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Friday, May 6, 2011

Let's Japanese in Taiwan 台湾人の日本語!

Look around anywhere you go in T'ái​wān 台灣​, and it isn't hard to spot something written in Japanese (just walk into any supermarket or convenience store, and peer at the products on the shelves, for example). Next to English, Japanese is the most popular foreign language studied here, the result first of a long colonial legacy (which left its linguistic imprint on the local dialect), and then by the close economic and social ties in the years that have followed. Despite the recent popularity of the "Korean Wave", "Cool Japan" still has a hold on Taiwanese both young and old. The island is awash with signs written in kanji 漢字, hiragana 平仮名, katakana 片仮名 and even rōmaji ローマ字. Here are some representative examples of the good, the bad and the ugly, all taken within the past week in the central city of T'ái​chūng​ 臺中​.

This is probably the most common example in that it uses three languages to get its point across (and no doubt to make a "local" product appear to be more "cosmopolitan"): the largest fonts are reserved for Mandarin 國語, of course (fènglísū 鳳梨酥), followed by English ("Pineapple Shortcake") and Japanese (painappuru kēki パイナップルケーキ, with the Japanese translation itself being a loan word from English).

Compared to a tonal language like Mandarin, Japanese is easier to pronounce, but the grammar is much more complex. This label on a box of cakes is a good example of the difficulties involved - oishigeda is a case of an adjectival form being incorrectly used, resulting in an awkward meaning, something along the lines of "it has deliciousness". Forgivable, unlike the next example...

We've all seen some very strange spellings of English words here in T'ái​wān, and have wondered why the writer didn't simply take a few moments to look up the word in a dictionary, or have the material proofread by someone more proficient in the language before going ahead with publication or production. The same occurs with Japanese as well. The writing in the bottom left corner of the package above, ichigo kūki いちごクーキ, is either trying to say "Strawberry Cookie" (ichigo kukkī クッキー) or "Strawberry Cake" (ichigo kēki ケーキ), but has gotten it wrong on both counts.

There's nothing wrong with this sign for a Tōkyō 東京 (Shinjuku 新宿) tonkatsu 豚カツ restaurant called Saboten さぼてん ( The name has been transliterated into Mandarin as Shèngpótièn 勝博殿. (Those of you who are unfamiliar with tonkatsu can read the Wikipedia entry on the subject: The word in Chinese is chàchūp’ái 炸豬排)

For a Taiwanese person, the name on the sign reads Liùpěnmù Square (Liùpěnmù kuǎngch’ǎng) 六本木廣場. For anyone who has spent time in Tōkyō, the name Roppongi 六本木 conjures up a lot of different, and sometimes clashing, images: foreign ghetto; big-city clubs and discos; fashionable boutiques and restaurants; sleazy dives, meat markets and pick-up joints; yakuza ヤクザ and G.I.'s; stunningly beautiful women; and, in recent times, upscale developments. Like so many other transplanted young Westerners, I spent most of my weekends during my first year in Tōkyō hanging out there, then avoided the area like the plague for most of the ensuing years afterward. In any case, the above picture is an example of a Japanese place-name being used to appeal to the young and the impressionable, er, fashionable.

Some signs are just plain strange. "Just&Love" followed by a heart sign ♥, and then the Japanese loan word shō (as in "show")...It's from a boutique located in a district frequented by university students, if that helps.

This final example shows a tendency among some sign-makers to get "busy" when it comes to the writing (the おいしげだ picture above also demonstrates this trait). Also commonplace with English signage, it involves cramming lots of small text onto the sign. The effect isn't to inform, as the words (in both English and Japanese) often make little sense, and contain lots of mistakes. Instead, the intent is to dazzle the passerby with lots of "exotic" writing, and attract their attention to the more important stuff written in Mandarin. Certainly, very few Taiwanese are going to stop in their tracks in order to try and work out what is written. No, that sort of thing is best to left to strange folks such as myself.

In this case, the words on the left are pretty easy to understand with a quick glance: オリーブオイルでパンを楽しむ basically just means something like "enjoy bread in olive oil". For all that writing on the other side, I was prepared to take some time after getting back home to figure out what all that was trying to say. It was only after I had uploaded the photo, and had taken a closer look, that I realized it was merely the hiragana script, one of the two syllabic alphabets used in Japanese (see here for a table of the symbols: It would the same as if I moved back to the States, opened a "Taiwanese-style" bakery, and then erected a sign out front plastered with the Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ syllables and tone marks (

A note to the editors and translators at Compass Magazine: are you really sure 'Jing Tai Lang Japanese Cuisine" is the right rendering of the characters 金太郎日式料理? Yes, I'm aware that here is T'ái​wān, but wouldn't "Kintarō" better convey what kind of experience diners will have at that restaurant, especially as 金太郎 is the name of a Japanese folk hero? You should try Google sometimes - you might be surprised at what you can find out:

A short Kyōdō News 共同通信社 article from yesterday's Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ ("Ads thank Taiwanese for aid"

"Advertisements paid for by Japanese citizens ran in two T'ái​wān newspapers Tuesday thanking the Taiwanese people for their support in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The half-page ads in the Chinese-language Liberty Times 自由時報 and United Daily 聯合報 say 'Arigatō, T'ái​wān" ありがとう台湾 beneath illustrations of a red plum blossom 梅花「ウメ」 — the national flower of Taiwan — next to a pink Japanese cherry blossom サクラ (樱花). 'Your support . . . is much appreciated and warms our heart. . . . We will forever remember your friendship,' they said. The ads stem from a campaign by designer Maiko Kissaka on Twitter last month to buy ads in Taiwanese media outlets thanking the Taiwanese for their support after the Tōhoku disaster 東北地方太平洋沖地震."

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