Audio, Etc. (Sept. 1974)

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As one Japanese map and guide sheet puts it for its Japanese users, Hellow again! No matter that the spelling is off; the intent is clear moshi moshi in the local language. But in Japan the Japanese don't use the vernacular for headings and salutations if they can find an English word even if they must invent the English.

It's wonderful. The body of texts is of course in Japanese characters. But the categories, the titles, the eye-catching slogans, are now almost universally in our language, as are the delicacies offered in stores and the items of the popular Japanese menu.

Such a creative people! The intuitive tradition of many centuries, the elegance, the artistic sensitivity, are far too strong to be lost in the shuffle to go Western. Their "Western" food, everywhere, is absolutely delicious and so different. Very Japanese. And the language called English is the same.

I laughed myself sick over Japanese English when I was there, but the laughter was backed by respect, of the same sort that we in audio must accord the Western-derived Japanese hi-fi equipment now so prominent in our own markets. It is a strong, intelligent, and creative use of English that leads these people into such endearingly amusing, such delightfully uninhibited exploration of a foreign mode of expression. It's the same creative use of electronics technology that brings us the hi-fi, so familiar to us from AKAI to Yamaha (Zenith having dropped its Japanese line a while back). Take, for instance, Mix Pigg. Yep, that's precisely what it said on the Edward Tatnall Canby menu of a busy Osaka (I think) noontime eatery. You could also order Mushroom Pigg. Then there was a list of goodies under the general category SPECIAL SERVES SET. You could have a Sand Wich Set or a Hot Dog Set. Also a Sand Wich Hamberger Pizz.

And more. My colleague Ivan Berger, of Popular Mechanics, was immediately intrigued by the Cheese Berger, since he had once found a similar berger in a place called Ivan's somewhere in our own Southwest. The Ivan Berger.

For dessert there was a special Tropical Ice Cream (a Special Serves Set?). Relationship to a baked Alaska? I didn't try it. In fact, I ended up with a plain old Chocolate Sundae, but had to leave most of it because the lines of waiting Japanese behind every seat were getting longer and longer. The place was jammed and when my fast eating friends left me, there I was, the only non-Japanese anywhere in sight.

This was strictly Japanese eating, I assure you. The name of the crowded sundae joint was NICE ICE CREAM. So you see what creative English is like.

Which reminds me of the batteries of cold drink dispensers, automatic change-making, which line up at the entrance to every famous shrine, temple, garden, railway station or other tourist spot (Japanese tourists) beside the big parking spaces full of fat busses. The favorite brand, in many lovely fruit flavors, is called MY SODA, in English, right on the pop-top cans. But MY SODA is always flanked by Pepsi and Coca Cola, same cans, same English. It's all one big integrated culture, just like our hi-fi shops (and theirs) where Marantz and Scott line up next to Sony and Pioneer.

Or is it? One could almost speak of the young Rome gobbling up Greek culture in its haste to expand-but ,let's not, because this is different. Japan is both very young and very old, which is a curious state of national existence.

Wolfing down a new outside culture eyes, even unto Mix Pigg. But by no means abandoning some 2500 years of pretty much isolated traditional civilization, untouched by Western ideas, to all intents and purposes, until the day before yesterday. The conversion to Westernism, the gobbling up of Western ideas and technologies and language, is sudden, all-out, and violent and it is far from completed.

The longer one stays in Japan, the more one realizes that this extraordinary energy of conversion, the seemingly uncritical and headlong rush into Western ways, is the product of this very contradiction between old and new. Like the almost violent hybrid vigor out of two crossed plant lines, distinct but related, these two highly developed civilizations of ours all but unknown to each other for 25 centuries or so are suddenly crossed, in less than one century and mostly the last quarter of that! A true flare-up, a supernova.

It is the smaller, older culture, dormant for so long, that has produced the hybrid energy. Our own has provided the fuel but it is theirs which runs on it. We are passively affected, mainly by the feedback of products and ideas.

Sometimes this concentration is more than we can take. We simply are not geared for such intensity. Last week I got a succinct 'phone report on a Japanese tape recorder motor that had failed me at 7% ips, though 15 was OK. Yes, they said, the slow speed windings were gone. But they wouldn't touch the thing. Only Japanese fingers could get into that motor! If we did fix it, we would charge 100 times the cost of a new motor. Exasperation! And it is, indeed, a beautiful motor, too fine for our clumsy repair fingers.

I'm not sure what the lesson is but it's part of the picture. Maybe it was my bungling that made it fail? My mind is still open.

