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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.

家でやろう。

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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8 Responses to Gakuu. Studying with Real Japanese

  1. Sabrina September 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    This is pretty cool! Right now I’m studying on Textfugu which is great! I belive Gakuu can be really helpul too. What I like most is that its for pre-intermediate to advanced level students. So you can’t say its the same thing over and over again… students can actually improve their knowledge here. Thank you very much for creating this site. Have a nice day :)
    -Sabrina

    • Gakuranman September 30, 2010 at 1:09 am #

      Hi Sabrina! Thank you for your comment :).

      That’s definitely our aim. I love Textfugu for beginners and really getting students a solid grounding in the language, but afterwards (and even while) studying the basics, it can really help to encounter raw Japanese material. You don’t have to understand everything at first, but feeling challenged and picking up little bits here and there that are extra to your learning the basics helps expand your mind. Let me know if you have any more questions! More demonstration material will be up soon! We are currently having a special launch sale price for early adopters, so check out the pricing page if interested :).

      • Sabrina September 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Thanks for your reply. :) Unfortunately I’m even still miles away from the intermediate level. But I’ll definetly return to Gakuu when I get to this point. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the extra demonstration material. :) Keep up the good work.

        • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 12:21 am #

          Sure thing :). Let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for things you’d like to see on Gakuu!

  2. missingno15 October 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    When I looked at this, I first thought to myself, “aw hell no, gakuranman is doing the same thing as koichi…even the website layout is similar”. But then I realized “it’s aimed at pre-intermediate to advanced level students” which is perfect for my situation right now because I now really want to excel way past beginner. So basically, Gakuu really complements Textfugu. Can’t wait for more lessons to see how this is gonna be like so I can decide if its worth getting.

    • Gakuranman October 1, 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Hey there! Thanks for dropping by :). No way – Koichi and I are buds. I’ve always loved teaching the more advanced stuff so it worked out perfectly. I’ll be adding more stuff in the coming days, so please stay tuned!

  3. DumbOtaku (percent20) October 3, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    This is really cool. I am glad to see more online content going beyond just teaching hirigana and katakana. That is what I try to do on my blog, but with to little consistency. Glad to see an expert do it, btw already a signed-up paid member now. :)

    • Gakuranman October 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

      Glad to have you man! Look forward to hearing any suggestions you have for the site and future lessons :)

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