The “Yōkoso Japan!” Hoppōryōdo Conspiracy

The old Yokoso Japan LogoToday, through our contact page, a reader (of course we will keep anonymity at their request) sent us some interesting trivia that was just too juicy for him (or her) to keep to him(or her)self. After some research, and a call to a friend on the inside to verify the claim, it proved far too tasty a morsel of information to go unannounced to the gaijin community at large.

You may have noticed the “Yokoso! Japan” logo in various places around Japan (on airplanes, maps, etc.). This is part of the Japanese government’s Visit Japan Campaign. I know, I know, old news so far, but bear with me.

The Yokoso Japan JumboOne thing that nobody noticed or cared about is the line (or pronunciation mark) that was added in December 2003 on top of the first “o” in Yokoso, making it “Yōkoso! Japan”. The official reason for this change is that foreigners were pronouncing it “Yo-ko-so” without the long vowel for the first “o”, and that the pronunciation mark on top would clear this little problem right up (as though anyone who hasn’t studied Japanese knows that that line means long vowel). Sounds pretty dubious… certainly not a good enough reason to spend The Yokoso Japan Blimp (飛行船)taxpayer money on making new Yokoso! neck-tie pins and reprinting travel brochures, posters, and repainting the side of JAL 747 Jets, and even the Yokoso Blimp! But that was the official government stance, as shown HERE. As in the link, the government claimed that it was so we gaijin could read Yokoso with the smooth grace of a Japanese person, saying, 「。。外国の方々にも「ようこそ!」とよりスムーズに読んでいただけるよう。。」

Maybe I’m getting a little of track, but did the Japanese officials ever think of the fact that most foreigners don’t know what Yōkoso (ようこそ) means anyway? (the ones who do know, already know how to say the word properly I suspect). Even the know-it-all newbie gaijins who persist with an attempt to pronounce it will drool it out as a Yoe-koe-sow even with the assistance of the mark above the o, just as they have done for decades with “Yoko Ono”.

Anyway, back to the point, our inside source, who was formerly working for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (国土交通省) informed us of the real reason why the pronunciation mark was added to make the “ō” in Yōkoso!. I also just had to confirm with one of my friends (a Japanese national, who I went to University with), whom so it happens also works at MLIT, just now confirmed on the phone that most staff at the ministry know the real reason behind the change, and I got the following from him also.

The “o” and “J” in the logo were designed to represent the shape of Japan. So, “o” of course is Hokkaido (don’t ask where Shikoku went). As most people reading this article would know, just north of Hokkaido are all those little islands that Japan and Russia are arguing over (the Southern Kuril Islands, in Japanese called the “Hoppōryōdo”, 北方領土 or “Northern Territories”). That innocuous looking line over the “o” is actually a passive-aggressive political statement that those islands belong to Japan. It seems that a top ministry bureaucrat (I couldn’t get an actual name) was upset that these islands were not represented; he yelled “Do you think it’s OK for Japan to lose those islands to Russia???” and with that the disputed islands were added to the logo just above the “o”. It seems crazy, but according to two separate sources now, it seems to be true.

The new Yokoso Japan LogoThe new “Yōkoso Japan!” Logo
For diplomatic reasons, the real reason for this logo change could not be made public. But, somewhere in Japan there’s a smug government official who feels a sense of personal victory, somewhat like a school boy who has just coerced lunch money out of the class weakling, every time he sees that bar on top of the “o”. The trivial change to make the new logo doesn’t make it look any worse (or any better), but I am proud of the guy who changed it (with all the wrong intentions) with my tax money. Looking forward to his next project – Maybe he could, for the benefit of Japanese people looking at the English version of the slogan, add a symbol above the “w” of the “Welcome to Japan”, so that they remember that welcome doesn’t start with a “u”!.

If you have any whistle-blowing or even just interesting trivia that you would like to let the world know about, please let us know! If you write it up in a way that convinces us that it would make a good story, send it through to us from the contacts page. We will be more than happy to post it as an article for the benefit of all other Gaijin. Don’t have any dirt? Then just let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

25 thoughts on “The “Yōkoso Japan!” Hoppōryōdo Conspiracy”

  1. Sounds like BS, but if its true — Wonderful. A couple of ink splashes to the left and they can shine that smug smile toward the Koreans and Chinese as well.

