Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
At first I thought the story “Standardized English for road signs to help foreign tourists” (The Japan Times, Thursday, April 3, 2014) sounded like a good idea. But then I read it.
My objection is that labeling a street sign “Aoyama-dori Ave.” as described in the story is redundant, since “dori” means “Avenue.” So the suggestion is actually to label the street “Aoyama Avenue Avenue,” which is ridiculous. Similarly, the Kanda River which passes through my Tokyo neighbourhood is identified by a bilingual sign as the “Kandagawa River” which annoys me because unlike a clueless tourist I know that what it is saying is “Kanda River River,” which is again ridiculous. Also, I have never heard it, but I fear to hear someone say, or see a printed guide report “Mt. Fujiyama,” which means “Mount Fuji Mountain.” Ouch!
Don’t call me stupidly pedantic. I am correct in this language matter and I am being economically efficacious with words, and therein lies truer virtue.
What is at play here is the sacrifice of utility on the altar of effort in the (mistaken) belief that the appearance of effort amounts to actual accomplishment. It’s impossible to avoid it, though, because the motive behind the move is a deeply cultural one. Japanese culture values appearance over everything.
A sad precedent was made in the 2002 Japan-Korea World Cup when some body - government or business, or a poor marriage of the two? - made the decision to add numbers to local commuter station names with the noble intention of making the transportation system easier for foreigners to negotiate. The result was to sow more confusion than clarity since telling visitors that they are at Station M12 in Tokyo is an insufficient substitute for telling them they are at Yotsuya Station on the Marunouchi Line when confused or lost foreign passengers want to know where they are. Since then we’ve been stuck both with spoiled signage as well as the painfully lame explanation for it.