On Japanese color TV (fresh and new in every hotel room) the commercials are as rampant as ours and much gaudier. Instead of one-minute plugs, theirs run only about ten seconds-but they come 15 or 20 in instant succession, all in moments. Hyperactivity! No time to go any slower.

Such interesting shapes and designs, even so, especially in the dramatic Japanese written characters, ornamental without even trying.

Maybe I'm nuts but I found the same thing in the Tokyo business streets-beautiful to look at in all their color and variety, consummately artistic, those photogenic characters splashed over dozens of tall vertical signs and hugely built into the tops and sides of buildings in vivid colors, the sidewalks below them awash with overflow goods parked along the curb, and around and between, that carefully tended greenery and extreme neatness which no amount of Westernized hurry has yet forced aside. A color-conscious and form-conscious civilization still, as it has been for centuries. I only wish we had one hundredth of that feeling for our own street displays. (Of course, admittedly, I can't read the Japanese characters on the signs so they are for me an abstract art. Would the Japanese feel the same about our billboards? I doubt it.) For all the Tokyo smog, which is bad and gags the lungs, as it does in all the big cities, and for all the industrialization, which renders endless miles of landscape into factory and power-line scenery, these people have not lost their sense of cleanliness and order, which is next to godliness. So little dirt! So much color. Such pervasively beautiful greenery, cultivated and luxuriant in even the most overbuilt areas, in the middle of city streets, in verdant arrangements around parking lots, between crowded hovels, in front of stores, everywhere flourishing and neat. Vacant lots? They are all made into rice paddies, three-inch-deep lakes with incredibly perfect rows and rows of bright green rice shoots, all hand planted, reflecting the sky and the clouds and trees and factories. Ah, for a rice paddy in Times Square.

And the elevated superhighway down the East Coast industrial corridor is tinted Pompeian red on its concrete sides-suddenly, it is handsome. And the omnipresent narrow gauge electric railways sport shiny, clean trains in fruit flavors-I saw peach, lime, grapefruit, lemon, pear and raspberry. And not a graffito in sight-who needs them. Everything in Japan is color coded and the emergency EXIT signs are green, not red.

Why not? They don't say stop, after all. They say GO (when & if). Reasonable, yes? If you think Japanese.

Also quite reasonable to say yes, yes!, beaming, when actually you mean no. It is not good manners to say no, in one word or in many. And it is good manners, and considerate of the other person, to tell him the things that please him. So they do-and so snafu.

It is all extremely reasonable, if you can only look at it the right way. Very polite and very thoughtful. But it can sometimes get in the way of Progress, as our businessmen know. No? Yes.

The Japanese have lived with politeness for centuries. Their language itself is built for factfull circumlocution and can scarcely be forced into a blunt, factual statement of any sort; can Japanese English be different? This is much more profound than mere word meanings-it is a mystifying clash of temperament and way of life, as between East and West, and no amount of translation can resolve the mystery.

For instance, after a long day of factory visiting, our big Japanese bus heads back towards the "hotaru" (as you say to the taxi drivers)--the hotel.

Dinner, says our JTB guide, Tami, will be at six-thirty. Good-natured groans from us-can't we make it seven? No engagements for the evening. And the dining room, after all, is open at least until ten. A half hour more to rest, a bit more late daylight to look around with. Yes, yes! beams Tami, all smiles.

Yes, surely understand. And so we relax, happily. Oddly enough, though, dinner occurs at exactly six-thirty. You figure it out.


Glossary of Japanese English Seen and Heard 1974

Radies and genrmen Ladies and gentlemen

Glass Grass

Grass Glass

Flame Frame

Unfortunatery Reyi-able Chisso Bonanza X Especiary Froating on Lubber Discleeto soundo Reary enshoyed Need voua hairf Rimsheen Dizhitaw Eel Frame Flame Unfortunately Reliable Chips (electronic)

Crossword Puzzle Prototype Especially Floating on Rubber Discrete Sound Really Enjoyed Need your help Limousine Digital Yield

Typical misunderstanding:

English statement: "lt should go well with the meat." Japanese answer: "Yes-strawberries!" (Ichigo means strawberries.) Japanese statement: "!t is just next to the door." English meaning: Next door.

Japanese sound: All four phrases of the "Big Ben" tune on chimes.

Japanese meaning: Coffee break-at 3:20 p.m. for ten minutes.

Auto models (car names): Bluebird Fellow Max Sunny Laurel Violet Gloria Cherry Skyline Cedric Lancer


One learns simply to wait for results, o see what happens. As a Westerner, you really do not know the results of communication, until you see them.

