I have a language problem, not because I find it difficult to get on with the Japanese language but to do with English.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate all the efforts our Japanese hosts have made to help us around this country, from bilingual train and road signs to plummy announcements on the underground.
My problem is with the injudicious use of the English Language in Japan. I have lost count of the number of times when my eyes have been caught by the rubric “Events Calendar” or some such, in English, and I’ve been fooled into picking up a brochure that’s completely incomprehensible. I know it’s my fault I can’t read Japanese (yet), but there’s no need to taunt me with the fact, is there? It drives me mad. Why do they do it? It makes people like me believe they’re going to get something they’re not, while Japanese patrons must spend twenty superfluous seconds scratching their heads reading the English before opening the thing and finding out they can read it after all. In short, it does nobody any favors.
The only possible explanation for this sort of lunacy is snobbery. Just as in English, it’s de rigueur to chuck in the occasional French phrase to establish one’s educational credentials, so I imagine there’s a certain toff value associated with English.
And this lunacy doesn’t stop at the occasional arts center program. Oh no. How many times have I been lured across 20 lanes of traffic by a sign reading BOOKS and MAGAZINES in English, only to find that the object of my attention sells nothing but paperbacks in Japanese? What’s wrong with the Japanese word for book? If you’re Japanese, or one of the industrious westerners who reads kanji, you’ll know what to expect. If not, you’ll have lost nothing.
Can you imagine anything remotely similar happening in an English-speaking country? Imagine Oxford Street aglow with lights advertising products or shops in Thai, Czech or Estonian. The locals just wouldn’t stand for it. Us French, in fact, got so fed up with it that we have our very own linguistic police force, the Academie Française, which has issued an edict to prevent English being used where French will do. What we need is for the Japanese to come up with a similar bunch, who’ll immediately tear down all the offending signs and burn the pamphlets. Now that would be a job all those men with red sticks could really get their teeth into!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>