Today, 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.
One 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 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 “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 stippy.com 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.