「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら
「ST」は紙名を新たに「Alpha」として2018年6月29日より新創刊しました。 Alpha以降の英文記事はこちら


The cool factor

By Samantha Loong


“Watch vigor of us,” said the T-shirt in bold letters. I stopped eating my noodles mid-slurp to try to figure out what it meant. The ramen shop I was at was part of a popular chain, and all their staff were wearing the same T-shirt, with the same puzzling English sentence on it.

I wondered if it made sense to the average Japanese customer. I wasn’t sure “vigor” was a commonly understood English word in Japan. On the way home, I biked past a real estate sign that said (Tenant Wanted). Underneath it in English, it read: We will sincerely wait for moving in. These examples are just some of many where it seems that English is used more as decoration, rather than to convey anything useful to the target audience.

Using languages or writing systems to promote a certain image isn’t uncommon, but I have to question why some choose to use it. Wearing a sweater with French written on it probably makes people associate themselves with being stylish and fashionable like the French. Whether or not a stylish French person would actually wear French on their own clothing is another matter of course.

Fashion is all about style, so it’s not surprising that languages come and go depending on the trend of the season. However, nonfashion businesses in Japan should be more savvy with how they use English. Some Japanese companies insist on having an English version of their company website, when their clientele are mainly Japanese. In reality, if a non-Japanese person accessed their website, chances are this person would know enough Japanese to be able to navigate and understand it. “But it looks cool and modern!” are what some people say, but ultimately, will spending all that extra time and money be worth it?

To many in the West, kanji looks cool and exotic. And so, some like to tattoo kanji onto their bodies. One Spice Girl wanted to take “girl power” to the next level and tattooed the characters “female” and “strength” onto hers. Like my reaction to the ramen shop’s T-shirt and the real estate sign, to people from countries that use kanji, the reaction is less “Cool!” and more “Well, I can kinda see what they want to say, but ... ”

With the ramen shop, the food was delicious, and the odd English hasn’t put me off going again. With the real estate sign, if I was interested in the property, I might approach the company expecting them to understand and speak English. So the next time you’re thinking of using a foreign language on your sign, website or body, consider your audience ― is “cool” what you really need?



The Japan Times ST: January 16, 2015

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