Strange Japanese Signs
I saw this one in the underground concourse of Shinjuku Station a few years ago. Shinjuku Station, although not physically the largest train station in the world, is one of the busiest, with the population of the city of Toronto commuting through it every day. In the old days when station platform workers wearing white gloves had to push passengers aboard the over crowded trains in order for the doors to close, many photographs of it were taken here. Because the bedrock approaches the surface in this area there are many skyscrapers to be found - including the 70-storey-tall TokyoMetropolitan GovernmentBuilding that by itself represents more people and more money than all of Canada. Shinjuku is a major business and transportation hub with about five hundred exits/entrances in total. This sign has since been changed. But since acknowledging the error would involve a loss of face by someone, I cannot imagine who would take the responsibility for changing it.
I have seen this one a few times in different contexts. The fact that I have seen the exact same spelling mistake in different, unrelated contexts convinces me that there is a genuine linguistic challenge being exposed here, but I don’t know what it is. Maybe the long “oh”sound of the central vowel comes off differently to the Japanese ear. To replicate in Roman print the sound
they hear when they listen to the word being spoken they insert the unwanted “r” with sincere intentions. I must pay closer attention to how Japanese speak and write long vowel sounds.
No Smoking While Walking
A few years ago some Tokyo wards began outlawing cigarette smoking on the streets. It had nothing to do with public health, like the motivation behind bans on smoking in public places in many Western countries. (Outlawing or even diminishing smoking is practically the last thing that the Tokyo federal government wants to foster or be a partner to since it is the owner of Japan Tobacco, the only going tobacco concern in the country.) Instead, the motivation was advertised as a drive to diminish litter, considering the unsightliness of castoff cigarette butts. (Incidentally, I think this further highlights the regard afforded cosmetic appearance in this culture.) Of course, this sign - painted onto the sidewalk near a local station - intends to warn people from smoking while on the street. But that is not what it says in English, of course. I fantasize about testing it. I am not a smoker, but if I were I would dare to light up while standing stationary on that very spot, in full compliance with the instruction not to walk while doing so.
Other areas of the city have better instructions. Some areas have correctly-worded English signs painted on the sidewalks advising pedestrians, “No Smoking.” Other areas advertise their “No Smoking Area.”
Do not enter with ladies waiting on the lord I have written about this sign before. I came across it when walking through the adult entertainment district north of Shinjuku called Kabukicho. It appeared on the wall surrounding one of the many “Love Hotels” there - hotels that rent rooms by the hour (for Rest), or overnight (for Stay, after 11:00 p.m.) Such signs are put up by the local neighborhood Police Box as an anti-prostitution measure. This is a classic mistake because by confusing “road” with “lord” not only is the typical “r / l”consonant confusion being made twice, but a fantastic pun is constructed by accident. In Japanese pronunciation,“road” sounds more like “lold.” I imagine that the sign’s author, with only a vague familiarity with the “r / l”confusion, over-compensated and twice accidentally made the very mistake he was trying to avoid. I would have taken a picture of it if I had had my camera with me. This one is for the books.
Do not press with the hand
I see this sign every November and December when the Christmas Illumination lights go up on the sidewalk outside the Takashimaya Department Store in Takashimaya Times Square in South Shinjuku. What the sign means, of course, is “Don’t Touch.” But I think that message, while easily translatable into Japanese as “sawatenai!”is too direct, and therefore rude, to Japanese sensibilities. So far I have never failed to touch the forbidden illuminations, just out of curiosity. After all, the signs say not to “press” them. They do not say not to touch them. So I figure a gentle, non-pressing touch is okay, according to the literal message.
This is a very common sign. It sounds like the adjective synonymous with“near” or “nearby.” What it means, though, is “closed,” as in “not open.” I have spent years pointing this out to Japanese, but I think the Japanese ear does not hear the final “d” sound when spoken by a native English speaker. (After my most recent trip to Canada I returned with a collection of postcards as souvenirs for people. Some of them featured Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen in ceremonial scarlet red tunics and black riding breeches and boots. “What is this?” “That’s a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman.” “Oh, Canadian MountainPolice.” “No, MountedPolice.” “Mountain Police.” “No, Mounted Police!” Many people mistook the word “mounted” by not hearing the terminal “d.”) During my first year in Japan I often used a felt tipped marker pen to graffiti in the correct ending on such signs when I encountered them. Well, I don’t do that any more. (Okay, I did it once in the last year.)
This is a sign commonly seen to advertise local neighborhood bookstores. It’s meaning is fairly clear, but it is strange because it sounds like an exclamation! It sounds like the business has only one book to sell. I think to myself, “What? Only one book?”