Friday, December 20, 2013

Answer: What's that word again? The challenge of cross-cultural search

As is usual with cross-cultural search challenges, this one was very difficult.  But the stalwarts in SRS came through with an answer!  Impressive work, team! 

Our question:  

1.  What's the Japanese term for a publisher taking a writer out of their normal life and secreting them away in a hotel until they've completed writing the book that they're obligated to write?  

And the short answer: 

The practice is referred to as kanzume (say "kahn-zoo-may" for approximation.  It literally means "canning" or its product (as in sardines, beets, and tuna).  A more up-to-date cultural translation may be "vacuum packed."  The collocation is kanzume ni naru  (i.e., to become canned; literally, to reach a point of being put into a can).

Let's look back at the comments to see the thread of how we solved this problem. 

There are a bunch of valiant attempts to search for this concept.  We saw queries like: 

 ["professional writers in japan"]

 ["authors” “japan" " publishing contracts"]

 [authors OR writers "japan" "contract law"]

 ["japanese law publishing contract" author OR writer]

 [blogs japan authors OR writers "how to get published"]

 ["japan" authors OR writers ]

 [ how to publish a book in japan ]

 [ "japanese authors" contract "writer's block" ]

 [ "japanese authors" imprisonment ]

 [ "japanese authors" imprisoned ]

People searched in blogs, in News, and in Books.  

The fundamental problem here is that the searcher is trying to figure out what English words are going to be associated with the Japanese word / words / phrase on a web page.  Ideally, you'd like to find a dictionary, maybe even a reverse dictionary from Japanese to English.  

To make things worse, the challenge is a fairly sophisticated one.  Whenever you see something like this (that involves high culture, social transactions, and something that's apparently slightly transgressive), there's a VERY good chance that the word/words/phrase will be idiomatic or metaphorical.  

For instance, if I was to ask you for a common English phrase for being fired from a job, you might say "he's been canned," right?  Of course, the action of putting into a can is metaphorical.  

And that's the issue we have here.  How does one look for this kind of thing? 

There are really two approaches. 

1.  Try to guess the analogous descriptive phrase.  That's what we see in the above list of queries.  Searchers are trying to guess what the co-located description of the concept is.  

When I did this, I tried about 30 queries (all variations on the ones above) before I found one that worked:  

     [ Japan artist OR author confine hotel ] 

I did this search in Google Books, and was lucky to find a book on the creation of Japanese manga ("Dreamland Japan: Writings on on Modern Manga") in which this memorable quote appears on page 221:  

"If the pages are not ready, the editor must sometimes resort to kanzume ("canning"), corralling the artist and confining him to his hotel room until he finishes the pages."  

For the record, I was able to find other books that mention the word kanzume with just

   [ Japan author confine hotel ]

but it's true--in such difficult cross-cultural cases, you're often searching around for something that mentions the word/words/phrase near by the English words used.  

That's why I went to Books to focus my search.  I was counting on someone writing a sentence like that in English, and then giving the Japanese term.  

Once I had the word kanzume, it's pretty straight-forward to search for something like: 

     [ kanzume hotel publisher ] 

and then find other confirmations, such as in the book Literary Life in Tōkyō, 1885-1915: Tayama Katai's Memoirs 'Thirty Years in Tōkyō' where the author writes in a footnote: 

"Publishers often went to such lengths to ensure that authors (especially important ones) actually did complete contracted work.  The practice still continues, and is known nowadays as ‘canning’ (‘kanzume’…)  Of course, publishers have no legal authority to detain writers.  The writer has to agree to be ‘detained’, and then (nowadays) moves into a hotel near the publishing company, where he shares a room with a ‘supervisor’ appointed by the company.  Few if any writers appear to have protested against the practice, no doubt welcoming the opportunity to get down some intensive writing, the notoriety, and the chance to avoid the possibility of more serious consequences over breach of contract.”  

 2.  Ask a friend (or post to a social media) from that culture While the search I describe above works just fine, as we saw from the comments, this is often a difficult path to follow.  Realistically, it's often much faster to post this question to a Japanese friend, or to put it out on a mailing-list or social media that's a provider of good answers.  It's not hard to find online groups that specialize in answering these kinds of questions.  (We'll talk about finding such groups in a future post.)  

And in fact, that's how this whole thing came about in the first place.  To confirm my answer, I contacted a friend who teaches Japanese, and has written textbooks about learning Japanese.   (She also grew up in Japan, but now lives in the midwest.)  

