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Subtle Bias

January 21st, 2007

There is a sign on the front door of Mizuho Bank that has caught my attention every time I go to that branch. After seeing the exact same sign on another Mizuho Bank across town, I decided it was worthy of general note. Take a look at the sign and tell me if you can see what problem I have with it:


Of course, it is not a problem with the grammar, spelling, or anything else about language; this is not a case of “Engrish.” The problem I have is when you compare this sign to almost all other bilingual signs in Japan. Check out these signs in the Flickr pages here and here (if they have disappeared, copies are here and here), for a quick, general comparison. Note that Japanese is on top and English is below. Also, although English is sometimes the same font size as the Japanese, it is usually smaller.

However, in the sign that graces the entrance to Mizuho, English is prominently on the top of the sign, and the lower half of the sign is in Chinese. Not Japanese.

The sign is aimed at foreigners, a subtle point made by the prominence of English on the sign. Japanese can read the sign easily enough, but the message is that the bank expects English- or Chinese-speakers to be the chief perpetrators of crimes at their establishment. The bank is clearly showing that they expect their foreign visitors to be much more liable to commit a crime.

Not a very welcoming message–though I would not be surprised if the people at the bank had no idea what message the sign was giving to non-Japanese. I have found that when this kind of bias appears in Japan, most Japanese are fairly blind to it.

I am thinking of going to the bank sometime soon and telling them what impression the sign gives, just to see what they would do about it.

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  1. Orko
    January 25th, 2007 at 14:57 | #1

    The part below the English is in fact Chinese. When I was on exchange in Kyoto I tried to point out to people that having signs at ATMs in English only saying that they were protected by security cameras was racist. Some people tried to tell me that, Oh thats because Japanese people would know that there were security cameras so it wasn’t necessary to put signs in Japanese. A pretty poor excuse. I thought most places had done away with these and at least had bilingual signs.

  2. Andrew
    January 28th, 2007 at 19:52 | #2

    Luis, I don’t know what Orko’s source was, but if you check


    …pick the Japanese-Chinese translator and type in “junra” (??) in Japanese, you will get the sign’s version of the word in Chinese. If you switch to the Chinese-Japanese translator and paste the Chinese version back in (kotoeri doesn’t produce the Chinese version, further confirming that this writing is not used in Japan), the translator will give you the Japanese version, ??.

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