Archive for September, 2008

Unlike you, I blog about ASCII art

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 by Chris

Several people have noticed that it’s been some time since we last wrote. Well, I’m here to end that drought. But I’m not going to write about a fascinating cultural experience or deep personal realization. I’m going to write about my own particular brand of font-tinged geekiness.

That being said, this is going to sound like a non sequitur.

As you may or may not know, a few weeks ago Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda resigned, out of the blue, with no hint he was thinking of doing so. (This is becoming something of a tradition, as the previous Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did the same thing almost exactly a year before.) Fukuda has been, I think, a good prime minister. He’s a moderate politician and has toned down the nationalist rhetoric of his predecessors, and is exactly the kind of “boring guy” you would expect to be a Japanese Prime Minister.

Fukuda’s popularity was in the dumps for his entire term, just like most of the the world’s leaders at the moment, and in part this was because his mild-mannered ways didn’t provide a lot of juice for the media to latch onto for their nightly newscasts. When he held a news conference to announce his resignation, a reporter apparently dropped the last straw by asking Fukuda if he had really put his whole effort into his job. (This is something that is definitely not kosher to ask a Japanese person “Do your best!” is essentially the national creed.) Fukuda responded with a delightfully snippy comment: “Unlike you, I’m able to see myself objectively.”

That comment basically ended up being the sign-off for Fukuda’s entire career, and it was pure gold for the news media. But the phrase that really inspired the Internet community was the “unlike you” bit, which in Japanese grammar comes at the end as a finishing punch-line flourish. The actual phrase is “あなたとは違うんです” which literally translates as, “I am different than you.”

This, naturally, brings us to ASCII art.

(ASCII stands for “American Standard Code for Information Interchange” and is one of the earliest definitions of a computer character set, covering the English alphabet, numbers, and basic punctuation characters. “ASCII art” is an ancient term referring to a graphical image composed on a computer using only textual characters.)

Japanese nerds are second to none, and an anonymous someone immediately hit the Internets with an anime-themed ASCII-art take on Fukuda’s parting press-conference shot, complete with guns blazing.

あなたとは違うんです

Click on the image above to go to Flickr, where you can see my annotations noting where Japanese characters have been used to great effect in the final image. As you may imagine, the characters 彡 and ミ are indispensable in representing politicians’ hairlines.

My favorite part of this Japanese “ASCII” art (and this is where I get really nerdy) is that it’s not really ASCII at all. ASCII is an extremely narrow standard, covering only the English alphabet. It’s not even useful for Western European languages since it doesn’t have any accented characters for French, Spanish, German, etc. So this Japanese “ASCII art” is really “Unicode art” (although I guess technically it’s Shift_JIS art).

This whole situtation was brought to my attention by a Japan Times article talking about this T-shirt that was brought to market within days of Fukuda’s resignation, and is still selling off the shelves. I am now the proud owner of one of these shirts (after waiting a week and a half for it to come back into stock). And that means you have the Japan Times to thank for waking up to a blog entry about two of the most entertaining subjects imaginable: Japanese politics and computer character sets.