A Floating World of Language: English in Tokyo

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Ann Larabee

Arriving in Tokyo without sufficient knowledge of Japanese, I was overwhelmed with writing. I was used to the signposts of the Roman alphabet, even in places previously traveled where I had not known the language. The Roman alphabet faded into the background contours of the cities I wandered, though I remember a long English description etched on a Helsinki store window that made me laugh aloud as it transformed my language into a whimsical nonsense nature poem. Alan Watts once spoke of “the sensible contexts in which nonsense may have its way.” Here global capitalism—that allegedly sensible model of selling, selecting and buying—revealed itself as the freighter of nonsense.

Here in Japan was an experience of English as an oasis of meaning in an unintelligible world of opaque signs. But that was only for me, an English speaker, alighting on anything that might create meaning, the bewildered traveler searching for the safe encounter. For Japanese speakers, these signs are not to be read, but to be appreciated for their design aesthetics. There is no reason to proofread them, since their purpose is not to inform. English words …read more

Source: http://www.romanticconnections2014.org/blog/a-floating-world-of-language-english-in-tokyo