Lady Gaga made an appearance via video on NHK’s Red and White New Year’s Music Competition (Kohaku Uta Gassen). She performed “Born This Way” and the lyrics were subtitled in Japanese. Unfortunately, something was lost in translation.

Due to a new law on the books that penalizes any company that knowingly associates with organized crime groups, the infamously yakuza infested showbiz industry has had to scramble to cover their collective asses. One high profile example was the ousting of popular TV personality Shinsuke Shimada. NHK (Japan’s answer to PBS) announced they would not allow any mob-connected singers to perform in the Red and White show. Considering the final lineup (how can some of the biggest acts in Japan not have mob ties?), sounds like it was an excuse to have popular Korean groups Kara and Girls Generation and Lady Gaga perform.

Lady Gaga was one of the first foreign celebrities to head to Japan in the wake of the March disaster to show her support for the country and tell the world “Japan is safeCome spend all your tourist money!” Which makes their censorship of her pro-acceptance anti-intolerance message fueled “Born this Way” all the more upsetting.

NHK played fast and loose with the translation of several lines. Of particular note:

“You’re black, white, beige, chola descent/You’re lebanese, you’re orient”

was turned into

“No matter the color of your skin or nationality”

and

“No matter gay, straight or bi lesbian, transgendered life”

was rendered as

“Your sexual preferences [fetishes] don’t matter”

While these translations are not incorrect, per se, they only skim the surface of the original lyrics. It’s not like the concepts of other cultures or sexual minorities don’t exist in the Japanese language, and given the very empowering message of the original lyrics, the translation seems to willfully miss the point. Since when was sexual orientation a preference?

Japan is not exactly known as a bastion of multiculturalism (less that 2% of the population is foreign born) or LGBT freedom and acceptance. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara infamously declared that gay people “I feel that [homosexuals] are missing something. Maybe it has something to do with their genes.” Sure, transgendered people are trotted out on TV for comedic effect (usually some form of gay panic ensues), but in order to legally change one’s gender, one must be diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. And mangling Gaga’s message so badly does not do anything to help that image.

Here’s the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phMlwSbmrYw

H/T @HirokoTabuchi; Mistranslations dissected in Japanese here.