Please Do It Subway Posters

Tokyo Metro produce refresh their series of subway posters annually, with an unique design for each month. In recent years, the posters by graphic artist Bunpei Yorifuji have been particularly stylish and easy to understand, utilising clever visuals and bright colours to grab the attention of commuters.

For the learner of Japanese, these posters are especially good as they offer simple sentences with matching pictures to effectively deliver the message. Even beginners can follow the messages! If that isn’t enough, matching English (with correct grammar, I might add) is presented alongside the Japanese. You can see the full set of posters over at Gakuranman: Tokyo Metro Subway Posters.

Today then, we’ll take a look at the Japanese on the posters in a little more detail.


いえで やろう。

Please do it at home.

This is the basic construction you’ll find across all of the posters. The particle で marks the location an action takes place. It always follows the location. In the example above, that place is the home (家), but as we see in other posters, we can replace this with words like 山 (やま – mountain), 海 (うみ – ocean/seaside), 庭 (にわ – garden) and 店 (みせ – store). The complete the sentence we have the verb やる which means ‘to do’. We can manipulate the verb and change it into the volitional form, making it an expression of desire to do something. やる then becomes やろう meaning ‘let’s do’. Notice that it is in the casual form, often used for speaking. In the polite form, the verb is やります, changing to やりましょう in the volitional.

The sentence would thus be: Let’s do it at home.

But wait! That’s not what is written on the poster! It clearly says ‘Please do it at home’. What’s going on exactly?

Here the やろう isn’t best translated as ‘let’s do’ – it’s really a request for us all to work together to do something, or in this case not to do something on the train. In English, we don’t use the expression ‘let’s do’ in this way quite as much as it is used in Japanese. It’s more usual to be given an instruction to follow – that way we know what is expected of us. ‘Let’s do it at home’ might suggest to western readers that it’s something optional, but that’s not the case at all! Think of the classic British poster, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. An instruction, right?

In Japanese, we might see something like ‘Let’s Keep Calm and Carry On’, when translated literally. It has that warm, fuzzy, communal nature that both communicates its message clearly and avoids making a direct request. As you continue your study of Japanese, you’ll find many examples of indirect expressions and soft requests like this permeating Japanese culture. ‘Let’s do’ is very often the equivalent of ‘please do’ in English. Make no mistake – no Japanese person would think of 家でやろう as something optional!

To contrast, making direct requests in Japanese can be done with the ‘te-form’. Beginning students of Japanese may be familiar with the te-form song and making a polite sentence to request somebody do an action, as follows:

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7 Responses to Please Do It Subway Posters

  1. drayomi October 11, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    You made an mistake! It shoud be: 車内でのお化粧はご遠慮ください。
    not: 社内でのお化粧はご遠慮ください。

    I guess that is an example of a Japanese typo. :P

    • Gakuranman October 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      Hah! Well observed! This is indeed a great example of a typical mistake made when typing Japanese. Although I don’t suppose the company would be too pleased with a lady doing her makeup at work either :P.

      • sinistert November 13, 2012 at 8:14 am #

        These things happen, no harm, no foul.

  2. Ray_FL February 11, 2013 at 6:16 am #

    I read somewhere that 家 has two readings:
     うち = home (a house or apartment that you call home)
     いえ = a house (referring to the building structure itself)

    Is this correct?
    Shouldn’t the poster’s reading be  うちでやろう ?

    • Gakuranman February 15, 2013 at 2:39 am #

      Hi. This is a great question! In this case, both うち and いえ would be appropriate. As you correctly noted, うち refers to ‘home’ as well as ‘inside’ (a group or circle). いえ (家) can refer to both house (the building) and home depending on the context.

      So in the posters, saying いえでやろう would be ‘Do it at your house/home’ (literally inside the building) whereas うちでやろう would have a much stronger emphasis on the ‘home’ feeling (because home does not necessarily have to be a house – home is wherever you hang your hat, after all).

      So to summarise, you can quite happily write both うち and いえ for 家, depending on what the speaker intends to place emphasis.

      • Ray_FL February 15, 2013 at 7:45 am #

         Hi. Thanks for such a detailed answer!
        One last question, when a Japanese sees the kanji 家, how do the know which reading to use in any given occurrence?

        • Michael March 4, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

          No problem :).

          Generally when うち is meant, the word will be written without the Kanji, whereas when いえ is meant, it will be written with the Kanji (家).
          A lot can be understood from the context however, and in certain situations there is a right and wrong usage. Take the example below:

          うちでは料理は自分ですることになっています。 ○
          In our home, everybody cooks for themselves.

          いえでは料理は自分ですることになっています。 ×
          In our house, everybody cooks for themselves.

          Both sentences seem almost the same, but the latter is incorrect. The reason is because the speaker is clearly referring to the family home in an abstract sense as opposed to the physical building itself.
          うちでは can be re-written as 私の家族においては (In my family). It is worth noting however that うち can also refer to the building in some circumstances, so if in doubt, うち would be the safer word to use. An example:

          先月うちをやっと建てました。 ○
          We finally finished building our home last month.

          先月いえをやっと建てました。 ○
          We finally finished building our house last month.

          In regards to the subway posters then, since they are designed to instruct people not to perform certain actions on the train platform (ホーム), the word 家 (いえ) would be a little more appropriate. This is because we are contrasting two physical locations. As I mentioned though, うちでやろう is not incorrect :).

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