Answerman Why Is Random English Used So Much In Japan?
by Justin Sevakis,
"Hiruzawa Nakari" asks:
Why do many official anime websites have their main navigation links ("Top, News, On-Air, Story, Cast & Staff," etc.) in English? Are they trying to make site international, or is it because it just looks cool?
Those websites are clearly not aimed at an international audience, because aside from those navigational links, they're often entirely in Japanese, without even a small English info page. Only those small bits are in English, and are clearly meant for Japanese speakers to use.
This isn't too far off from how English is used everywhere in Japanese media. TV ads for DVD and Blu-ray releases use the English phrase "Now On Sale." Go to a music store, and most of the categories are displayed in English. Store windows will have signs and displays in English. Sometimes that English will be good, sometimes not so good, and sometimes downright baffling.
Japan has a strange relationship with English. Imagine what America would be like if literally everybody had to take French every year of middle and high school, most of us listened to French music and watched a ton of French movies, but very very few of us knew any French people or ever traveled to a French speaking country. We'd all retain some French, but after a few years of disuse, we'd be pretty bad at speaking it.
Ultimately what you have is a country with a huge population with basic but limited knowledge of a language that also symbolizes the glamour of the outside world. So, how do people end up using that knowledge? As decoration, really. Sometimes English is used in a simple way that people know, so that it's useful AND fancy, like in the websites you mention. Other times, it's just there purely decoratively, like on signs and posters where there's just a random paragraph of semi-gibberish English text. Often, people will be more playful with a language they don't really know. And if something is off, nobody will care too much.
When people don't know what's being said and don't feel any particular pressure to try and make it out, people interpret the words in unexpected ways. They start paying more attention to the appearance of the text, or if spoken/sung, the sound and the rhythm of English. They project moods and images onto the words, completely separate and divorced from their actual meaning. For example, when Japanese fans watch End of Evangelion and Komm Süsser Tod starts playing, nobody knows or really cares that much what those lyrics say. It simply sounds like a rollicking English/foreign gospel song that washes over them as part of the larger experience.
Obviously a large city like Tokyo has a large number of foreigners around, and to make the cities in Japan more accessible, signs and announcements for mass transit are often bilingual. THOSE English words are, actually, there for non-Japanese speakers to be able to get around. But the rest of English in Japan can serve multiple uses, and only some of those uses involve what the English words actually mean.
Do YOU have a question for the Answerman?
We want your questions! Send in as many or as often as you like. We can only pick three questions a week (and unfortunately I don't have ALL the answers) so if you haven't been chosen, don't be discouraged, and keep on sending.
However, there are a few tips you can follow that will make it far more likely that your question gets answered:
- Questions can be submitted by email only. (Tweets with industry questions get ignored.)
- I absolutely cannot answer questions about whether a show will get another season. New productions are closely guarded secrets until they're publicly announced, so there's nothing I can tell you that Google can't.
- I cannot help you get in touch with any producers, artists, creators, actors or licensors. If you're trying to pitch an idea, you should read this.
- I will not do your homework/research/report for you.
- Keep it short! If you find yourself breaking up your question into multiple paragraphs, it's too long.
- Proper grammar and punctuation are your friends!
- Be specific, and give examples when possible. I get a lot of questions asking me about some perceived pattern someone sees in a bunch of unrelated shows, and often I just don't get what's being asked.
- Check the archives! I may have already answered your question!
Got all that? Great! The e-mail address is answerman (at animenewsnetwork.com). And thanks!!
Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
discuss this in the forum (29 posts) |