Don’t talk in English!

When I first came to Japan in 1997, the big chain school I worked at recommended all its teachers to open a bank account at Tokai Bank because of its proximity to the head office and the fact that the ATMs had English guidance. Soon after though, Tokai merged with Sanwa Bank and all the ATMs were replaced with the later bank’s Japanese-only machines. This caused long queues and much frustration as the foreigners randomly pressed buttons hoping to withdraw some of their money.

That was one example that comes to mind of a Japanese business going backwards during the country’s efforts to internationalize. Around the same time, I signed up for Japan Rent-A-Phone Center, which I think was called Hello Japan (or something like that) at the time. Their service was solely for foreigners, offering cheap phone line rental (600 yen a month) and excellent customer support in English. I still use their service as I’ve found the English support to be invaluable during the six times I’ve moved house in Japan.

A few take-overs or mergers later, and I got the following letter explaining the changes to their customer support service. If you want, you can skip it and just read my comments below.

Don't phone us 'coz we won't understand. Written English only, please!

Since I can fortunately get by in Japanese, and am not planning to move house again, this doesn’t really affect me, but I still find it amusing enough to write about. Let me highlight the best parts:

“our customer support service in English has finished.”

Why? Are there not enough foreigners using the previously foreigner-only service to justify paying for English speaking staff? Or have all the English speaking staff suddenly quit? Or perhaps spoken English is just too difficult to understand?

“…please contact us by FAX or Email. Or you can call our customer support in Japanese.”

Yep, it certainly sounds like the problem is with spoken English. So it’s okay to write in English, then?

“If you prefer to ask a Japanese person to call us for you, that is accepted as well.”

So the choices are: Write in English, speak Japanese, or get someone else to interpret. Got it.

“If you wish to apply for Yahoo! BB, please let us know by E-mail or FAX.”

Yep, okay. So you’re saying if we can’t phone in English, we must either E-mail, FAX, speak Japanese, or get someone to interpret. I figured that was the case first time.

“When you request us something by E-mail, please do not write any details.”

So let me clarify, phoning in English is out of the question, and if we write in English, we must keep it super simple. Got it.

“If you have any other inquiries… please give us a call in Japanese.”

Thank you again for stressing that we must not speak in English. Understood, again.

“… call NTT (Japanese only)”

Ah, so it’s not just Rent-A-Phone Center, but the corporate giant NTT that is afraid to use English on the phone.

Despite Japan appearing to embrace English, and push to make it the country’s second official language, they are still standing firmly in the starting blocks.

Definitely related: Is ESL in Japan a big joke?

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

One thought on “Don’t talk in English!

  1. mmmm do you think that they want you to not speak English when you call them???? Im just not sure… Their message is just so confusing….

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