Mari described how the word kanzume works, and gave me a bit of the backstory on the concept.  That kind of first-hand evidence from a person in-and-of the culture is absolutely the best.  

Slight Warning:  If you search for the word kanzume in isolation, you might end up with some slightly risque images on your desktop.  It turns out that Kanzume Goddess is a "deck-building" card game that's done in a manga style.  The lead character is a young woman who wears squarish glasses... and very little else.  And, FWIW, the game itself comes in a can.  

Search lessons:  There are a few lessons here.  

1.  For cross-cultural searches, people from that culture are the experts.  And, given the nature of social media, it's usually pretty easy to find experts inhabiting online discussion boards and lists.  Remember also that many libraries have "cultural experts" who can easily answer questions like this.  Remember too the "Ask a Librarian" feature is still available to you. 

2.  For complex, underdetermined questions that are trans-language, Books are your friend.  Think about what kind of books would have the information you seek (in this case, a side-comment explaining the concept and giving the Japanese language term), and then search inside of them to find the explanatory quote. 

3.  Onen you have the word/words/phrase confirm your finding by looking for other examples and definitions.  After all, you've got the word itself, at least in the English-form.  It's easy to check for its appearance elsewhere. 

In this case, the problem is to find a defining page (such as a Japanese-English dictionary), or a page that discusses the idea (such as a Wikipedia page, although probably in Japanese).  
The easiest way to do this is to search for a definition in an online dictionary.  (As opposed to Google Translate.)  Do a search like this one to find a Japanese-English language dictionary: 

     [ kanzume dictionary definition ] 

there are quite a few low-quality hits, but after going down the SERP a bit, you'll find a few higher quality dictionaries.  The first one I found that was useful was site, which shows:   

Looking at definition two shows us the sense of the word we're looking for in translation. 

Side comment:  Why didn't I search for something like [ Japanese English dictionary kanzume ] ?  I actually did that first, but found the results weren't as high of quality (too many dictionaries in the SERP that did NOT have the word kanzume in them.  So I took out the [ Japanese English ... ] part of the query to focus more on definitions.  

Now that we know both what the Kanji form of the word should be (缶詰 ) and the Katakana form (かんづめ), it's a small search step to look for a Wikipedia entry for this topic. (I didn't know that one existed before I started, but I thought it was worth a try.  Sure enough, the query: 

     [ 缶詰 Wikipedia ] 

gives us a link to the Wikipedia entry in Japanese.  

In this case, it's clear that the first hit (even if you don't read Kanji) is the correct one.  

Using Google Translate's rough-and-ready Japanese-to-English translation service we see that (this fragment is near the bottom of the page): 

And with this method, I'm convinced that we have a good result for the challenge.  
Search on, multiculturally! 

[[ Kudos to Enusan for being the first and to BreadmanTalking  for being the second to solve the challenge.  Nice use of your cultural resources!  ]] 


  1. Hello everyone.

    Congratulations to Enusan, Miguel and Breadman Talking (his book reference is very good) for finding the answer. Two different roads and both very interesting. Reading all the answers and how we get to them was very interesting. I couldn't find the answer and tried thousands of queries.

    Reading the book tried [Publishing houses physically detained writers] both with and without "". The only way to find answer was in books. I thought that once I had the correct "phrase" answers will be everywhere and, no it is not the case.

    Dr. Russell, your query is just amazing. Do you believe another query in English could lead to the answer? What is a good number of pages to visit in Google to search and find possible answers? I mean the book you mention is on page 2 and I think in most cases we -at least I- only search for page 1 or 2.

    With the query [ Japan author confine hotel ] to find Kanzume, used Ctrl-F or how you chose the books to look for the answer? I'll search with that query to find the books too.

    On other topics:

    Thank you Dr. Russell for the "Popocatépetl Resurgent: How do you know when you’re done with your search? It is very interesting and was very good for me to learn more about the topic, been able to work with Fred and contact authors. Also liked to learn SearchResearch Challenges with multiple possible answers and to learn about when and why stop doing search.

    Thanks for the link Remmij

    Finally, I want to wish to Dr. Russell and all of my peers here on SearchResearch the best Holiday Season, a happy Christmas and a new year full of blessings and health in each aspect of life.

    1. Good questions.

      I did find that book on page 2 of the results. Why did I go so deep? A: Because I really wasn't sure I'd find ANYTHING, so I was willing to go to around page 4 or 5 of the results (as long as they kept looking reasonably on-topic) in order to find it. This took longer than the usual search (maybe 20 minutes or so), but I figured this was difficult, so I was happy to keep searching.

