Letters to Japan

Mari’s comment about the difference between American and Japanese styles of email writing got me thinking that it would be interesting to compose equivalent hypothetical emails from New York to Kyoto using the respective conventions of these two contrasting cultures.

First, here is the American version:

Hey Kazuo,

Dude, can’t believe it’s October! Long time no chat. I’ve got news – Skype me.


Now, if this letter were written in accordance with Japanese convention:

Fond greetings from New York.

The lingering summer weather has now passed. As the cold of autumn gently emerges, the leaves have turned at last to gold and to crimson.

I earnestly hope your health is well. My own health has been much improved in recent days, no doubt from thinking upon your warm friendship.

It was so kind of you to allow us to look after your little dog Aki. He has brought much delight to family and friends here with his funny antics and zest for life.

I wish you all the best for continued health, and please convey my sincere regards to your family.

I am praying from my heart for your happiness,
21 October, 2010
Ken Perlin
Mr. Kazuo Tanaka

Also, please accept my apologies for accidentally running over your dog, who is now dead.

4 thoughts on “Letters to Japan”

  1. So SPOT ON, so wicked! (except for the dog part, my mom’s name is “Aiko” and yours would be a girl-dog 🙂 But don’t you think different letter-writing style affects the perception of the person because of these cultural conventions?

    Here is an extreme example: once I met a Mongolian composer in Germany, who spoke only broken Russian. We communicated over breakfast through drawing on napkins and his Mongolian-Russian, Russian-English dictionaries. He sent me emails instead of starting with “Dear Mari”, get this…. “EXPENSIVE Mari” !!!! 🙂 I had to think back wondering if I made him buy me something…

  2. Actually, after reading your comment I went back and changed the dog’s name to something gender neutral. Thanks for catching that!!!

    I love your story about the Mongolian composer. Language can be soooo treacherous.

  3. A bad example of this Japanese translation: during the Peru Japanese Embassy hostage crises (remember?) the President Fujimori of Peru met with Prime Minister of Japan in Anchorage I think, to discuss the situation. What Fujimori needed was a “Go Ahead” to kill the rebels inside the Japanese Embassy, and the Prime Minister’s comment: “Please do well” (“Yoroshiku onegai shimasu” a typical pleasantry that cannot be translated, which was THE problem–Google translation just gives you “Thank you”!!) was taken by Fujimori as the “green light”. After the rebels were all executed and in the face of international criticisms, Japanese government said “We never gave the Peruvians the go-ahead” to which Fujimori said, “Oh yes he did”. I remember there was a debate about the translator who might have deliberately blurred the language.

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