October 03, 2008

Chinese found in Japanese airport

Passing through the Narita airport in Japan a few weeks ago, I paid special attention to the use of Chinese in the airport. It's unusual to see any use of Chinese by non-native-speakers, and the airport offered three examples.

In front of the security check, there is a sign in Chinese that reads "請把登機證出示一下" (Please show your boarding pass). The grammar is correct, but the sentence was still strange enough, when seen on a sign, to make Mrs. Taiwanonymous laugh out loud. The problem is that the usage of "yixia" (一下) is much too informal for a sign at the airport. The proper way of writing the sentence formally would be "請出示登機證".

The next thing I noticed was the sign in the picture above. The English message instructs us to remove coats and jackets. The more verbose Chinese message instructs us to "脫下上衣和大衣類等外套". This is supposed to mean "remove overcoats and jackets and other types of coat." However, in Taiwan, shangyi (上衣) is not used to mean jacket. It just means "top," which usually means shirt or blouse. So this sign made me laugh because it looks like it is instructing us to take off our shirts for the security check. (The sign might be perfectly acceptable to Chinese speakers from other regions, but I can't comment on that.)

The last usage of Chinese I noticed was by one of the airport workers. The worker, a young Japanese woman, was talking in competent Chinese to a woman from Taiwan. The airport worker told the woman that she could not bring her big container of hot sauce on the airplane because it was over three ounces of liquid. The woman protested that she bought the hot sauce in the duty-free area, and if it was illegal to bring aboard the plane then they shouldn't be selling it. This did not help things. She then offered to open the container of hot sauce and pour off the top layer of hot oil so that the container would no longer contain an excessive amount of liquid. It looked like the Japanese worker was not going to accept this offer, but I didn't get to see the resolution. I had thought this kind of farce only happened in America, but there it was happening in Japan. Nonetheless, America can still take the blame for exporting this ridiculousness.

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  • Mrs. Taiwananonymous shouldn't laugh too hard. If she has any ability in Japanese, she might notice that here in Taiwan she is surrounded by countless examples of the Japanese language being butchered on advertising signs, product labels and so on.

    And having lived in Japan for over a decade, I can assure you that when it comes to ridiculous bureaucratic decisions and rigid adherence to inflexibility, American influence is non-existent. Japanese bureaucrats are masters at this game!

    By Anonymous Kaminoge, at October 04, 2008 9:09 AM  

  • I don't think the fact the everyone makes mistakes makes them any less funny. That's just means we have another opportunity to laugh at ourselves. And I laugh at her mistakes whenever I get a chance, if that makes you feel any better. :)

    And I don't think America has any monopoly on bureaucracy, but I think that the three ounces of liquid rule would not be in effect in Japan if it weren't for pressure from the US. It's probably more accurate to say that the paranoia with respect to air travel is more unique to the US.

    By Blogger Taiwanonymous, at October 06, 2008 8:11 PM  

  • I couldn't agree with you more, on both points. I often laugh at the way English (and Japanese) is used in Taiwan, and I also find it funny when people back home have Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies. It's all in good fun. My point was that should such laughter be derisory in tone (and I'm not suggesting Mrs. T's was), then the old adage of people living in glass houses might apply.

    And you're right too about air travel paranoia having originated in the US. But Japan has a long history of taking foreign ideas and adapting them to Japanese needs, so give the worker at the airport some credit for carrying on a long-standing tradition :)


    By Anonymous Kaminoge, at October 07, 2008 11:28 AM  

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