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Japan 7: Japanese English

Japanese use (abuse?) of the English language was a never-ending source of laughs. Language on T-shirts, store names, on ads. One kid on the trip rocks a T-shirt that reads "Suck Capitalism." In a mall, I ran across stores with names like "Smork, by language," "Kooky Studio," "Jenny Thong," along with my favorite, "No Leashes and No Border Beaver." A typical T-shirt might read something like, "Pleasure Poison Craziness Excitement All Party Interest Curiosity." In Kobe I saw a beauty salon called "The House of Haircut," and a pet grooming place called "Dog Saloon." Another establishment was called "Cafe & Restaurant White Lover."

I can think of a few explanations for the curious use of English in Japan. One is that the English is a literal translation from Japanese. The Japanese words have connotations that literal translation misses; and likewise the translations have connotations that are inexistent in the original. Two, the language is random, as if there were an Engrish-generating computer program: hit "reset" and out comes another ridiculous phrase. Three, the language reflects a sort of subversive Japanese sense of humor, as in the Spanglish T-shirt that read something like, "Esta puta will give you the shirt off her back for 66.95."

In Japan, even official documents, like the forms you fill out going through customs, are full of odd locutions. One thing is certain, though: The Japanese speak English better than we speak Japanese. American students with three and four years of Japanese study under their belts have a hard time even engaging in simple chit-chat.

Twice we stayed at a certain hotel in Tokushima; the first time was the third night of the pilgrimage (after camping for two nights), and the second, once the pilgrimage was over, before heading to Osaka. During the first stay, the hotel staff asked Sensei for help with a text to be pasted on the mini-refrigerators in the rooms. Sensei passed the task on to me. My wording: "If the green light is on, there is no power supply to the refrigerator. Please push the button to turn on the refrigerator." Or something like that. I was pleased to see my language on the refrigerator during our second visit.

At temple 87, there was an elementary school class visiting that was amused by us, the gaijin (foreigners), especially by Jarod's tattoos and my height. But there was also a Japanese woman there, an English teacher. She told us that her listening skills were pretty good, but that she had a hard time speaking, because her "tongue is made of rice, not meat."



February 2019



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