Can you translate what's written on these mysterious envelopes?
November 14, 2013 9:28 PM   Subscribe

These two envelopes arrived in my office in the autumn of 2010. I've kept them around because they're neat-looking, and an interesting conversation piece. Can you translate into English what's written on them? They may be in Japanese or Chinese (?).

There's nothing inside either of the envelopes — only the beautiful script printed on the outside.

A co-worker had one of his lab-mates translate it to him verbally; he reported back that it was a screed about 9/11, but he couldn't remember anything the lab-mate specifically said.

Just yesterday, after these envelopes had been sitting on an unused corner of my desk for the past three years, I had a sudden urge to know exactly what's written on them. Those big red and blue characters — what are they trying to convey to me? The houses, what is their significance? Where are the postmarks from? From this, maybe I can understand why it was sent to me (or someone like me).
posted by not_on_display to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think those are Japanese. I'm not seeing any hiragana that I recognize; it's all kanji (or, rather, hanzi). I think it's Chinese.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:33 PM on November 14, 2013

Thanks! I presumed Japanese because of the Shigu postmark. (I just answered that postmark part of my own question, go me!)
posted by not_on_display at 9:38 PM on November 14, 2013

Definitely not Japanese. Source: I am a professional Japanese translator.

They're almost certainly Chinese.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:48 PM on November 14, 2013

It's definitely Chinese, simplified characters. (Unfortunately my Chinese is not good enough for me to rapidly scan and translate this.)
posted by andrewesque at 9:48 PM on November 14, 2013

However, I can tell you that the big red and blue characters say 博爱牌坊 bó'ài páifāng which is a reference to a memorial arch at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing. The small green-and-orange characters say 南京中山陵 nánjīng zhōngshān líng, which is the name of the Mausoleum.
posted by andrewesque at 9:53 PM on November 14, 2013

The letter is written in simplified Chinese characters. And according to the return address, it is sent from Shiga Prefecture, Minamihikone City.

I think it is asking a lot to translate everything. However, the red characters in the letter portion are Taipei (台北), Taiwan (台湾), "red" (红), and 911.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:55 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The letter features a Japanese address

日本滋賀県南彦根高宮町 (Nihon Shiga-ken "Minami Hikone Takamiya Machi")

I think this is somewhat incorrect as there is no such place as "Minami Hikone" in Shiga (I used to live quite close to Hikone).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:59 PM on November 14, 2013

Whoops, Minami Hikone is not a postal address, but it is (of course) a train station.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:01 PM on November 14, 2013

Definitely simplified Chinese.

Photo 2:

During the reign of Emporer Qianlong [whose given name was 弘历], the Qing Dynasty government completely decimated that which related to Buddhism, doing away with the Buddhist religion.

[Similarly,] Mao Zedong overthrew and did away with all religion, sealing (?) off Buddhism - surely a great gentleman [a term that includes learnedness and greatness] of his time!
The third photo's text is long and rambling, and there are some words and phrases that I don't immediately recognise. (Alas, I read too little Chinese nowadays.) I could take a shot at translating it, but I have class in an hour, so I haven't the time right now. (Or you could put this on Jobs to get someone who's a professional/semi-professional, for a better translation.)

I can tell you though, from a gloss, that the author seems to be running through a list of natural disasters (the 9.21 earthquake in Taipei, the Sichuan earthquake and the Tibet earthquake) and connecting them to other events (like the Beijing Olympics and the Dalai Lama accepting the Nobel Peace Prize). It's a conspiracy theory about the Kuomintang and how the Taiwanese government has a secret weapon that is right opposite his house, and for all the harm their weapon is causing the PRC, Ma Yin-jeou and Taiwan are running into a number of natural disasters.
posted by undue influence at 11:25 PM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oops, and by "9.21 earthquake in Taipei", I really meant this - the 21 September 1999 Jiji earthquake that killed 2415 and injured 11305. It's called "921 Earthquake" in common parlance.

The letter writer himself makes the mistake of situating the earthquake in Taipei (northern end of the island) when really it occurred in Nantou County, which is in the middle. (And a tremendously beautiful place.)
posted by undue influence at 11:32 PM on November 14, 2013

I speak Chinese and Japanese - as said above this is simplified Chinese, and the writer lives in Shiga, Japan.

