Chūgoku

How did Yahoo come to render the name of the Chugoku Expressway (a motorway in western Japan) into English as China Road?

Some 14 cars in all were involved in the chain-reaction crash on an expressway named China Road in Yamaguchi prefecture, leaving 10 people with minor injuries.

The name Chūgoku (中国) in Japanese refers both to the country China and to a region of western Japan. In both cases, the literal meaning is middle country (or kingdom); in the latter, that’s a reflection of the fact that Japanese culture was historically centred a bit further west than it is now.

But isn’t that confusing? Not really; the context is usually clear enough, though the tourism industry is a notable exception. It’s no worse than having Georgia refer to both a state of the US and a country in the Caucasus: in practice, it’s rarely an issue.

Here’s coverage of the same incident from a Japanese newspaper:

山口県下関市の中国自動車道で4日に発生した高級スポーツカーなど14台が絡んだ事故で、14台のうち8台がフェラーリ、1台はランボルギーニ、3台はベンツ、2台はトヨタ車で、自動車販売店などによると、フェラーリとランボルギーニの車体価格は約1600万~3000万円台で、総額2億円程度とみられる。

In this instance, the road in question is called 中国自動車道 (chūgoku jidōshadō), usually and officially given in English as Chugoku Expressway. You could translate it literally as China Car Road, but that would be wrong. Moreover, you’d have to be able to read Japanese without actually knowing anything about the geography and culture of the country. My hypothesis is that someone put a Japanese article through an automatic translator and tidied up the English.

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