English or no, here is a fundamental aspect of the old civilization that has scarcely changed in the few moments since Westernism came to this little country. Can we object? From the other viewpoint, remember, we tend to be blunt, tactless, self-centered and, above all, inconsiderate of other people's feelings. One must proceed with tact and care-that is what civilization is all about, after 2500 years.

We can't possible make an issue of right and wrong out of this. The problem is simply one of communication, for useful results and for good human relations. The human relations come first, as the Japanese have long understood. Work that out, establish a mutual tolerance (no matter how difficult it may seem) and the rest follows.

The Japanese deal in people. We think we deal in facts, in self-evident truths; we think we are wholly objective, etc etc. Not necessarily! Our language does deal bluntly in direct fashion and this can be an enormous advantage. Or it can be all too dangerous. Even at home, after all.

Every morning, we were summoned to that bus at a precise moment, say 9:20 a.m. If one of us was not there, the guide personnel immediately became agitated, because we were supposed to be there, and it was their responsibility if we didn't appear. Inevitably, several of us would wander off for a moment of morning air, to buy film, visit the rest rooms-we had the time; we'd be right back. Practical American experience told us it really wouldn't matter and we wire right the bus was invariably late, 'usually by 40 minutes or so. But it did matter.

And so we took to arriving on time, simply because we liked the guides, we appreciated their intense efforts to make things go, and we did not want them to be agitated. It was that simple.

Philosophically, too, we really didn't mind waiting. Always something going on around us, plenty to watch. Americans are extremely good at casual improvisation, when things seem to be going wrong. The Japanese viewpoint is that they shouldn't go wrong-bad planning. Both attitudes have merit.

Given all this, you can perhaps see why the Japanese do such extraordinarily precise and careful work.

That beautifully complex motor, the marvelously neat and calculated inside design of Japanese hi-fi, the same in their astonishingly automated factories.

Things must always be right. And the penalty when they are not is that painful thing, loss of pride, face. We have it too, of course. But not such a degree.

Most assuredly, it is a remarkable spur to human production and ingenuity! No wonder my motor repair man was exasperated in New York. How are you going to cope with that kind of thinking? In terms of wires, no less! It just ain't natural, from an American viewpoint, but it is both natural and productive in its own Japanese environment.

The Engrish ranguage? Most curiously, the Japanese transpose R and L sounds, though they can produce both.

I found, too, that their language is audibly easy for our ears; once you learn a word, you can pick it out from a Japanese conversation. (Not so, for instance, with French.) and once you have caught the rules of transposition, you can spot the adopted English too, notably in discussions of audio where English terms are used by the hundreds. At the JVC demo in the Osaka Audio Fair, I could get the gist of what the man was telling his Japanese audience both the context and through such tell-tale phrases as "discleeto soundo"--discrete sound. Like the Italians, the Japanese add a final vowel to our closed-off word endings.

The amusing part of the Japanese English comes largely inadvertently, out of the transpositions of L and R, leading to all sorts of improbable terminology and startling meanings not intended-see glossary. Especially when the earnest speaker becomes so eager that, like anyone speaking a foreign language, he slips a bit in his linguistic thinking. But the anomaly slips over into print as well-perhaps the Japanese ear hears L and R as the same? We roared, one day in the bus, as a big sign went by that said FLESH FRUIT. It was flesh, all right, but we did not attempt to explain the implications of sinfulness. Sometimes the L or R or even a C or G gives was to a Y sound in mid-word or at the beginning. You wondered last month what a Rimsheen was? A limousine. Out at Tokyo airport, Chicago on the P.A. became Shi-yai-o. After a few days of unexpected meanings, I took to quietly writing down the linguistic addlements I picked up en route. At one point I made the mistake of passing my notes across the bus aisle to our editor and his wife, who promptly burst into suppressed merriment; it was much too sudden an exposure, all at once.

We agreed to publish a glossary and you will find it attached, for your pleasure, with the most friendly respect from us over here to those who have so valiantly plunged into our tough ranguage as though it were their very own, which it almost is. Nippongrish? No more odd than English after swallowing (and altering) both Latin and Norman French! If the British could convert "Marie la Bonne" into Marlybone, if in South Carolina "Beau Fort" ends up as "Byoo-fut", if my Connecticut neighbors have converted "Tower Dale" into Taradiddle and the family ChoiniƩre into "Schneer"-present pronunciation-then surely a rim sheen out of Checker is as viable in Tokyo as in Shi-yai-o itself. Even with reft-hand dlive, and keeping to the yong side of the load.

(Source: Audio magazine, Sept. 1974; Edward Tatnall Canby)

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