National

Dentsu to push simplified Japanese to ease communication with tourists

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

As part of its project to encourage the creation of tourism services, advertising giant Dentsu Inc. will urge the public to use simple Japanese when communicating with tourists.

To kick off the project, Dentsu set up a study group Thursday comprising linguists from Japan’s leading universities and language schools.

“The project is focused on communication through substituting complicated expressions with their simpler equivalents,” said Kazunori Nagasawa of Dentsu’s Corporate Communications Division. “We want to reach and enable foreign tourists with basic language ability to enjoy smoother communication and time spent (in Japan), and hope their experience will make them want to come again.”

The government recently doubled its annual tourist target for 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, to 40 million.

Akira Yoshikai, one of the managers in charge of inbound tourism and Japanese-language education, said it is often difficult for foreigners to understand colloquial phrases and words commonly used by native speakers.

He said loan words written in katakana often have strikingly different meanings and pronunciations from the original words. Naive, for example, has a different connotation in Japanese than in English, he said.

“Many Japanese tend to use such terms when communicating with foreigners in the mistaken belief that it will make communication easier,” he said.

He also said terms like ekibiru (train station building), which combines a Japanese word with a loan word, are also harder to understand than if pronounced separately due to a change in intonation unnoticeable to foreigners.

Dentsu’s project was inspired by an initiative in Yanagawa, Fukuoka Prefecture, based on the use of easy Japanese.

“The growing number of travelers from overseas was one of the reasons we wanted to improve our services for foreigners,” an official with the city’s tourism office told The Japan Times by telephone. The city received a grant of ¥15 million from the central government to launch the project by the end of this year.

While the amount of information available in English and Chinese has grown, it’s hard to provide services for everyone because the number of countries is expanding, the official said.

To offset this, the use of Japanese words and phrases like kesa (this morning) are being discouraged for more logical constructions like kyo no asa, which literally means “today’s morning,” in the hope of making communication easier.

Also, a survey by the Yanagawa Municipal Government on foreign students of Japanese showed many would prefer they be spoken to in Japanese rather than English, which many Japanese are prone to attempt when approaching foreigners.

The idea of creating simplified Japanese was first studied by Kazuyuki Sato, a professor at Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture, following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which saw large numbers of foreign residents unable to comprehend or respond to emergency alerts.

The study focused on creating a form of communication that ensures emergency instructions are more comprehensible to non-native speakers.

NHK offers a service called “News Web Easy” where text is accompanied by links to pronunciation files and explanatory furigana (katakana and hiragana) for those who need help reading kanji.