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Japan awash in weird warning signs

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“Warning: Holding iced candy in your hands for a long time will result in cold hands.”

“Warning: Toothpaste is liable to spurt. Make sure it doesn’t get into your eye.”

Seriously? Japan is awash in warnings, says Josei Seven (Feb 26). Be careful of this, steer clear of that. Harmless, but irritating. Adults resent being treated like children. Who can help getting annoyed when reading on an instant soup package, “Warning: Adding hot water will make this hot.”

Japan has long been known for this kind of thing. During the postwar U.S. Occupation its leader, General Douglas MacArthur, is said to have described Japan as “a nation of 12-year-olds.” In our own day the expression “nanny state” has become familiar. In train stations, on the street, in the media, via loudspeakers, billboards, handwritten signs and product labels, we are forever being admonished, in one form or another, to “be careful.”

And yet, Josei Seven observes, product label warnings excessive to the point of comedy originated not in Japan but in the U.S., where since 1997 there has been an “Annual Wacky Warning Labels Contest,” one winner of which was a warning on a clothes iron: “Do not iron garment while wearing it.”

To much the same degree as Japan is known as an over-protective society, the U.S. is known as a litigious society. People sue each other – and consumers sue product manufacturers – at the drop of a hat. If American companies are tense, they have reason to be. Josei Seven reminds us of a suit 20-odd years ago involving a woman who spilled hot coffee on herself and sued the restaurant for damages – successfully – because there had been no warning on the paper cup.

Japanese may be less inclined than Americans to haul each other into court, but in 1995, a new Product Liability Law came into force here, making the manufacturer responsible for damages to the consumer if the product was defective. But what exactly does “defective” mean? Is a paper cup from which hot water can spill defective? If a woman burns her forehead with a hot hair iron, is it the iron’s fault? Better safe than sorry. And the warnings proliferated.

And so, sure enough, have the complaints, Josei Seven learns from the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan. Some of them seem rather surprising. A woman in her 50s said she suffered injuries to her chin while eating a snack biscuit that was harder than she’d expected. A woman in her 80s claimed a hose attached to a kitchen sink faucet shifted suddenly when she turned on the water, causing her to fall. The hose did in fact come with a warning – that it could be dangerous to small children. It said nothing about the elderly. Hence the complaint.

What the center did about these and a plethora of similar claims is not mentioned. There’s no mention any of them ended up in court, but even if they didn’t, manufacturers naturally want to protect themselves. Is it possible to cover all bases, to allow for all contingencies? Probably not, but the effort proceeds apace. And so, “Warning: Be sure to remove all toothpaste from toothbrush after use.” It may get moldy. You never know.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

47 Comments
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One of the most ridiculous warning would be one on the train. "Warning, sleeping on the train may make you late for work." :p

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In the McDonalds case, the plaintiff was at fault for not properly securing the coffee before attempting to drive away. But her lawyer knew that a lawsuit in front of a jury would make her case almost a "slam-dunk" win because juries will always favor a single person over a multi-national corporation. It is for THAT fact that you find corporations posting seemingly obvious warnings to cover their butts.

On many trains around Tokyo:

"Warning! The train may stop suddenly in case of emergency"

I think they should put a voice-warning on cars, bicycles and bikes too. "When you hit the breaks the vehicle may stop. Please be alert"

Your suggestion isn't the same. In all your examples the warning is issued to the person operating the vehicle. With regards to the warnings on trains, how many of the people reading THOSE warnings are the ones who are going to be applying the brakes?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Salvor, it means the same thing, basically. They're saying it's what it can look like prepared, the phrase is used in real estate ads, etc meaning ' this is how it can look'.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Back on topic please.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I remember when the McDonalds lawsuit came out, my boss, an older man 65/67yrs old looked at the tv and said "Operator Error", who sticks a hot cup of coffee between their knees in a moving car. The daughter should have made sure mom had the cup moved from between her legs and into her hand or cup holder before moving the car. Put the bag of food in the footwell, I do it all the time when driving.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

My favorite (not exactly a warning sign) can be found on almost all food packaging that comes with a picture on the outside: in place of the English, "Serving Suggestion" in Japan we get, "The photo is an image" (shashin wa imagi desu.)

Ya think? What are they worried about, people eating the photo?!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sioux

190F is a good temperature for coffee? Do you not understand what "third degree burns" are?

