4 Ways American Video Games Retconned Japanese Culture

My best friend in high school was a guy named Carlos, and he had a somewhat interesting attitude towards culture shock because unlike a lot of people we knew in east Houston he had actually been deported to the United States (Long story). As a result he was keenly aware of what he called "untranslatable cultural idioms," things that make perfect sense to a Mexican or an American, but just don't quite cross over in the language to the other culture.

If you've been on the Internet at all in the last several years you know that Japan and America have their share of untranslatable cultural idioms as well. We don't understand the idea of eating baked potato-flavored Kit-Kats before an exam for good luck, and they don't understand why we own so many guns and tattoo common words like "water" in kanji along our lower backs. Sure, you could type out an explanation. The words are there, but in the end you're applying things one side understands intuitively while the other doesn't.

Video games show this off better than anything because while many, and for awhile virtually all, were made in Japan they knew they were going to have to sell to America to make the big yen. When the time came to do translations, some folks wisely caught things that would not have gone over well here in the States. Things like...

Yoshi Eating Dolphins: Super Mario World had a lot going for it from the get go because Shigeru Miyamoto was adamant that Mario should ride a dinosaur, proving that Miyamoto knows what awesome is and don't ever argue with him. Thus was born Yoshi, who can eat enemies and then turn them into eggs, which seems like a very strange reproduction cycle to me.

The game also had dolphins because, again Miyamoto knows awesome. The appear only in one level, Vanilla Secret 3, where Mario uses them as moving platforms to get across a water level. They are ridiculously adorable, all grins and cute little goggles. Sure, they can take you the wrong direction, but we knew they weren't enemies because they did no damage and Yoshi couldn't eat them...

Except in the original Japanese where he totally can. The Japanese don't really understand our love of dolphins as non-food stuffs, and didn't really see a problem with Yoshi chowing down on them. On the other hand, we keep turtles as pets too and make no squeaks, so maybe the Japanese are right to treat us a little patronizingly in this.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner