unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).” The list goes on. Contestants had to distinguish between “aerodrome” (used in the Civil Aeronautics Act) or “airport,” “airframe” or “aircraft,” etc.    

There was also one phrase that seemed to be the fatal booby trap in the passage and to separate the wheat from the chaff ? and even the wheat from the wheat in one case. This phrase was 飛行の許可や航空情報の発行手続きが必要である in paragraph 5. Since the contest passage is from the findings of an investigation that have not yet been implemented, the correct translation seems to be that it is necessary to establish a procedure for applying for flight approval and for the issuance of aeronautical information to drones flying under certain stated conditions.    

Judge Ruth ran across a newspaper article with this same information presented in much more palatable form. “Entering the drone age: Japan seeks to tap into the potential of unmanned flying vehicles” on the Japan Times website. The article was published after contest dead line and unavailable to the contestants who had to deal with the obtuse bureaucratic writing. But it does provide a point of comparison illustrating how convoluted the contest passage was.    

Judge Jim’s comments deal with specific passages in greater detail.    

Contestant E36, Winner    

This year’s winner, Contestant E36, took a somewhat conservative and literal approach, but this helped assure that all information in the original text was conveyed in English. However, E36 was still able to divide the text into clear, simple statements that were easy for an English speaker to follow. E36 conveyed the meaning of the text correctly in most cases. Contestant E36 correctly used the terms “aeronautical information” for 航空情報and “obstacle limitation surface” for 制限表面. “Promoting public awareness” was a particularly good way to translate 周知啓蒙 in this context.    

However, Contestant E36 was another victim of the phrase 飛行の許可や航空情報の発行手続きが必要である, believing that the drone operator was providing information to aviation authorities, rather than requesting that the information be issued. E36 also translated 審査要領 “operating procedures” while this is more like some kind of preflight inspection requirements.    

Overall, however, the information was accurately presented in a manner an English-language speaker could readily understand.     

Contestant 27, Runner-up
Second-place finisher Contestant E27 translated the text with an extremely high degree of accuracy. However, there were some usage and structural issues that made the translation sound like it retained some of the Japanese structure or was written by a native Japanese speaker. A lot of passive verbs were used.    

Bureaucratic writing can have a certain cadence and complex logic. By leaving some of the longer sentences strung together in English, Contestant E27 recreated the cadence and convoluted logic of this twisted bureaucratic tome. Examples include the sentence beginning “While the installation of…” in the third paragraph and the entire fourth and sixth paragraphs. Contestant E27 made sense of the convoluted fifth paragraph and was very close to the intended meaning of what appeared to be the most confusing phrase in the passage: “航空情報の発行手続きが必要” with “it is necessary to apply for flight information.” (Will be necessary or a procedure is necessary?)    

Contestant E13    

Contestant E13’s English was well written with active verbs and descriptive language. E13 was one of the contestants to use the vivid phrase “tightening regulations.” Although that could possibly present a register issue, it livens things up.    

E13 used the term “obstacle limitation surface,” but not the term “aeronautical information.” There were a few omissions, notably in the second and third paragraph, a large misunderstanding in the third paragraph, and a few other misunderstandings scattered throughout the translation.

E13 was pretty close on the big obstacle of “航空情報の発行手続きが必要” (“one must undergo the procedure for issuance of aviation information.”), getting the direction of the action, but saying that a procedure had been established.    

Contestant E21    

Contestant E21 also wrote good English with the subjects of verbs identified and active verbs. E21 identified the panel as the actor when appropriate. The translation tended to be somewhat free, although not necessarily wrong in some places, had one large omission at the end of paragraph 3, and scattered slight misunderstandings. E21 used the two key vocabulary terms “aeronautical information” and “obstacle limitation surface,” but kind of skirted around the booby trap of “航空情報の発行手続きが必要.” There was some strained vocabulary (stroboscopic lights) and usage (consumption of battery life). As one of the finalists, E21 produced one of the best sounding translations in the contest.    

Contestant E25    

Contestant E25 used several good translation techniques including identifying the actors and using active verbs. E25 also divided the text into smaller sentences more akin to natural English-language expression. The translation was well written and pleasant to read. E25 perhaps gave the best rendition of the major obstacle of the text, correctly identifying that it is necessary to establish a procedure for applying for flight approval and the issuance of aeronautical information to drone operators flying under certain conditions (飛行の許可や航空情報の発行手続きが必要である in paragraph 5). An extra word of congratulations is in order for that.

However, Contestant E25 did not use some standard terminology like “aeronautical information” and “obstacle limitation surface.” This was a torturous text to follow, and E25 got a quite a few things turned around, although admittedly many passages left English speakers scratching their heads after the first couple of readings.