Do you not understand that the proper temperature for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205 F? The 'third degree burns' were self inflicted. Sad but true. The poor woman had ordered hot coffee, not iced coffee or lukewarm coffee and as it happens, hot coffee is, well, hot.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Sadly, some of the warning packaging on many products has really been dumbed down in the last 25 years...perhaps to defend against lawsuits.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

considering that the japanese legal system can barely drag itself out of the meiji era, i do not appreciate japanese flamers of the us legal system.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The hot coffee litigation story is one of the many ridiculous jury awarded compensation awards of recent times. First of all coffee should be hot so people buy hot coffee. For most of us 190 F, 82 C is a good temperature for coffee

190F is a good temperature for coffee? Do you not understand what "third degree burns" are?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The hot coffee litigation story is one of the many ridiculous jury awarded compensation awards of recent times. First of all coffee should be hot so people buy hot coffee. For most of us 190 F, 82 C is a good temperature for coffee. Coffee should be hot. You sip it. Even if it is 150 F, 65 C it is hot and it feels unpleasant when spilled on your bare skin, especially when that skin is naked. Secondly, why would someone take a cup of hot coffee (remember 150 is too hot to take a bath) and place it between (her) thighs in an automobile. A normal person would call that stupid. But apparently not in this case. Normal becomes abnormal. And the abnormal becomes the norm: the coffee should not be like the coffee we brew at home, god forbid, it should not be hot, because if we spill it on ourselves when walking around, drive around whatever, it should be . . . It is sad when the people involved in the litigation ignore the fact that hot coffee is hot and that drinking it , where ever they are, like taking a hot shower or bath, requires care. Is blaming others for our own negligence becoming a norm?

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

BillAdams, coffee at 190 degrees is too hot.

" "This story is the most widely misunderstood story in America," Liebeck's lawyer Ken Wagner told Retro Report, a project that seeks to add context to high-profile news events from the past.

News outlets back in the early 1990s reported that Liebeck was attempting to drive with coffee between her legs when she scalded herself. The New York Times, which posted the Retro Report video, reported that she got a "big jury award" for "coffee burn." By all appearances, she walked away a rich woman after a little spilled coffee.

The real story is more traumatic and less lucrative than the media made it out to be. Liebeck was actually sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car when her 180-degree coffee spilled. The coffee — which was 30 degrees hotter than typical home brews — burned 16% of her body, according to Retro Report. Six percent of those burns were third-degree."

"While a jury did award her $2.9 million, the judge drastically cut that amount to about $650,000. The case ultimately settled for about $500,000. "

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/retro-report-examines-stella-liebeck-case-2013-10#ixzz3TKC3RBvp

3 ( +3 / -0 )

My favorite was at a beach: Caution: sand may contain rocks! with a little cartoon boy stubbing his toe.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Anyway, back to Japan, and I don't see why people get so worked up about common sense warnings. LOL youd be suprised just how many people lack common sense here.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

the one warning sign I regret not heeding: "Go out with enormous half-black friend to eat chicken wings, be prepared to pay his bill"

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Yes it does, as does tea and any other hot drink. The clue is in the word 'hot'. If they are not served piping hot they cool down so quickly that you either have to gulp them down or you are soon left with a lukewarm drink, which is most unsatisfactory.

The recommended serving temperature for coffee is around 75C to 80C, somewhat lower than tea. The burnt lap case was probably at about 90C to 95C, which is way too hot and also the difference between uncomfortably hot to having 3rd degree burns. Also, if they are served in the right cups with a lid they do not cool down so quickly.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My favorite warning sign was " you stick in here, you may be papa soon "

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I like the weird signs, part of what makes Japan unique in its own way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank you, @zubrach, for clarifying what MacArthur actually said.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

“Warning: Adding hot water will make this hot.” - “Do not iron garment while wearing.”

Both important tips. Those iron burns, and hot water hottening things? Who needs 'em?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Funny stuff in here :-) I once went to a kung fu movie that displayed a warning on the screen at the beginning of the movie saying (translated from Chinese to English) "CAUTION: This movie contains unnecessary special effects." To this day I'm still wondering why the unnecessary warning, and if the special effects were unnecessary, why weren't they edited out? I'm trying to imagine how the director directed this movie...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Warning: Be careful!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Don't forget the sweet old men making sure you don't miss the on-coming traffic in city streets while on construction. I think I also counted at least half a dozen nice old men - recently some younger ladies - making sure you know traffic is coming in and out of department store driveways.

Syouganai.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The excessive warning signs I really don't think is that much of a problem, the more the better especially if a child gets hold of it.

I think Japanese TV is a far bigger culprit of treating adults like children here

3 ( +3 / -0 )

karlrbMAR. 03, 2015 - 09:07AM JST They do sue a lot in the USA but sometimes things are not always how the media would like to present them, which of course is to sensationalize things in order to sell their information.

Yes. Americans are over-litigious. Then again, too many judges agree to hear what are obviously frivolous suits.

On the other hand, the Japanese are not allowed to use their courts enough and corporations or individuals are rarely required to pay significant damages or do they face serious criminal charges. Best recent example of this, of course, being the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi complex. Yes, that was also regulatory failure, but, regardless, TEPCO is still an independent business and no one has gone to jail for criminal negligence.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

The woman who sued about the coffee issue had originally asked simply for minimal compensation to make up for the spill, but the company refused and was forced into court because of their behavior. They do sue a lot in the USA but sometimes things are not always how the media would like to present them, which of course is to sensationalize things in order to sell their information.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

There is a reason for so-calling "frivolous" warnings. Apparently some people have are too dumb to take basic safety precautions. It surely should not take much common sense to realize that you could get burnt with a hot liquid or that it is a bad idea to stick your finger in a light socket.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I get a little tired of people bringing up this lawsuit as frivolous

It WAS frivolous. It was a moronic lawsuit and deserves to be ridiculed.

