Japanese Ads In The Trains02.02.12

I love looking at Japanese advertisements in the trains. While roadside billboards tend to be short on words, train audiences are temporarily captive which allows for different strategies.  There are often more words, and sometimes slightly more sophisticated nuances than seen on billboards or television. I can tell I’m nowhere near totally acculturated to Japan each time I ride the Tokyo Metro but I sure have a lot of fun puzzling through the variety of ads which try to influence us.

This one caught my eye recently:

It used to be said that you could judge a person from looking at their bookshelf, but from now on you can judge a person by the applications on their smart phone. (Boss, that’s the second time today you’ve said that!)

One of the first things which struck me about this was the barely-beneath-the-surface dynamics of the boss/employee relationship. Both are wearing polite, friendly expressions which I look at again and again, searching for clues. Is the boss sounding pleased with himself? Is he announcing some wise pronouncement that he thinks will help business if his employees take it to heart? Is he trying to show how aware he is of new technology, and encourage his employees to be aware also? And how about the woman- what is her role? Is she irritated with the boss’ pomposity? Is she laughing at his slowness? Is she kindly appreciating all he’s done for the company so far and overlooking his forgetfulness? Can she in a good humored way say that openly, or is she constrained to only think it or laugh about it with her friends later? Traditionally, young attractive women were called OL (office ladies), and regardless of their training or competence were often relegated to pouring tea, running errands, and simple secretarial jobs. While this is changing here in Japan, the tensions between ascribed status versus earned status continue in business, education, and family, and how these tensions are expressed seem to be closer to the surface. To me, the woman’s words in parentheses (but very visible) signal this destabilization of the hierarchical system of relationships.

I showed this picture to a number of people, and got a variety of reactions. Some were indifferent, some chuckled, some seemed slightly offended.  I loved it however, and tried to figure out why. As I thought about it, I noticed some other aspects of my enjoyment of this ad.

There was the sense of human connection, of delight in thinking I “got it” in spite of being born into a very different world.  There are still a few ads I can’t quite grasp even after puzzling over them for several minutes. The words may be clear enough, but the meaning doesn’t communicate. My world view is obviously not the same as those who were raised in the Japanese educational system and nurtured by an essentially homogenous set of beliefs and mores much different than those I grew up with. Because of this, my values and fears, my desires and struggles are somewhat different…or perhaps one could say the “hooks” which catch our very human fears and fantasies connect in slightly different locations.

Perhaps a darker reason I was drawn to this ad is because it made me feel a part of the elite in crowd this ad is designed to flatter and attract others to. Though I’m no techie, thanks to the consistently kind support and know-how of my husband and oldest son, I’ve got various cool apps on my phone and have even learned how to use a few of them, including the GPS based navigation system which allows me to drive places I’ve never been, Kanji Box (a great way to learn Japanese characters), online Bibles, and a reflexology map.

I’ll continue enjoying the fun of figuring out train ads and will no doubt laugh to myself at the audacity, sarcasm, and wit of many. It may be awhile though till I encounter another one which sparks such deep societal and personal reflection. Till that next one comes along, I’ll enjoy cute ones such as the Kintaro (historical figure who loved books) series which reminds us of how much Japan has changed in such a short time.

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under Uncategorized.

One Response to “Japanese Ads In The Trains”

  1. I’m not sure about that. I found it quite difficult to learn Japanese due to the Kanji. Most people say that learning it with any of the currently available learning techniques takes years.

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    Posted by japanese reviews on 12/13/09 September 27th, 2012 at 11:01 PMReply

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