poetry and humor

Today I take a little dive into the beautiful and (unintentionally?) sweet and funny English translations that can be found everywhere in Japan (please catch up on the story poetry on a mountain if you are curious). There is a spacious park area next to the river close to where we live. In these Corona times, when most of our life has become very home centered, this park provides a little bit of breathing space in the otherwise so crowded Tokyo. We like to take a walk there every now and then, but as familiar as I am with the park, I still manage to discover new things about it.

Having a baby in a stroller is good for discovering new aspects of the world – it makes me automatically shift perspective when the eyes half of the time is pointing downwards in front of me. The other day we were walking along a path in the park, and I found myself staring at the cones standing in the middle of the walkway; cones with an image of a person walking next to a bike. I have seen these cones dozens and dozens of times before, but this time I started to read english the text on them.

Please Press to Get Off the Bike.


Apart from admiring the wonderful Japanese-English alliteration, I of course had the urge to immediately start pressing on the cone and see if it works with babies in strollers too – I wonder how long it would have taken until someone came and asked me what I was doing. While I did not indulge my curiosity (though I asked my wife to pose for a photo), I could not stop thinking about these cones. The text in Japanese is clear enough, something like let’s walk and push the bike, so it seems that someone really wanted to make an effort and cater to the foreign residents of our area. Or might there be some other reason?

Why, I wonder, did this someone not even use Google translate, or have someone else check the translation before sending the file to the printer. So after having been bothered with this all week, I will now preset my three possible explanation, the boring one first. It was all an honest effort to explain what really does not need explanation, and through the formalities of bureaucracy the translation went unchecked and ended up as a very well spelt but (to put it mildly) confusing and hardly explanatory text to go with a self explanatory image.

Option two is that someone wanted to have a bit of fun with the co-workers, an internal joke that was never meant to be shared with the world, but the joke was not understood and the cones were printed and placed in the park and by then it was too late and expensive to redo. My third option is that someone wanted to make a timid avant-garde poem and used the general difficulties with the English language to make it slip through the bureaucracy and let the art installation be enjoyed by thousands of park visitors (I of course do not encourage or condone any misuse of public or government property).

The image itself is enough to understand the request on the cone, even by English speakers I dare say, so maybe the reason for the English text is really not that important? No, I will just leave my speculations now and enjoy the opportunity to be amused by a little intentional or not street art while waiting for the time when park walking can be done without the face covered by a white mask.

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2 thoughts on “poetry and humor”

  1. Johanna Jormfeldt

    Om du hade cyklat så hade du kanske känt trycket att stiga av? 🙂 Jag minns att jag under en period när det pågick ett vägarbete på den gång/cykelväg som utgjorde min dagliga arbetspendlingssträcka irriterade mig på det, som jag tyckte, överdrivet paternalistiska skyltbudskapet “För allas säkerhet – var vänlig led cykeln”. Och då var jag ändå gångtrafikant.

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