It's probably waaay more detail than you want, but I have time, so here's a translation of the last image:

(white envelope)
To rescue the first Public Security Bureau chief in Shanghai, [...can't work out if it's supposed to be someone's name...] held for three days and nights "倭人 (old slur for Japanese people) torch", and made the mistake of meeting the Zhongshan wolf, all the descendants are hounded for life by Kuomintang agents! The proof is Venus rising on 24 April!
Why did the earthquake happen in Taipei on 9.21? Because that is the anniversary of the kidnapping of the female scholar (the word used here is for the top scorer in the old Imperial exams). On 9 Sep 2007 this secret national machine used Buddhist monks to make the female scholar wear no. 29 prisoner clothes. What are these clothes: when her family unsuccessfully petitions monks for a sexless marriage. (Like the female illness that Taiwanese writer Sanmao developed.) These clothes broke the law of heaven and became China's debt, so the earth has to pay.
The earthquake on 12 May 2008 in Sichuan is because of what Deng Xiaoping did in Tiananmen; the one on 14 Apr 2010 in Tibet is because Dalai Lama got the Nobel prize after Tiananmen. On 8 Aug 2008 China had the Olympics and on 8 Aug 2009 Taiwan aborigines experienced floods.
The KMT agents and Taiwan's national government are the world's public enemies!
(yellow envelope)
(under the drawing of the house) Secret national machine: Buddhist monks + KMT agents + Communist party national security department (claimed)
This secret machine is right opposite my house and it casts spells on my place day and night. Minamihikone has become the world's earthquake centre, the quakes in Sichuan, Tibet, and all the floods, China has become the greatest victim.
The earthquake in Tibet is because Dalai Lama got the Nobel prize after Tiananmen. Who was the greatest beneficiary, which country? They should bear their own responsibility. The next earthquake cheque (?!), who will receive it?
The Haiti government got 2 billion USD from President Ma's government, and on 14 Jan the earth sent a danger signal to Haiti, a massive earthquake. Ex-president Clinton wore a red t-shirt on purpose in Haiti, he brought disaster home and Washington DC had the worst snowstorm in a century; the real 911 culprit, President Ma, also went to help Haiti and he needed to transit in Los Angeles, then LA had the tornadoes, heavy rain, landslides, so he had to take a detour - this is heavenly punishment!
Concerning this secret national machine, every thought in the human brain, including all activities in the rooms, it can detect everything perfectly clearly, there are no secrets. They even use esoteric Buddhist technology to interrupt conversations and talk to each other day and night.
Yeah, it doesn't really make much sense!
posted by monocot at 4:15 AM on November 15, 2013 [20 favorites]

Incidentally, I also work with psychotic patients and this is a very typical example of what their delusions are like...
posted by monocot at 4:17 AM on November 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Someone close to me recently had a psychotic break, and though the details of his delusions were different, the themes were similar. The brain is such a delicately tuned instrument, and we often take rational thought for granted, eh? Anyway, thanks for your translation, monocot!
posted by not_on_display at 6:48 AM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

To the original poster: Do you have any idea why those letters were sent to you? How did they get your address?

This story reminds me of something odd that happened when I did biomedical research in the early 1990s. A biologist down the hall from our lab received a letter from someone named "E. J. Matranga" in Mississippi (yes, I remembered his name after all these years). The letter was very short and said something like this: "Every day I hear pleas for blood donors to come forward and donate their blood. My question is, why do we need human blood? Would not animal blood do as well?". The person who received the letter had no known connection to the sender, and the recipient's biological research had absolutely nothing to do with blood.
posted by alex1965 at 10:48 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

alex1965: Do you have any idea why those letters were sent to you? How did they get your address?

The address on the envelope is specific enough that it got to me. Harvard's well-known enough that mail will get there. I guess it's like that story of someone halfway around the world drawing Alfred E. Neuman's face on an envelope and popping it in the post, and it arrived at MAD Magazine's offices.

I was hoping that the message on the envelopes would provide content as to why it was aimed at Harvard's "Biology Teaching Office". (Close enough!) It still doesn't make sense to me, except maybe that part about "...every thought in the human brain, including all activities in the rooms, it can detect everything perfectly clearly, there are no secrets. They even use esoteric Buddhist technology to interrupt conversations and talk to each other day and night," -- that may have caused there to be some neurobiological connection?

Harvard receives a lot of strange correspondence due (I think) to its association with upper eschelons of social heirarchies, academics, and so on -- it's a natural magnet for all sorts of conspiracy theories, real or imagined. I get emails and phone calls periodically, from people around the world, sane or insane, who got my number or email address from the website or elsewhere (or directed to me via a confused switchboard operator), asking or telling me a range of things. I won't go into any specifics here, but lots of people where I work have stories of receiving weird things in the mail or strange phone calls.
posted by not_on_display at 2:03 PM on November 15, 2013

In 1986 I worked in the Harvard university mail room in the office that handled mail without sufficient address. Sometimes we would have to open letters to ascertain where exactly they should go on campus, and it is was a not infrequent occurrence to find messages of the sort you have here. Though usually in English.
posted by bertran at 3:54 PM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

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