Saturday, December 20, 2008

Funny Japanese Signs

Japan is littered with fantastic and unique advertising. Most are cartoonish, many are campy and almost all are in that hidden-in-plain-view category that makes you go "hmmmm...". It makes you look around more frequently at your surroundings, and I swear that they are almost too good to be something you could make up on your own.

Tokyo subways are a literal gold mine of these signs. What better place to encourage people to read all about random products? Perhaps it is because riders spend hours of their day staring blankly, iPods churning away. The risk for advertisers is that instead of reading, their target audience looks like this:

Still, if riders are coherent, its a great place to advertise.. and, be on the lookout for some true gems of Japanese advertising. Take for example, the below subway ad for becoming a hooded man with a big package:

Warning: Don't let your cat get caught in subway door:

And, the mushrooms continued to play soccer:

In a classic case of Engrish, this vehicle is done to weaken an air conditioner:

Whatever you do though, it is highly important to make sure that you are not disruptive on subways, make a scene, or do much above and beyond getting on, sitting down and passing time quietly. Any questions can be directed to Peter Leonard and Brent Huntington, both of whom learned the hard way that being loud is a sure-fire way of being yelled at by elderly Japanese when woken from their subway naps. Apparently Leonard didn't see the sign clearly posted by ticket kiosks, that says "HI, I'M PETER- CAN I TALK ON THE SUBWAY?" A closer look at the cartoon expressions in this poster says it all.

By the way, how great is is that Japan is considerate to the needs of penguin transportation? Not enough countries out there do that:

Moving out of the subways, ads don't stop- fortunately. I mean, where else will you find a samurai/Speed Racer relative of Harry Potter to help stores sell DVDs?

Then again, if you have weird little red people who like vodka too, maybe you don't need Harry Potter to sell for you:

The hidden in plain view stuff doesn't just stop at ads and signs, fortunately. When walking around Japan, there are still a bounty of things to keep you amused and occupied. Like this car cover shower cap, for example. I must have spent 5 minutes staring right at it before I noticed it and realized that it was actually a sunny day with one tiny and puffy cloud in the sky.

How do these come about? What is it in Japanese culture that generates this sort of funny-haha? I know that for tourists world-wide, things in the United States follow the same level of amusement. Who on earth ever thinks that those giant foam fingers used at football games aren't amusing after all? So at the Edo Museum, it all came together for me and how Japanese advertising and entertainment broadcast such a campy message at times. Here, I stumbled across a set of samurai battle armor from 500 years ago. Weren't these designed to make enemies tremble in their footsteps, provide unswerving seriousness and drip of power? Little did I know that Wilford Brimley was alive and well back in the 1500s Japan. Check out this Wally the Walrus mustache firmly attached to battle helmet:

So there you have it. A few examples of entertaining and unique signs so readily abundant in Japan. Next time you visit, look around, and take note of something that is almost an art in itself. If you so choose, feel free to indulge yourself in a nice frosty glass of foam beer like this smiley guy and take it all in:

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