  2. Oh, another reason for the change could be that old version was incorrect by all common romanization schemes. Not as interesting, but a lot more logical. At the very least this should have been mentioned in the article, but then if you mentioned it the article would have seemed stupid.

  3. > Jcp – Did you read this part:
    “…I also just had to confirm with one of my friends (a Japanese national, who I went to University with), whom so it happens also works at MLIT…”

    Why would the writer tell us about “romanization schemes” if they have confirmed the reason with someone working at the MLIT?

  4. This whole Yokoso Japan thing is pretty weird actually. Most of the literature on it, and the promotion videos on incoming flights seem to be in Japanese language. On the surface, it seems that the Japanese government is trying to sell the fact that Japan is “kokusaiteki” to Japanese people, rather than actually make Japan “kokusaiteki” by getting foreign tourists and visitors in. Anyway, nice article, loved it.

  5. That’s hilarious. But I love it when countries bicker over small scraps of pointless land. Like, what does Russia need any more useless frozen territory for?

    Reminds me of how India and China went to war over that small stretch of (still-disputed) uninhabitable mountains. Not much glory in loosing your life for a bunch of rocks and a couple huts.

  6. Wow, what a great story! I read this yesterday morning, and have used it in about 5 work meetings since then as “idle chatter”, and everyone has loved it! I never really noticed a nationalist streak in the regular Japanese in terms of those islands, but maybe its because I am from further south and it never came up very much. It has stimulted a pretty strong reaction in everyone I have mentioned it to, mostly “good on the Government, they did a great job if getting that one through!”.

  7. Caio and Jeffp, you are missing a very important point here.

    It is not the “useless frozen territory” that the Japanese or the Russians want at all. And the “nationalist streak in the regular Japanese” is a carefully orchestrated scheme by the Japanese government to win over the Japanese public.

    Isn’t it funny that no Japanese person can tell you the actual names of the islands in their “hoppo ryodo”? If you were really emotional about the islands because you wanted them back, don’t you think they should be able to name what they want back? Thats right, you could ask 100 Japanese people whether they think the islands north of Japan should be returned to Japan, and they will all answer “yes”. But, ask them what the islands are called, and only 1 or 2 could tell you. The Japanese government has brainwashed the Japanese with an abstract term that translates to “Northern Territories” so that people don’t have to remember the actual names of the 4 actual islands – that would just be too mendokusai now wouldn’t it.

    Land, and Nationalism are certainly not the primary goal of the Japanese, it is the 200 nautical mile EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) that surrounds islands like the Kuril Islands that the government wants to fish, and stop other nations from fishing there. These northern seas are rich in fish and crab stocks, worth potential billions of dollars. The same goes for the ridiculous bunch of rocks between Korea and Japan called “Takeshima”.

    So, next time some Japanese person flaunts their nationalistic pride at you, and tells you they want their islands back, ask them, “What are the names of the islands you want back again?”, and make them eat their mass produced pride and walk away with their tale curled around their balls. Most wont even be able to tell you exactly how many islands there even are!

    I’m sick of this groundless nationalism in Japan. It’s all money, why don’t they just admit it – or would that be too kimazui for the delicate little Japanese ministers.

    The 4 “Kuril Islands” islands by the way (for those that want to rub it in more) are:
    Kunashiri (国後島)
    Etorofu (択捉島)
    Shikotan (色丹島)
    The Habomai rocks (歯舞群島)

  8. Dokdo,
    Score one point for marine economics. one point for Geography. (although i think you have error but it is too late to check.)
    lose one point for making up statistics, two points for poor understanding of society and for bias.

    Now study history of disputed territories and Treaty of San Francisco and cold war, etc. before you are disqualified for talking out of your ass.

    I just reread your post, lose one more point for being a jerk.

  9. Jcp, If you are going to rate my comment, please at least backup your claims.

    1. Where is my geographical error? “I think you have an error” is hardly convincing.

    2. Making up statistics?
    If it is the, “you could ask 100 Japanese people” that you are talking about, this hardly a statistic. It’s me telling people how strongly I believe what I wrote. “You could..” does not mean “I did..”. I challenge you to actually ask 100 people the question. If more than two of them can name the 4 islands, come back and tell us about it, otherwise shut your trap.

    3. “Poor understanding of society”, “bias”…?
    Wtf that means, I wouldn’t know. Where is my understanding poor, and where am I biased you retard. I am expressing an opinion, if you don’t agree with it, and want to blow your horn, at least give the facts to back your claim up. Cover my face with eggs, not your hot air.

