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att. Culture - Calendar - 携帯 vs ケータイ 3
att. Culture - 携帯 vs ケータイ 3
att.JAPAN Issue 19, November 2005

携帯 vs ケータイ 3


A look on Japanese characteristic seen through Japanese Orthography.

KetaiYou've seen those hideous logos on Japanese T-shirts, right? It's funny that the more expensive ones aren't any better than the cheaper ones. Example: "Anyone is peaceful, and it is hoping for the pleasant days." "No smorking." (From "Engrish.com," a website introducing incredulous English logos on Japanese products)
But people wearing them don't have a clue as to how terrible those logos are: worse yet, they don't care. The meanings are totally irrelevant, as long as they "look" English. The clothes become more stylish with printed alphabets on them.
I used to think this was lamentable -- how could the Japanese, who are so apt and creative in using three different types of writing patterns, be so indifferent when it comes to English?
Actually, herein lies the key. Japanese have always been keen on playing with phonograms, and to them, alphabets are also a toy that pleases the subliminal. This trend goes back over fifty years.
American culture came pouring into Japan after World War II and shocked the Japanese by its utter extravagance. The war-stricken people literally sucked in molecules of affluence through the pores of their skin. The Japanese were absolutely mesmerized. To the ordinary people, alphabets became a symbol of luxury and anything with alphabets signified quality, be it signboards or restaurant menus. Their meanings were impertinent; the essential factor was the visual images they produced to make things look high-class. The sentences didn't even have to look English, as long as they expressed material richness. (By the way, fashionable Chinese signboards are on the rise in central Tokyo recently, showing how impermanent global economics is).
KetaiThis trend of half a century really has nothing to do with the Japanese' English illiteracy. It's not that English is so valued by Japanese consumers, either. Creators of those hideous logos have zero intention of producing correct English, and for this, I am deeply sorry for English-speaking people. (On the other hand, people nonchalantly wearing clothes with Chinese characters that are similarly meaningless or overly meaningful could be just as guilty).
For hundreds of years, the Japanese have attached psychological significance to the visual images of phonograms. This became one of the basis for Japan's vast literary asset. The above-mentioned site can laugh about ridiculous logos as much as they want, but I even feel sorry for speakers of languages that regard phonograms as mere tools for written expression!
By the way, I heard that in China these days, crazy hiragana logos on snack products actually make sales better. As inventors of characters, the Chinese are also capitalizing on visual benefits of phonograms that inspire luxury.
Alphabets are just symbols of free-market economy to the Japanese when it comes to logos. I beg English speakers to not gawk at the appalling parades of hopeless syntax on T-shirts and restaurant menus whenever they stroll through the streets of Japan. They are just designs. "New Year are quite preasurable, wish is best!"

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