Shopping in Tokyo offers everything from the glamor of Ginza to the bling of Shibuya shopping. Yet don't forget the rather bleaker sections of town where the flashest thing around is old Mr. Tanaka's panama or Mrs. Kato's new tricycle. East Tokyo's Asakusa area is one such quarter, and, living not far from there, I was in the Takeya supermarket there this weekend.
English in Tokyo: everything from the linguistics department of Tokyo University, to ... Takeya supermarket. Even the worst "Japlish" generally manages to make, at worst, tenuous sense. But for the first time in a long time, this poster hanging above a check-out aisle in Takeya supermarket had me at a complete loss.
"I will not do the bag staff."
It sounded like a the pledge of a Boy Scout group prone to committing acts of sexual violence. Raise right hand. "I will not do the bag staff (however worked up they may get me)." Daring myself to lay eyes on the bag staff, I repeated it a couple of times for good measure, "I will not do the bag staff," "I will not do the bag staff!"
Baffled, breathing heavily, and blood racing, I raised my eyes to the Japanese text:
こちらのレジはお客様に袋詰めにしていただきます。(Kochira no reji wa o-kyaku-sama ni fukurozume ni shite itadakimasu), or, "Customers for this check out should fill their own bags."
In other words, the cashiers at such check outs just do the till, and the customer looks after putting his or her own purchases in the plastic bag provided.
I looked around guiltily, mopping my brow, hoping no one had noticed.
I figured out, firstly, the word "staff" is probably a mistaken transliteration of the word "stuff" (there being no short "a" sound in Japanese), "stuff" in turn being a strange vocabulary alternative for the meaning "pack."
We now have "I will not do the bag pack(ing)," or, "I won't pack your bags," i.e. an instance of reported speech put in the mouth of the cashier him/herself.
All impure connotations now swept from my mind, I exited with my bag (which, incidentally, the cashier DID kindly pack for me) only to be accosted by a poster on the wall outside featuring what at first glance struck me as a pink fleshy cartoon rendition of a curvacious, voluptuous Henry Moore objet d'art. Again, completely wrong - and tellingly filthy minded of me.
It was the bulbous, nail-varnished fist of a angry yet bambi-eyed Japanese policewoman yelling at me "痴漢は犯罪です！”(Chikan wa hanzai desu!), or "Sexual harassment is a crime!" Subtitle: あなたの一生台無しに！ (Anata no isshou o dainashi ni!) "It will ruin your life forever!"
OK, I get it! I get it! I was just here to shop - for godsake.