      Thanks to everyone for all of the comments, all of the hard work (and for all of the extracurricular effort on Popocatépetl!).

      This has been a fantastic year for all of us! Rejoice!

  2. After reading Ramón's comment, I started thinking. Would it be possible to have another search challenge like this soon? The skills you covered seem somewhat complex in nature and I'd like another try to apply and practice them. I've tried to think if there was something I could come up with on my own to search for, but am drawing a blank.

    1. I'll try. But if you think solving these is hard, try writing them!

      For a challenge like this, I've probably tested (and then NOT used) 3 or 4 others. I usually discard challenges because I think they're too easy, or because I wasn't able to solve them in a decent amount of time (usually, if it takes me more than 2 hours, I don't use the challenge).

      But certainly--I'll check through my files and try to do a few more of these.

    2. Dr. Russell, you forgot to say that you don´t have the "clues" that you give to us to start each Challenge. Yes, writing them is much harder. I'm sure that many of us each day think possible SearchResearch Challenges to share and then; we realize that they don't have the criteria to be here.

      Thanks for doing these Challenges and for giving us each week a different "scenario", different ways and tools to search and of course lessons to learn and knowledge that makes a good topic in our day to day life conversations.

      See you in the Christmas-day Challenge.

  3. I found this challenge the toughest one for me todate. Then when I realized I could have just queried "japan writers "hotel" I kicked myself in the pants. I learned a couple things in addition to what has been pointed out already. It was suggested that we didn't have "quite the right words" and I started rewriting the question BUT I maintained a certain line of thinking. You can see I was thinking 'contractual rights and obligations' and I didn't dismiss that idea throughout. As well I also maintained the thought that this was a very forceful action but in reality it wasn't necessarily. So my train of thought needed a shift.

    How to do that is where I am challenged. Keywords in the question 'without any fixed assumptions' was crucial ( besides using books & dictionaries). I am left curious to understand more about how Google ranks the search results via keywords. I think I'm better off focusing on keywords but should I let Google do its job and use possible phrases. For example I had written down how I would describe this event as "holed up in a hotel". I have traveled for work and sometimes I would have to "hole up in my room" until 3:00 am in order to complete a report so I could get back home early. I thought this was a good comparison. My results suggest using such a phrase produces not so good results under 'web' searches. Using idiom as I did may work within the same language & culture but not in this case.

    Something that I hadn't noticed before that I would like to share is that I didn't realize Wikipedia lists several languages down the left side of the page. Miguel's results pointed that out to me. Perhaps most of you already knew this but I haven't really spent much time exploring the Wiki homepage. Did you know Wikipedia has 12 sister projects as well shown at the bottom? Interesting stuff.

    I'm not sure if we will be having a Xmas challenge (I'm willing) but it's a busy time for everyone so I understand if we don't. If that's the case Merry Christmas to Dr. Dan and all my fellow searchers. This Wednesday Challenge is as challenging as it is enjoyable. I find the camaraderie in our searches great fun.

  4. Congratulations to everyone who contributed and thanks for all the links, including Hans's Dictionary of Japanese Slang and Colloquialisms. It was indeed a great challenge.

  5. Rosemary's comment reminded me: I didn't finish writing the answer to this challenge. If you're interested, I've updated the Answer (see above) with the REST of what I meant to write. In particular, the multi-language Wikipedia is your friend here, and I show how to search for *kanzume* in the Japanese Wikipedia. (Hint: You need to use Japanese.)

  6. And yes, Rosemary, we'll probably have a Christmas-day challenge next week. We probably will NOT have a New Year's day challenge though (unless I can think of a really fun one).

    Happy Holidays to all!

  7. This was some challenge! Really enjoyed it even if we didn't get the answer. Also want to wish everyone a happy holiday season. Anne and I did this for our school but wanted to wish the same to all of you - Happy Holidays

  8. I got exactly nowhere with this which was frustrating. But interesting to see everyone else's answers and tries. A reminder to 'think outside the box' when struggling.

    Happy Christmas to everyone. Nadolig llawen.
    And here's to another year of improving our search skills.

  9. My thanks and appreciations to Dan and all the Searchers who work so diligently to keep this old man's brain cell flailing away week after week. It feeds my OCSD too.

    My project in the coming year is to try to figure out why this blog refuses to let me post except as Unknown.


    jon the unk