The Carpentries in Tōkyō: Adventures bringing Software Carpentry to Japan

A growing community is gaining momentum to bring Software Carpentry to Japan

Introducing Software Carpentry to Japan

There is a growing community that has embarked on a journey of finding missing grammatical particles, debating consistent terminology, and figuring out what a submodule does. All with the goal of providing bilingual software carpentry lessons in English and Japanese. Inspired by the efforts of the Spanish community, we aim to bring multilingual workshops to Japan and provide a Japanese version of the lesson materials for Japanese learners around the world.

How Did We Get Here?

When you’re out of your depth, ask for help. What started as me trying and failing to translate lessons into Japanese has spiralled into receiving pull requests from all around the world. It has been a long adventure but Software Carpentry is coming to Japan.

I had started a new job in Yokohama and then, as often happens, the questions started coming about how to learn the shell and R and so on. Since I have taught Software Carpentry workshops in Australia and New Zealand, the lesson materials are my first point of call to recommend to beginners. I noticed that the website now hosted Spanish lessons as well as English. Having experienced culture clashes and language barriers myself, I thought this was fantastic. I immediately asked myself could we do it for Japanese? Even some of my colleagues who spoke English well would prefer to learn in their native language.

I asked around and found out that the Spanish team was considering a new workflow to track and update their translations, so I forked a copy, tried adding a Japanese version of the git lesson, translated a few lines of the title page, and it worked! The developers didn’t understand a word of Japanese but were delighted the Japanese CJK characters were supported. However, my Japanese was not very good and it would take me forever to translate anything. I had no idea what could translate literally and what you wouldn’t understand in such a different culture. ‘Do they have their own word for “loop” or is it “ru-pu” from English?’ ‘Did Japanese programmers need to know English terminology to use help forums and manuals?’ ‘Do Japanese people know who Dracula and Wolfman are?’ Originally, I thought it would be a great motivation to improve my own Japanese language skills but I soon realised that I couldn’t do it on my own. It would take a team effort.

I needed help for translations and feedback on if this was a good idea. Would it even work in Japan? Plenty of people wanted to learn software tools but would the format be too different for people used to Japanese classrooms? I had attended the Tokyo R user group (#TokyoR) several times and had been encouraged to give a presentation. They often explain basic topics and new packages to beginners (in Japanese) and some of them have written or translated R and Data Science books in Japanese and English. They also manage an active community online to give advice to new R programmers in Japanese who may not be able to make sense of all the blog posts and technical documentation in English. Software Carpentry was the perfect fit to share with Tokyo R and see if there was interest in it. I discussed my experiences with the Research Bazaar in Australia and Software Carpentry workshops supported by the New Zealand eScience Infrastructure over the last few years. Then I shared what I learned from Software Carpentry as an Instructor, showed my demo for a web page of a Japanese git lesson, and got a few laughs for showing Doraemon and Nobita (popular adventuring anime characters) documenting their space travels.

From there we have assembled a core team of translators and started translating lessons into Japanese. I met several other seasoned instructors in Yokohama through the Software Carpentry mailing list and pitched the idea to the Tokyo R community and things grew from there. Our new members include from my previous labmate in New Zealand, new colleagues on another campus, and people who reached out online. We’ve had several people join us from the existing international Carpentries community through twitter and the mailing lists but members at the moment are based in Japan and are more confident in R. We are grateful for the support of the Tokyo R community for their support but for this reason, we have fewer active translators on other lessons at this stage. We will discuss the technical details of how we manage translations and our current progress in a separate post on this blog.

Getting Involved in the Japanese Community

We welcome any support to grow The Carpentries community in Japan and abroad in the Japanese language. We are not yet ready to host a full workshop but welcome visitors to Japan with open arms, bows, and “omotenashi” (Japanese hospitality). If you can contact us ahead of time, we can let you know if any meet-ups are planned for when you are planning to visit.

Support for the Japanese community from abroad is also welcome. Several of our team are based outside of the Kanto area, in other regions of Japan, the US, and New Zealand. While we have held meetings several times, we try to keep everyone updated online if they cannot attend due to their schedule or are unable to travel to Tokyo.

Any support for our efforts to translate the lessons into Japanese, maintain the translated lessons to keep them up-to-date, and to train instructors in Japan (or with Japanese language skills) will be appreciated. We hope to keep up our momentum to soon have an active community maintaining the lessons and using them with Japanese learners.

What You Can Do To Help Us

At the moment our focus is on translating a full archived version of the core Software Carpentry lessons. Once this is complete, it will not be a trivial task to keep these maintained and up-to-date. We always welcome new translators to join us in this effort and hope that lesson maintenance will become a community effort. We have set up guides on how to use the translation tools developed for Spanish lessons and tested these tools (see our GitHub repo for further details). We welcome feedback on this as well as the accuracy of the translations. We have set up a wiki on this repository to share common terms to ensure consistency. We welcome feedback and discussions on whether anything needs to be adapted for participants with a different cultural background. We want participants to focus on learning to code and equip them with the terminology to find more information online, not have them grappling with idioms and unfamiliar examples.

In the future, we would be delighted to train new local instructors or hold workshops. At the moment we’re considering testing a one-day workshop in English to try the Software Carpentry workshop format in Japan. We hope that this will be less of a commitment on everyone’s busy schedules to try it out and give out translators experience as “helpers”.

If you wish to support a workshop in Japan, please contact us. We are particularly looking for support to run a workshop (venue, catering, ticketing, etc) and looking to grow the instructor pool in Japan. If you are a trained instructor based in Japan or visiting, please let us know! We also welcome any advice to train instructors in Japan online or with a train-the-trainer event. We have some contacts with Library Carpentry and the Tokyo.R community but we welcome further support and advice, particularly from organisations in Japan or in Japanese language abroad.

Find Out More

If you wish to get involved in the translations, please find us on Twitter, join us on Slack and send pull requests to our lessons on GitHub. Please note that some translations are ongoing already and not all of them have been shared to GitHub yet (we’re working on this!). We welcome help from anyone but at this stage, please bear in mind that strong English and Japanese skills are needed for many aspects. If you are fluent in Japanese, please give us feedback on our translations. We will also appreciate advice on how to manage translations with PO files on GitHub, especially if you’ve tried this in another language.

Follow us on Twitter @swcarpentry_ja

Find us on GitHub at swcarpentry_ja

Chat with the core team on the Tokyo.R #swcarpentry slack channel (日本語でも大丈夫).

Anyone is welcome to contribute to Japanese lessons or join the core team. You do not need to be located in Japan but strong English and Japanese language skills will be helpful. See our Github repository1 for more details on how to contribute to translated lessons.


1: Repository for translations: <https://github.com/swcarpentry_ja/i18n>

Dialogue & Discussion