Once you’ve arrived in Japan, you’ve gotten over the initial shock of “whoa, I’m in Japan!”, and you’ve settled in a bit, things start to normalise. You start seeing Japan as just like any other place. Relaxing into this frame of mind offers several benefits, one of which is that you start noticing patterns in the sights you see and the experiences you have. The first thing I started to notice, to my great amusement, was that everything you see – everything – has some kind of little cute mascot, animal, or character to advertise or inform. Kind of like a Pokémon, but for everything. Allow me to demonstrate.

The most popular sight does seem to be animals, the cuter and more anthropomorphised the better. For example:

 

These little guys were seen on a poster on a train advertising bank loans. I believe the dog is crying because he has no money, but the cat is exasperated because the dog doesn’t even seem to know that he can easily secure a (undoubtedly high-interest) bank loan, and is wondering why his canine companion is making quite such a melodramatic fuss.

These little guys were seen on a poster on a train advertising bank loans. I believe the dog is crying because he has no money, but the cat is exasperated because the dog doesn’t even seem to know that he can easily secure a (undoubtedly high-interest) bank loan, and is wondering why his canine companion is making quite such a melodramatic fuss.

 

On the right here, we see a sign on an elevator door insinuating that if you’re not careful, your finger will be snipped off by a reasonably friendly-looking crab. On the left, on one of Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines is a slightly crazed-looking rabbit appearing on the button for the “detailed menu”.

 

Here, two different parking garages choose different animal representations. One a cat, the other a turtle. What did the owners hope to achieve with their different selections? Your guess is as good as mine…

‘see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’

This might be my favourite poster I saw in Japan, mostly because of its/my grammatical geekery. I’ll explain the best I can. Basically, the word for ‘monkey’ in Japanese is ‘saru’, with an S, and the formal verb ‘to be’ is ‘go-zaru’ with a Z. They’re playing on the phrase, ‘see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil’ to inform public transport users of the unacceptability of bad train etiquette through the wonder of monkeys. Here we can see a monkey not seeing, and taking up room with his bags (and possible bird accomplice), not speaking – which apparently equates to having a rock on one’s head, not quite sure what that’s about – and not hearing, with his music turned up too loud.

I can tell you, it doesn’t make that much more sense in Japanese…!

End of Part 1!