Lost in translation?

I am always interested to see how other cultures communicate in my home language.

Depending on who does the translating, messages can come across in perfect English or as a literal translation of the Japanese way of writing.  Or somewhere in between.


Ferry ride to Naoshima. Thankfully, I left the cats at home.

The addition of graphics is great at explaining and reinforcing the message’s intent, especially for the non-Japanese speaker. The direct message on this Nara footpath sign is “don’t smoke here”.  However, I doubt that the city fathers give a fig about your nicotine addiction.  The intended message is in the subtext: “please don’t throw your butts on the ground (because it’s a nuisance having to clean them up).”  And by banning smoking in this place, there is little risk of butts accumulating there.

IMG_3803If anyone remembers the episode of An Idiot Abroad where Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant break the news to Karl Pilkington that he will be spending the night in a Tokyo capsule hotel they will recall the look of horror on Karl’s face when shown a photo of his bed for the night.  Easing yourself into a space of roughly one metre wide by one metre high by two metres long gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “a tight squeeze”.

Karl’s bed for the night in Tokyo.

While we were looking for a couple of spoons in Kyoto – one of the most difficult things to find under 500 Yen a piece – we passed this place.


Just another capsule hotel, I thought at the time.

Apparently, this establishment is the first of its kind to combine the concept of the capsule hotel with that of a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.  At Capsule Ryokan your capsule comes complete with tatami mat and futon bed, but if you’re the claustrophobic type you can upgrade to the “en suite” version of ten square metres complete with double bed, toilet and shower cubicle.

It’s great to be “welcome” anywhere, but without the photos at this restaurant near Tokyo’s fish market, there was no way we could have ordered a meal.


In this monkey park, happily “photography by camera or video is possible”.  You can forget about touching or feeding the monkeys, and don’t bring the family pet with you either.  The messages here are very direct, no need for subtext.


What has this building got to do with signage?  Frankly, nothing.  I’ve included it because it’s connected to the title of this post.


If  you haven’t already guessed it, this is the Tokyo Park Hyatt, where Bill Murray’s fading movie star and Scarlett Johansson’s neglected young wife spend much time over drinks at the top floor New York Bar in the movie, Lost in Translation.  We didn’t get to see the night-time view, but we’re told it’s pretty impressive.  So is the 2,200 Yen cover charge!


© AJapaneseDiary, 2013 ongoing. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without the express and written permission of this blog’s author and owner is strictly forbidden. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 thoughts on “Lost in translation?

  1. Great post 🙂 I talked about lost in translation in a post on my blog and still find it odd that I can barely speak Spanish but people can be in relationship when they know two different languages. Thanks for sharing and best of luck with everything 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s