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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Japanese Signage For The Birds

Japan is a society where it hates to say “no” to avoid casting disappointment to people and thus making itself look bad, or as the bully.

It’s just part of the country’s unique social make-up.

For those of us who have been to Japan, we understand that there are 47 verbal and non-verbal ways in which a Japanese person can avoid saying “no”, a number I made up, by the way.

There are a lot of ways to say maybe or perhaps, or could be. There’s even the old sucking of air through the teeth routine - and amusing gesture for the gaijin/foreigner who has seen it before and knows exactly what it means.

It means, that whatever you asked for or wanted to do—it ain’t happening.

As long as everyone understands that… that unless the Japanese person you are talking to says “Yes!”, all else means “no.”

Above we have a poster sign informing the visitors to not feed the birds.

In this case, everything I aid above gets thrown out the window, because there’s no “maybe” about it.

That bird is telling you “No! Do not feed the birds.”

It actually says “NO!” in English.

Considering most English-speaking people have built IKEA furniture using non-verbalized directions (all pictograms), the above poster could simply have refrained from using the word “NO!” in English.

It’s like the message was done that way to ensure the stupid foreigners don’t continue to feed - and thus attract - birds, or in this case pigeons.

If the messaging was just for the Japanese, why not simply have the message written in Japanese.

Now don’t tell me that the Japanese should know how to read English!

Even using the same alphabet, me… the English speaker would be confused if I saw a message with the odd French word tossed in. I know I was supposed to have learned French, but all I know is enough to say “cheese omelette” and “roast beef”, and “Will you sleep with me tonight?”

I can honestly say that not one of those phrases ever got me what I wanted.

Now… let’s also examine the poser of to whom the poster message is directed to.

Let’s look at the Japanese fist. It could be kids… little kids… pre-schoolers out for a walk with grandma or mom. They could feed the pigeons. They wouldn’t know the English word “NO!” and may not even understand the Japanese writing, but there’s a chance they might understand the graphic… that the bird is full, and doesn’t need human hand-outs that might be birdseed, or it could be illegal narcotics of some kind.

It’s not the school-aged kids. They are generally too busy doing school work, club activities, and cram/night school to ever stop and smell the roses and feed the birdies - unless it was a scheduled school event.

The young adults. If not involved in higher education activities, they are working. Money is tight, and time to spend slacking off is even tighter. No. Not this group.

Older adults. If they aren’t out drinking and partying and doing that special bonding thing required of all co-workers regardless of the work they perform, then they are home nursing that hangover or off wasting money doing private drinking, gambling at pachinko, or some other sort of sexual-related activity with someone other than their spouse. No… too self-absorbed in being Japanese, and then indulging in their own secret life. Feeding birds? That’s for the birds.

Seniors. Sure. I suppose there’s a good chance of that. We can all picture a bunch of grey-hairs sitting on a park bench sprinkling birdseed or bread crumbs out for our avian friends.

But does that actually happen anymore? Anywhere? I suppose there are some kind-hearted people who do that. My dad would put seed into four feeders, and even toss out meat scraps for the crows in the winter time (left over stuff from what we fed our four rottweilers).

Okay… let’s say it’s the Japanese senior who are feeding the birds, with maybe toddlers and possibly a young adult here or there.

That sure is a lot of writing on the sign - and in two languages, to boot!

Keep it simple.

Still… one has to admire the way the sign says “NO!” but still attempts to be cute with the bird actually being the one smart enough to refuse the handout.

Now… to prove that non-verbal communication works, aside from IKEA and LEGO instruction booklets, below are two signs I saw… the top one in western Japan, and the other in Thailand (I think).

There’s no mistaking the message.



My point is that the sign - cute though it is - could have got its message across without being all preachy… or having to resort to English.

Oh Buddha… you don’t think they used English in an attempt to seem hip… er, cool, er… what is the term used by kids nowadays?

Andrew Joseph

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