The Small Print
Faces & Places
The Goods
Tech Know
Cars & Bikes
Arts & Entertainment
Japan Beat
The Agenda
Dining Out
Table Talk
Local Flavors
International Dining
Restaurant Review
Bar Review
The Last Word
Photo of the Week
About Us
Distribution Points

775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By Emily Kuo Kubo

Invasion of the gairaigo

Japan should embrace the influx of English words and phrases. In the end, it has no choice.

As every foreigner who lives here knows, Tokyoites are constantly bombarded with written English on signs and advertisements. One chic-looking holistic spa in my neighborhood advertises that its services will enhance “Human Beauty”—this is to clarify that they do not have treatments for, say, pooches. Websites like www.engrish.com are devoted entirely to real-life examples of funny “Japlish,” which are unfailing sources of amusement for me when I have a bad day.

But as more loan words enter the everyday lexicon, a serious discussion has been brewing about the danger of Japanese being taking over by foreign—that is, English—words and phrases. Such anxiety echoes from the highest level of society. In 2002, Prime Minister Koizumi called for a reduction in the use of loan words in official documents. A panel called The National Institute for Japanese Language was given the job of replacing difficult loans with native Japanese counterparts.

This year, 33 terms made the list. Some that were determined to be too difficult for the average Japanese include akauntabiriti (accountability), domesutiku baiorensu (domestic violence), and sutereotaipu (stereotype). But the committee was unable to find appropriate replacements for some of these, backing off proposals to change onrain, deitabeisu, and dotocomu—which highlights the fact that advances in technology create entirely new concepts that cannot be captured with older Japanese.

While there is a compelling case to be made for writing difficult government documents in a way that the general public can understand, some people see the government’s efforts to “simplify” as an excuse to “purify.” After all, the term that describes loan words in Japanese, gairaigo, literally means “language that comes from the outside.” And don’t forget that Japanese is the only language that uses a separate writing system for foreign words. The widespread use of katakana terms is often seen as an invasion of Western culture and touted as a disease of the younger generation.

Ricardo Gimenes

But in fact, the process has its roots firmly in history. China was once the main source of Japan’s borrowings, and its effects are still felt. When one raises a glass to toast, for example, Japanese say “Kanpai,” while the Chinese pronounce it “Ganbei.” The Japanese kanji system is made up almost entirely of Chinese characters, while hiragana is also said to be derived, however roughly, from (Chinese) kanji and Sanskrit. But the decline of cultural prestige of China, coupled with the rise of Europe and America, has resulted in a shift towards borrowing from English.

While loan words were, in the past, used almost exclusively to name new objects that did not exist in the Japanese lexicon, recently there has been a tendency to employ them alongside perfectly usable Japanese. For example, when some young people want to do something together, many prefer to make a puran instead of a keikaku—which was a perfectly respectable Japanese way of putting it. When I asked a Japanese friend about this, she said that the English word gives it a much more kakkoi (cool) feeling. Image, it turns out, is what young Japanese are after.
Many countries have experienced similar concerns, and responded with even greater resistance. France, perhaps most notorious for its efforts to keep its language pure, has its own language police called L’Academie francaise. In 1994, the French government enacted a law banning all advertising in English. It has even forbidden the use of the word “email” in all its government publications, ministries, and websites. Instead, the word was replaced with courriel, short for courier electronique, or “electronic mail.”

The fact is, all languages have borrow from one another. French is basically a descendent of Latin, as are Romance languages like Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. English is part of the Germanic language family, which includes German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic. Within the Germanic languages, Norwegian is so closely related to Swedish and Danish that proficient speakers of these languages can understand the others.

In Japan, the phenomenon of Japanese English will continue as long as English retains its status of prestige. Words, much like fashion, come and go, and eventually some fade out while others find a permanent place in modern Japanese. There will inevitably be a portion in the population, most likely the older generation, that finds these changes threatening—especially when the katakana words refer to new technology, new concepts, and new institutions. In that sense, it is not so much the language that they find intimidating, but the change itself. Gairaigo, then, is just a part of that fear for things unfamiliar.

Language is a living, changing thing. It will never stand still. Just think—at one time, Shakespearean English was actually how people spoke (minus the iambic pentameter). But how many of you native English speakers felt that it was a foreign language when you first read Hamlet in high school?

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.