Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cool Japanese Thing #56: Tokyo Up, Down

So, an amusing anecdote for all of you.

My friend Yuiichi was helping me buy a bus ticket to Tokyo today. As we were trying to decide, I noticed the "Engrish" version of the website had buttons saying "Seat UP" and "Seat DOWN."

"Hey, Yuiichi, what do those buttons mean?"

According to him, "Seat UP" refers to any bus going to Tokyo, while "Seat DOWN" refers to buses coming from Tokyo. During the feudal era, lords would often have to go to Tokyo for a few years and live there. In a way, they were like hostages, kept there to ensure that their fiefdoms did not rebel. Whenever someone would go to Tokyo, they would go up to Tokyo, and when they would return, they would come down from Tokyo.

The Japanese equivalent for these English terms are nobori and kudari, which mean "climb" and "descend." I take that to mean that, as the capitol of Japan, Tokyo was seen as an important place, technically "above" other parts of Japan. What I find most interesting about this exchange is that these types of phrases are still used even today. I'm sure American English also has unique quirks like this, though I can't immediately bring any to mind.

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