Friday, February 4, 2011

8 Things Japan could Improve: No. 7. The Signage

I can't claim to speak as an expert on Japan, but I thought that some might be interested in reading my thoughts on things Japan could improve. This is staggered with the publishing of my list of 8 unmistakable pleasures of Japan.

    Okay, Japan, I get it, you don't really want me. You don't really want tourists, you don't really want visitors. I understand. They gum up the works. There's only one problem. We're coming anyway. You're a fascinating country, you know that. Sometimes, Japan strikes me a little like certain women I have known, the sort that are very beautiful, and know it all too well. When the suitors come, the women are all too happy to accept gifts, but when queried for a little help in attaining the high favors, these women will respond in a language so abstract and convoluted that one needs secret (as I have known a few to do) a recorder so that the message can be remembered and deciphered at a later date.
    Now, in women, this is all well and good. Rarely does it constitute a public danger or bother when men attempt to assail these women with affection. (Rather, it seems a public amusement) In Japan, it is not quite the same. Japan seems to refuse, unlike any other nation I know, to establish signs in anything other than Japanese. Let's not forget, this is not like the French establishing signs only in French. French at least shares an alphabet and some basic vocabulary with English. Japanese does not even share a writing system.
    Sometimes - and only sometimes - train stations and trains will be so kind as to put things as simple as stops in the dreaded romanji (english alphabet). This grows all the more confusing when two train companies meet in the same station, one putting up stops in english and Japanese, the other only in Japanese. Is it really so difficult? Really, Japan, we tourists would gum up the works less if you'd just give us a little more to go on, but guess what, like the suitor who is "just so insensitive" to the woman who intentionally misleads his sense of what to do, we tourists will stand around with a smitten and terrified look on our faces if you give us nothing more to go on than your extremely abstract national game of pictionary.
    Please do not take this as a rant by the "I speak english and so should all the world" person. I really wouldn't mind if the Japanese put the signs up in French, German, or Italian, if it made sense for them to do so. I could at least nearly decipher those languages, near enough to have more than a faint hope I was getting on the right train, or driving on the right road. Let us not forget that when we say all signs are in Japanese, we mean written language so difficult that one of our friends there, who has been in the country twenty years and could speak fluent enough Japanese to work reception with the Olympics, in Japanese, English, French, German, Italian, and enough Russian to get someone to a hospital, could not read "do not enter" on a road sign - and all the road signs, everywhere, are exclusively in Japanese.


  1. This reminds me of a story (rant) told by Austin, over a game of Japanese Mahjong and some excellent brandy and tobacco, about studying Japanese with a group of Chinese students who would always mock the other students over their difficulties with Kanji, remarking how they were learning characters that weren't even over 30 strokes each. This seemed to infuriate Austin to no end. lol

    Anyway, not having been there I wouldn't be one to say, but I still can't help but wonder whether it really is a public amusement to the Japanese to watch tourists in complete impotence and disarray as they attempt to decipher the indecipherable signage. I know I would love that if I were Japanese. haha

  2. I like your extended metaphor. ^_^