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  • Christina Theodorakis

More on the Differences Between English and Japanese Symbols

In the screenshot I used for that blog, which I also used above, there was an asterisk in the English text that was being misused. The way asterisks are misused in the English versions of many Japanese websites blatantly shows -- to someone like me who also understands Japanese -- that the person who wrote the English has to have been a Japanese person.


Because the asterisk is being used like a different symbol that's commonly used in Japanese, which is this: ※. Called a "kome mark" due to it looking like the kanji* character for rice (米, pronounced koh-meh), this symbol in Japanese is used for things like sidenotes and words of caution -- almost like a disclaimer in English. The ※ symbol can stand alone like a bullet point and doesn't need to relate to a specific part of the text, unlike an asterisk (which I used correctly above). It's typically used to denote information you'd expect to find in legal small print: rules, qualifications, period of validity, etc.

My guess as to why Japanese people use asterisks the same way as ※ is because -- once again -- they're the closest equivalent to the Japanese symbol, but that doesn't mean that you can ignore the usage rules of English and apply Japanese rules instead (and vice versa, when the case arises). English natives will see an asterisk and wonder what it's referring to if it's used the Japanese way. I've been living and working in Japan for almost five years now, and I don't think I've ever seen the asterisk used correctly here unless it was on a website for a company that's based in an English-speaking country with a Japan branch. For people who don't know much about Japanese or where Japanese people are coming from when they write English, they're only left guessing.

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*kanji: Character of Chinese origin that's been adopted into the Japanese language.


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