by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Japan is a culture that is constantly absorbing foreign ideas, customs, and language and making them its own.  The language has changed noticeably since the 1868 Meiji Restoration. During the Meiji Period foreign loan word like 珈琲 ko-hi (coffee) were introduced, archaic enough to have kanji assigned to them; then came the Allied Occupation, when words like ドンマイ don'mai and オーライ oh-rai, Japanese approximations of "don't mind" (nevermind) and "all right," entered the lexicon.  Although post-war Japan successfully resisted General MacArthur's campaign to eradicate Kanji from the lexicon, Katakana continued to expand its role.  

But some people think Japan has gone too far, and this week a Gifu Prefecture man sued NHK for mental distress allegedly caused by the broadcaster’s excessive use of foreign words.  Hoji Takahashi, 71, filed the complaint Tuesday with the Nagoya District Court and is seeking ¥1.41 million in damages.  Takahashi, an NHK subscriber, said the broadcaster has recently been loading its TV programs, whether news or entertainment, with loan words, such as “risuku” (risk), “toraburu” (trouble), and “shisutemu” (system). He also noted their use in NHK’s program titles, such as “BS Konsheruju” (“BS Concierge”).  

You might be thinking, why not just watch another station?  In Japan, though, every person who is able to receive the national public station, NHK, is required to pay a fee to NHK for the privilege.  NHK is paid for by license fees (known in Japanese as reception fee (受信料 Jushinryō?)). Current subscription fees are 1,345 yen per month. The Broadcast Law which governs NHK’s funding stipulates that any television equipped to receive NHK is required to pay, so Mr. Takahashi argues that he has the right to sue for a better product.  

Others, however, have adopted Katakana as a way to express their "cool" and modern attitude.  Recently Japanese have seen the “trendy” use of katakana when celebrities and entertainers write their name in katakana.  Some people will appear with their full name written in kanji, but many others will change their name, slightly or completely, to give it more pizzazz as a “professional” name.  When doing so, many choose to write their new names in katakana, like Tamori, a popular TV show host who simply goes by his last name (which is actually “Morita” scrambled), and writes it in katakana.  Countless manzai (Japanese comedy) duos come up with team names written in katakana, such as “Cream Stew”.  There are both instances of celebs writing their Japanese names in katakana, as well as those who completely do away with their Japanese name and give themselves a western name which is also, of course, written in katakana (although some get really clever and adopt a western name and write it in hiragana or kanji.)

Sometimes, however, even Japanese people are not sure whether to use Katakana or Hiragana, such as when you see signs on public trash cans and such written ゴミ箱.  "Gomi" is a native Japanese word, but since Katakana can either draw attention to or soften the impact of a word, the Katakana spelling is sometimes used.  None of this information will alleviate the frustration that a foreign speaker of Japanese feels, however, attempting to decipher a Katakana word.  Know what a ピエロ is?  Hope you speak French and are an art  or film aficionado…Good luck.