Observations on Japanese Culture - Part 8 - English

The Japanese language has four sets of characters: Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, and Romanji. Kanji are the Chinese characters that the Japanese adopted over 1500 years ago. Hiragana is essentially the Japanese alphabet, and it's used for writing Japanese words phonetically. Katakana is another alphabet, but it's using primarily for writing words adapted from other languages. And finally, Romanji, which is the Latin alphabet used for English.

The three main character sets: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana are all co-mingled on signs, menus, train schedules, everywhere. Linda and Griffin learned the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets, so they could sound out the words. I had to rely on my pocket alphabet, but over time I could recognize which character set I was dealing with, and even started to learn Katakana. If you're planning to travel in Japan, one really useful thing to do would be to memorize the Katakana. Since Katakana is the written version of foreign words, if you can sound it out, then you'll usually recognize the word. ビール (bee-ru) is beer , バス (bu-suh) is bus, ピザ is pizza, and アラカルト is "a la carte". Once I knew some Katakana, all of a sudden I was reading "Japanese."

But, surprisingly, Romanji, and specifically English, was rampant throughout Japan. We went to a mall in Utsonomiya. I was amazed at the amount of English written everywhere. This photo of "Sports Depot" made me feel like I could have been in any mall in the United States

The English translations were sometimes whimsical

sometimes inscrutable. I guess it wasn't so much that the words were supposed to mean something. Maybe one or two words in the sentence were someone's particular favorites, or maybe the design of the letters was just pleasing? At one point we were talking to someone who liked the word "cool" in English. He said it several times to get the feeling, and maybe to savor the sound.

Some of the English writing was just "off"... particularly on T-shirts.

Here are some other funny JapEnglish examples.

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