One of the enjoyable aspects of living in Japan has been the signs. I loved seeing the street-sign art in Italy; little easter eggs everywhere. While that kind of graffiti won’t be tolerated in Japan, their un-altered signs have been have been helpful, amusing, and sometimes just weird.
Wow – there’s English pretty much everywhere. Especially airports, train stations, Starbucks. Moving to Japan is really not enough to guarantee that you’ll learn Japanese. (The signs are also in Chinese, Korean, and universal pictures.)
I may complain about a lack of immersion, but it’s darn convenient. I often changed between airports, trains, subways, and horse-drawn carriages. There was always a clearly defined ecosystem of overhead signs, wall arrows, walking paths and uniformed Japanese bowing and directing. “Wow, the Japanese are efficient!” exclaimed my niece.
The signs also reinforce courtesy. There were signs warning commuters not to run down the subway escalator, pushing over old ladies. They warned kids not to leave their shoes untied or the escalator would eat them. And they warned everyone not to be loud on the subway, or Anne Richards will kick their ass.
The only complaint I had was that they still can’t agree which side of the street to walk on. The story goes that everyone once walked on the left side, because that’s where your sword goes in a right-hand dominant world. (Sorry lefties.) By staying to the left, they kept from knocking swords together. Then Osaka screwed things up. They had the World’s Fair in 19-something, and the furners-from-other-countries walked on the right. So that’s what Osakans started doing. Some subways were designed by Osakans, because there are explict instrucitons to stay to the right here. But the next station wasn’t so it yells at me, “No! Stay to the left here!” It’s a petty squabble, but at least there’s no shouting.
I think of American signs as typically slick and glossy. It can be a clean look. When Japan tries the same thing, there’s always something a little off…
It’s less eerie when Japan goes with cute and cartoonish. Streets are painted with kids on trikes screaming at cars who hit them. When they’re not in English I like to pretend they say things like “Hey kids! Yell bingo if you hit a green car!”
I’m pleased to know there’s a place that will use Hello Kitty construction dividers.
Lost in Translation
Let’s see, what could go wrong here. First, there’s a different word order in sentences. The verb is usually last. There are conceptual differences.
And then there’s the R vs L thing. What do you do when you only have one consonant that’s anywhere close to those two. Well, you get it wrong most of the time.
On the other hand, I’m no good at writing down some of these things phonetically. So I don’t judge, but I can’t help but snicker at signs for Poro Shirts or Mix Belly Pancakes.
Just remember, your way isn’t the another.