Monday, January 14, 2008

Can you read Japanese?

It's a question I'm occasionally asked. Well, more often, it's a sort of disbelieving "you can't really read Japanese, can you?" when I have deciphered something as complex as the sign outside a toilet (hint for visitors: men are typically blue and have trousers, women are pink and have a skirt).

OK, I can do a little better than that. But I certainly can't read a Japanese newspaper, because it's got far too many kanji I don't know. However, Mr X (whose name I actually know, but he wants to remain anonymous) is rather more capable than me. In principle, he could read a newspaper...were it not for the minor detail that his local newspaper company refuses to sell to foreigners! As you can see from the comments on that post, this is not even a one-off that could be put down to a bizarre accident, but has happened to other people with other newspapers.

I suppose it's possible that the newspaper companies are so embarrassed at the xenophobic nonsense and toadying to the Establishment that they print that they don't want the outside world to see it (I've remarked before on how the English translations presented on their web sites sometimes diverge markedly from the original text provided to the natives). But on balance it seems more likely that this is just another symptom of the unthinking exclusionism that is rife in Japanese society.

Call me a cultural imperialist if you want, but there's got to be something seriously screwed up about a country where their concept of "human rights" means that arbitrarily refusing to sell to a foreigner is A-OK, but sticking up a poster in a train advertising a traditional festival, which happens to show a bit of chest hair, is considered "sexual harassment". For the record, Japanese trains are routinely plastered with pictures of juvenile "swimsuit models" in pouting poses. I wonder what the dirty old men who run Japan would think if a few women (or even schoolchildren or their parents) said they didn't want to see that?

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