October 22nd, 2015

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The Hell that is America

I've been very lucky in the matter of Japanese gifts lately. Not only did I get a pair of hanko (see previous entry), but yesterday the owner of my local restaurant, Yume, gave me a pile of simple books in Japanese for my reading practice. All but one were for small children, and I'm looking forward to getting to them shortly; but the other caught my attention immediately, being an English textbook for Japanese learners, with the title Whatdya say?.

Why deny it? The attraction was the possibility of juicy examples of Japanese English and the mistakes therein, and I didn't have to look further than the cover to find some:

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I love the idea of a world in which common English phrases include "Too bright!" and "Become you well". Such examples of Japanglish have the double attraction of a) offering a penetrating insight into the linguistic and cultural differences between Japan and Anglophone countries, and b) being hilarious. (I recommend the Youtube blogger Chris Broad on the subject.) To begin with, I flicked through the book looking for further instances of poor English, and indeed there were quite a few....

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But I had only just begun my descent into the rabbit hole. Soon, I noticed a strangely Beckettian quality to some of the dialogues:

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Slowly it dawned on me that the author of the book saw learning English not as a useful life-skill or a way to visit interesting countries and make new friends, but rather as the passport to a sickening dystopia - a dystopia by the name of "America". This was clearest in the series of strip cartoons that were scattered through the book, a veritable rake's progress of life among the gaijin. We begin with the process of "becoming American", which apparently requires nothing more than a year's study of the language:

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