    4. Where in the treaty of San Francisco does it say that Japan has sovereignty over the islands? Actually, under Article 2c, Japan renounces all right, title, and claim to the Kuril Islands! Yes, Russia did not sign that treaty, but Japan openly renounced sovereignty to the world – Russia took advantage of that. Again, what are you actually trying to say by bringing up this treaty?

    Suggest where I am wrong, and I will correct myself. What you said sounds like C- essay on ‘the state of territory disputes’ by an American freshman who has never left his own state. Give me something more concrete, or keep ya George Dubbya comments to yourself.

  10. But that’s what I’m saying Dokdo. While there might be some economic interest for Japan (and Russia), it’s just a matter of silly nationalistic pride for most people.

    And the Japanese certainly aren’t the only ones at fault. Half the countries in the world are involved in these kinds of disputes. You don’t hear about it much elsewhere, because they tend to be issues of daft local patriotism rather than anything earth shattering.

    It’s been long resolved, but here in Canada, there was a time when everyone was talking about about a tiny chain of islands near Alaska. Now that the conflict has been resolved for a few decades, I doubt one in a hundred Canadians even knows the name of the chains (I sure can’t remember it), and I think the total population is about 2, 000.

  11. Hello, this is Mr. Anonymous who originally reported the story. It seems that a mini-flame war has broken out… let’s put that aside and move on. I have an update.

    I heard from a Cruise West employee that Cruise West has been strongly urged (forced) to cut the Kuril Islands from their Ring of Fire itinerary. Here is the itinerary in question.

    Since they have already printed all their brochures, they are expecting some form of compensation from the Japanese government (some people have cancelled because the Kurils (hopporyodo) were featured prominently in the cruise and they now have to explain to everyone who books the cruise that they won’t be visiting these islands).

    Cruise West is dealing directly with the MLIT so I’m not sure how this little dispute will play out, but I thought I’d let y’all know. Funny because I’d never heard of Hopporyodo until a few weeks ago and these two scandalous bits of information just kind of fell into my lap. I just wonder how many other conspiracies there are around the rest of the disputed islands.

    I remember when I was living in China how the small group of people who went to Diaoyu Island in a canoe and put up a Chinese flag were considered national heroes.

    What’s the big deal? Drilling rights? National pride? More sushi? Or just something to keep the embassies busy?

  12. Dokdo,
    I knew Kunashiri (国後島) and Etorofu (択捉島) and I’d heard of Shikotan (色丹島) (maybe once) but never of the Habomai rocks (歯舞群島). Are they really just rocks?? If so that probably adds credence to your argument (sorry jcp). Do you know if the gas fields of Far Eastern Siberia extend as far as the Hoppodo Ryodo – if so that might explain something too…

  13. Funny you mention it Sotei-guy, cause after Dokdo’s comments, I also looked for a picture of the “rocks”.

    This is the best picture that I could find of the Habomai Rocks:

    It appears that they really are rocks, covered mostly during high tide.

    Mr. Anonymous:
    Thanks for reporting back hey! And thanks for the “neta” for this story! We would be pleased to write about anything similar in future – just let us know!

  14. Blue-san,
    I think you Americans no understand to well about Hoppo Ryodo. Your favorite American company Google publishes very good map of our Happy Hoppo Ryodo.

    Satelite photo of Habomai.

    But I thank you for bringing attention to our problem. Russians were very sneaky at WWII end to steal our islands. As you see from map at bottom of Japanese government page the Hoppo Ryodo really extend all the way to Kamuchakka.

  15. Takeshima-san,

    Ha Ha, you funny.
    You make up numbers and then dare me to prove them! I avoided responding, because really, what’s the point? I did not intend to flame you and I apologize that I was rude.

    Your error is actually more than one, but I will explain since if anyone is still reading these comments they might like a different opinion regarding the complex nature of international disputes.

    First, you refer to the “Habomai Rocks” as an island. This is actually an archipelago (群島 ぐんとう), or island group. In English it is often simplified as “island”, but Japanese people would wonder at you for being so pedantic and yet imprecise. Especially if you were to phrase the conversation the way you suggested.

