Tokyo Metro employs megaphone translation tech at station near Harajuku

TOKYO —

If globally lauded Japanese customer service has one major weakness, it might just be the lack of communication skills in languages other than Japanese. While you might get by using English in various countries throughout Europe and other parts of Asia, Japan has an almost pathological aversion to other languages, and the realization that the world’s lingua franca won’t get you very far out here is possibly one of the most acute moments of culture shock foreign visitors are liable to experience.

New technology, however, is stepping up to fill in the gap, and Tokyo Metro – operator of many of Tokyo’s underground train lines – is pioneering the use of the much talked-about “Megaphone Translator” at their Meiji-Jingumae station. The stop is just seconds away from popular tourist haunts like Harajuku and Omotesando and makes for a terrific proving ground for the fledgling device.

We’ve written about the Megaphone Translator before, but here’s a quick refresher: it’s a device that translates, in “real-time”, specific messages targeted at large masses of people – usually instructions during emergencies and other crises – with functionality for English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

As cool as it would be to have a sci-fi Babelfish-esque translation tool, the Megaphone Translator isn’t quite that high tech. First, being a megaphone and all, it’s poorly equipped for, say, giving directions to individual metro passengers without rupturing eardrums, and the device requires pre-set phrases to be entered into its database ahead of time. So, as much as we’d love to hear Megaphone Cop’s motivational speeches translated into English on the fly, what we’re looking at here is more of a glorified tape recorder that can, apparently, recall preset phrases by recognizing the Japanese being spoken into its microphone.

Still, it’s possibly a huge step in the right direction and here’s hoping the Megaphone Translator will help make the already chaotic Harajuku hub a little more user-friendly for the anticipated deluge of foreign visitors during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Source, image: PR Times

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  • 1

    sensei258

    I just wish they'd fix the train announcement asking passengers to "Please off your seat to those who may need it"

  • 0

    Raymond Chuang

    I think an improved version of this special megaphone could be used at major train stations--particularly Tokyo, Kyoto, Sin-Osaka, Hiroshima and Hakata Stations, where large numbers of foreigners travel through.

  • 2

    TrevorPeace

    More noise??? Just what we DON'T need.

  • 0

    albaleo

    Does it do Osaka dialect? That would be a help to all those poor souls who get off at Hibiya when they want to go to Shibuya.

  • -1

    turbotsat

    A megaphone tied to a touchscreen tablet with a list of preset phrases selected by button-press would probably be a lot less error-prone. It could repeat the phrases automatically in English, Chinese, and Korean.

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