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  • Christina Theodorakis

"Normal" Does Not Mean "Forever"

As the world begins the slow process of getting their COVID-19 vaccines, we're finally transitioning from being isolated from people who don't live within our households to the new normal of COVID-19 immunity.

While we've been tossing around the phrase "new normal" in English since before the coronavirus pandemic, we've seen it come up a lot in the following ways since the pandemic started:

What we native English speakers can gather from the wording in these examples is that our "new normal" is temporary and fleeting: what's normal and common this year may not be common five years from now. This is especially obvious in the "Three Things to Expect in the 'New Normal' Post-Pandemic" example. As of now, adapting to the pandemic by working remotely and taking other safety measures recommended by top epidemiologists is normal for us, but hopefully it won't remain that way if we can control the virus through vaccination.

Japan, on the other hand, seems to have just picked up the phrase "new normal" after seeing it used in Western media during the current pandemic situation, and they've embraced it -- so much so that they often combine it with the word for era or age in Japanese, which is 時代 (transliterated as jidai, pronounced like gee-die). See the example below:

Our society is facing some changes after being affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In this age/era of New Normal, we're here to support our customers' new way of working by using the skills and experience we've fostered over the years.

Let's start with the "New Normal" in "age of New Normal" in the example above. Japanese people have only seen this phrase during the pandemic, so they think it's a phrase that was created during the pandemic (like social distancing) and is used only for the pandemic. What they've failed to understand is that "new normal" describes a transition from what you know as normal now to a new way of doing things, so we can use it in the context of the English examples above and have been doing so for decades.

Japan also got the usage of "new normal" wrong by combining it with something that's more short-term -- new normal -- with a word that's more long-term (in Japanese and English): 時代 (jidai or "age/era"). Combining "new normal" with a word like "age/era" is basically an oxymoron. "New normal" is not an era that'll last for decades like the age of the Internet or the age of space travel. The new normal lasts a short time until technology advances enough to change the way we do day-to-day things once again. The new normal can become the norm, which in turn will become an era, but an era can't become the new normal -- and this is what Japan has misunderstood.

Having looked at the education system in Japan, kids are not taught how to use English correctly in context (i.e., to communicate with people who can't speak Japanese) but for the sole purpose of taking a test, so they don't know learn how to use words properly. This is why a lot of Japanese people can read basic English, but they don't fully understand the way a word is being used and its context, so they'll end up using it in the wrong way, which creates a vicious circle when other Japanese people unknowingly propagate the incorrect usage. A lot of times, they'll take a regular English term like "new normal" and use it in a bizarre, Japanese-style way; thus, they end up creating the Japanese-English words they call 和製英語 (wasei-eigo, or English words created by Japan), which I've talked about before.

That's where we can come in to help you. If you work with a Japanese company, have an office in Japan, or are looking to expand your brand or company into Japan, we can help you to avoid the pitfalls that can make you come off as another ignorant or overconfident Western company. We can be your experts in Japan to help you understand how Japanese people think and react to marketing or business propositions. We've worked with companies large and small, and we'd love to be the pathway for your company's success in Japan and East Asia. Not sure yet? Bookmark our website or just say hello at!




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