    Second error is that you don’t seem to understand the core issue. The Japanese government refers to the entire group as the “Northern Territories” since the name is the essence of the dispute. Treaties prior to the Treaty of San Francicso refer to the Kuril Islands, but only in reference to the northern, undisputed islands. There are other sources that include two of the islands but exclude the smaller eastern islands. Japan has held that since the treaty of San Francisco does not specify, and prior treaties exclude all the disputed islands, and Japan has always held these islands, they are therefore Japanese territory. Stalin took the position that “Kuril Islands” *could* include the disputed islands, and besides Japan lost the war and should be punished.

    Japanese Government could call them by their individual names, which I think would make you happy but it would make for large placards during protests and the right wingers would have to drive even slower so that everyone could hear their complaints. Regardless, calling them by name would either antagonize disputants, or cede linguistic ground. I suspect that “Northern territories” was chosen since it is neutral, accurate, and concise.

    Why do you assume Japan is wrong and Stalin’s Soviet Union was correct when they took control of this territory? In 1945 Japan was a defeated and weak country; in the decades since Japan has risen to become a strong, wealthy country, yet all this time it has been a peace loving player on the world stage. Always a loyal and obedient ally of the US in its struggle to insure peace and freedom. Japan does not deserve your enmity.

    Many people in Japan feel mistreated in the appraisal of the war and in the common view of Japan’s conduct. But that battle appears lost to us. Maybe in the future historians will look back and recognize that Japan was trying to protect its sovereignty by playing the game according to European rules before it disappeared the way so many sovereign nations disappeared to European colonization in the 18th and 19th centuries. I am not saying Japan was not guilty. I am saying that it was of course guilty of many war crimes but we have to keep it in perspective and context.

    Of course, this is not important to our daily lives since Japan has achieved it’s goal of security and freedom to trade with others on an equal basis through its defeat and subsequent alliance with USA. But this *is* important to the souls of all Japanese living and dead.

    These territory disputes mean more than fishing reserves (or even natural gas.) No other country had to cede territory after losing WWII, yet you seem to agree with Stalin’s belief that Japan should. (and yes, unlike the dispute of the Dokdo Islands, or the Senkaku Islands, this dispute is over whether Japan was to cede territory as punishment for losing the war.)

    I think you are the one who has been fed propaganda without question. maybe in future you will question when someone tells you that “person x” is wrong and ask why would they say that? why would “x” feel so strongly? what are true facts (from primary sources, not wikipedia.)

    You use the name “Dokdo”, so maybe you are Korean? If so I wonder how you feel about the territory north of the Yalu river? Or maybe you come from another country but I could probably name a historical wrong that is sensitive subject for you as well.

    Best Regards, -jcp-

  16. それを言うなら、日本ではない北方領土があって、国土である四国と九州がなんでないんだ?(怒)

  17. Satsuma-Jill, thanks for the comment! A good friend of mine’s fiancée comes from Shikoku, and I am sure she feels the same way too! 🙂

    On another note, Jcp, thank you for your qualifications of what you said. Always good to have some discussion, even when it’s a little heated (as long as we can all learn something hey!) To tell you the truth, I didnt think this article would bring on so much discussion! I am looking forward to hearing more from you, and “Dokdo” on other posts too!

  18. Loved that map that Tojo sent us the link for! just goes to show how each bunch of rocks is another skip and a jump to some valuable economic and military resources! I vote we all take a tour to visit these darn places! now that would make for some interesting discussions…

    dont forget these issues are very valid for people inhabiting these imagine the strife with visas, passports, births and marriages , taxation, litigation etc that arise when sovereignty is unclear!
    even timezones might be involved (havent checked)

  19. Marvin, stippy checking and commenting have become part of my job. Or, maybe, my job has become part of checking stippy..? Is there some problem? I’m sure my Japanese employer likes me learning more about Japan, and that they are willing to invest in me to do that.

  20. Good story and easy to believe when you know how the Japanese Gov. thinks and how inferior and jealous they feel.

    Thats why Corea has a “K” can’t have the before us in the alphabet!!

  21. I agree with marvin! This is a funny and interesting thread.

    Take a look at the Yokoso logo on our t-shirt design We made it to closely resemble the second version of the Yokoso japan logo (close enough without violating copyrights -hee hee), with the pronunciation mark for those damm foreigners who can’t pronounce YOKO ONO.

    The fingerprint in the shape of the hinomaru, so from a distance it looks like a typical tourist shirt connected to the campaign, but closer up…. campaign of TERROR! ….cheeky monkey, a finger print (or toe print in this case).

  22. Pingback: Spike Japan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *