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  • Christina Theodorakis

"I,m sorry."

I'm back with another look at the English that we've spotted in everyday places in Japan, which we know is supposed to be meant to help English speakers but can be a mystery to us.

As you can see, this sign at a cash register in a restaurant says:

Please no outside food and drinks. We don't accept food and drink from outside. I,m sorry.

While not the most natural wording, you can probably understand what they're trying to say just by reading the first line since we're familiar with restaurants outside of Japan also asking customers not to bring outside food and drinks into the restaurant -- a very reasonable request. The Japanese version simply says, "Please refrain from bringing food and drinks from outside the restaurant and don't consume them." The message is written one time, and the point comes across; however, in the English version, it's written twice for reasons I can only speculate.

Looking at the "please" and "I,m sorry" here, they're actually part of a very common pattern we've found in Japan, both in public places and in business settings. Japanese people have a tendency to make simple English messages and e-mails unnecessarily complicated because of all the formalities that are ingrained into their own language due to the hierarchical culture, such as always trying to make requests polite by adding "please" even though it doesn't always come off as polite in English and apologizing for trivial reasons. That's why you'll see that Japanese people will frequently add "polite" words to their English -- because that's what they're trained to do throughout their English education in Japan.

Japanese speech is centered around being polite and humble, even though that gets lost in translation in English. This "I,m sorry" apology -- aside from having the apostrophe (which doesn't exist in Japanese) mistaken for a comma -- misses two points that aren't always necessary to specify in Japanese writing: who is the subject "I," and what are they apologizing for? I've mentioned this in my other blogs, but Japanese text can be understood even if it’s vague because of the way sentences are strung together, so Japanese writers don’t come across the same issues that exist in English when writing.

That's why Globalize Consulting is here to help you. The majority of our team has grown up outside of Japan, learning Japanese as a second language, and we know just how to bridge the gap between the Western and the Japanese business worlds. We can also bridge the gap between Japanese and Western writing/marketing thanks to our high level of understanding of the different cultures. If you’re interested in expanding your business, helping your failing business in Japan, or working with Japanese clients, feel free to contact us for a free consultation!




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