Thursday, February 14, 2013

First World Problems in Japan; "Let's make an issue!"

First and foremost; I need to get something off my chest.

As an international community (whatever the heck that means), we need to gather ourselves and collectively sit down and have a conversation. About grammar. (I knew that would get your attention! You're excited now. Please contain yourself.)

This basic grammar issue turns out to be actually quite simple. And yet, there are HUGE AND GLARING PROBLEMS regarding it.. Let's focus on the simple stuff. Let's boil it down to the nitty gritty...
I'm talking about the "Let's- (something/verb-or-noun-or-adjective)!" concept in Japanese advertising. Most foreigners don't understand the linguistic connection that is so easily met in these sentences. To us it seems almost comically awkward, and so we've allowed it to continue... for too long.  This is probably the most common example of simplistic Japanglish* found in advertising Japan.That being said, honestly, how many times have you seen any of the following examples in your daily life;

"Let's skiing!" "ski ni ikimasho! 

"Let's enjoy Japanese!"  "Yotte mimashou!"

"Let's shopping!" "Kaimono shite mimashou!" 

"Let's yoga!" " Yoga shite mimasho!"

"Let's drunk!" "Is-sho ni yotte mimashou!"

 Just on the subway ALONE, we've all seen these "suggestive" ads.

Putting this all into some (slightly convoluted) perspective, I may have generated and/or encouraged some stereotypes of my own. Coming from someone who was brought up learning English, French, and just a smidgen of German, I have to say that from the point of linguistics and discourse that these are complete bastardizing translations of the English language. This "Let's <verb>" concept is one of the many reasons I still have a job. The Japanese educational system seems to be doling out the English language in small doses. Which will actually create more damage than it pretends to solve.

The "-sho" ending of a verb does not exist in the English language, and yet translators have just adopted the 'laissez-faire' attitude towards it. For all of the people outside of Japan that may wonder what the this is, it basically means "let's do this together."  But it's used as a pronoun would be used in a germanic language. I.e. 'We should ski together!' or 'Nous devrions aller faire tous ensemble! On-y-va!"
Heh heh heh.

A 'de-sho!' Exclamation in Japanese as a similar linguistic equivalent to "Let's go DO SOMETHING TOGETHER!" But when translated into English, it just looks like a passive-agressive-yet-desperate "If you're up to it, and you wanna do it, then I might feel like it, and maybe we could do it together."

Next time you see an advertisement on a train or the street using the word "let's" in order to encourage people to join their cause, please stop in front of it. Then laugh at them. Poignantly, and without shame. Then demand some informative-style pamphlet. 
"This is called a MAP. It's a pretty big deal."

I'm always on the look-out for random things on this beautiful little island. Japan is truly the land of the weird and the slightly futuristic-yet-somehow-out-of-date. But recently, I've started noticing the darker side of a rather fringe aspect of the culture. The discontent. The complaints and whining from certain kinds of people. More specifically, the complaints I hear from foreigners while living here. You see, I don't often hear genuine complaints from the locals. Japanese people consider complaining to be... almost unpatriotic. Sure, they'll complain about the trains being crowded, or the weather being too damp... but these aren't really COMPLAINTS, by "Western Standards."


As an aside, I would just like to say that it would be awesome if we could all have these problems one day. We are all ungrateful bastards. These are all complaints I heard first hand. They were all so laughable that I wrote them down. Allow me to demonstrate;

*Single tear*

"I can't find a recycling bin on the train platform for my beer can."

"My bamboo chopsticks didn't break perfectly down the middle, and now I'm having trouble holding them."
"The heated seats on the train are too hot, and made the backs of my knees sweat on my way to work."

"The automatic door at the store didn't automatically open for me, so I had to wait for an employee to open it for me."

"I missed my train and had to wait 3 minutes for the next one."

"There are so many ways for me to get to my destination, that I can't made a decision without consulting my iPhone."

"My chocolate bar is melty and I don't recognize the brand name."

"The convenience store was out of my favourite brand of cigarettes/beer/sushi, so I had to walk 2 blocks to another store."

"The bar was opened 24 hours, so I didn't realize what time it was when I left."

"When going from one side of the city to the other... I have to transfer trains."

"My boss paid for this karaoke machine for our staff party, but it only has Japanese, Chinese, English, and Korean. I wanted a recently-produced pretentious French Rap song."

"I'm so tired of sitting down and talking to people for 
 30 hours a week."

"There are too many people willing to help me at the store, but they don't take credit cards."
"The bidet in the public toilet was slightly cooler than I had originally expected."

So yes, I realize that I may have gone on a bit of a rant with this post. But I needed a chance to get this out there. We really don't have it so bad. We're actually doing pretty well. We need to suck it up.

(Let's) Gambatte.

 *Gaikokojin is a polite Japanese word for foreigner.
**See previous posts about Japanglish; not quite English, not quite Japanese.


  1. Come for the writing. Stay for the photos.

  2. I have "Let's drunk" stamped forever in my brain. Reminds me of the days I was learning English more better. Thanks! :-) Nice blog by the way. I enjoy reading your posts. I think I stumbled on it reading Japan Pulse sometime ago.

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