The jury decided the amount of compensation,

An AMERICAN jury. Say no more.

Coffee doesn't have to be that hot

Yes it does, as does tea and any other hot drink. The clue is in the word 'hot'. If they are not served piping hot they cool down so quickly that you either have to gulp them down or you are soon left with a lukewarm drink, which is most unsatisfactory.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

Problem is that the 'common sense' is not all that common nor universal.

If it was we wouldn't need 'guides for dummies' or 'idiot proof' everything.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Anyway, back to Japan, and I don't see why people get so worked up about common sense warnings.>

Because they imply that we do NOT have common sense (and hence need these warnings). They are therefore insulting our intelligence.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

"Do not iron garment while wearing it"

Hee hee

"I once burned the bleep out of myself by ironing my clothes while wearing them."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ... oohh.... too funny.... ha ha ha

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

None as good as packet of nuts with the message: "Warning: may contain nuts."

It's frustrating to see company's shelling out big bucks on advertising slogans (beer companies among the worst) that are written in poor English. Just ask someone first for crying out loud!

sighclops: but it does not need to be native level English, for two reasons:

Firstly, it does not matter as they are writing for a domestic audience, not English speaking consumers. Secondly, a literal translation from Japanese may make it far easier for a Japanese with limited English to understand.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

It's not just the signs. I've seen so many poorly spelled English words on t-shirts, sweatshirts and other garments I could fill a truck with them. My favorite - on a nautical-themed girl's shirt in big letters: Ensing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Anyway, back to Japan, and I don't see why people get so worked up about common sense warnings.

Because with like many things here now-a-days people don't want to take responsibility for their own actions and look to blame someone or something else for their own foolishness.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Most stupid warning I've ever seen was on a bottle of Nytol: "May cause drowsiness"... that's the whole point you morons!

Anyway, back to Japan, and I don't see why people get so worked up about common sense warnings.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I once burned the bleep out of myself by ironing my clothes while wearing them. After I put the shirt on, it didn't look good and I was in a hurry so...Anyway, I also have done it since but I wouldn't sue the iron maker over my own stupidity and laziness.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

but even if they didn’t, manufacturers naturally want to protect themselves.

If they want to protect themselves then get them right!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

My favorites are the signs that stay up for decades, deteriorating because nobody wants to spend a few thousand yen on fresh paint.

For example, there is a faded but still visually striking billboard in my city of residence that was paid for by the Lions Club organization that warns of the dangers of IV drugs. It shows a massive syringe and skeleton's arm. It was probably creative in its day, but now with the rising popularity of Halloween, I wonder if it as effective as originally planned.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Stupid signs make my day. Japan would be very sterile without them.

I would write more, but I have an appointment at Hair-Make next to the Bar Ber.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

I really don't notice the signs being all that obtrusive or annoying. True, some are pretty self-evident, and when translated into Engrish often become hilarious, like a train sign I saw for a female only car saying, "Female exclusive use! A man doesn't put it in from here!", but on the whole I see nothing wrong with the signs. Now, if you want to talk sound pollution and overkill in terms of announcements or trucks riding around with loudspeakers blaring anything from a push for local politicians to right-wingers to the yaki-imo trucks to supermarket shouting, etc., then I'm with you.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

MacArthur did not describe Japan as "nation of 12-year-olds", at least not in the sense of the Japanese being infantile. Here is what he actually said:

If the Anglo-Saxon was say 45 years of age in his development, in the sciences, the arts, divinity, culture, the Germans were quite as mature. The Japanese, however, in spite of their antiquity measured by time, were in a very tuitionary condition. Measured by the standards of modern civilization, they would be like a boy of twelve as compared with our development of 45 years.

18 ( +19 / -2 )

This article is pretty ridiculous.

It's simple, it's standard operating procedure. You're a company and you wanna cover your behind? Put a warning sign on it. No matter how crazy the warning sounds because all it takes is that 1 in a 1000 chance for something to go wrong and you'll be in court.

No warning sign posted? You'll pay. Have a warning sign? A much better chance you won't pay or will pay a lot less than if you hadn't spent the little extra on printing out warning signs. It's cheaper than getting lawyered up.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

It's frustrating to see company's shelling out big bucks on advertising slogans (beer companies among the worst) that are written in poor English. Just ask someone first for crying out loud! That goes double for taxpayer-funded safety signs, which cost hundreds of thousands of yen each.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

On many trains around Tokyo:

"Warning! The train may stop suddenly in case of emergency"

I think they should put a voice-warning on cars, bicycles and bikes too. "When you hit the breaks the vehicle may stop. Please be alert"

0 ( +8 / -8 )

Correct. I get a little tired of people bringing up this lawsuit as frivolous. The jury decided the amount of compensation, not the victim.

Coffee doesn't have to be that hot.

7 ( +14 / -7 )

The McDonald's lawsuit was because the woman received 3rd degree burns. The skin sloughed off parts of her legs and she needed skin grafts. It was not just because 'there was no warning on the paper cup'.

It was also shown that McDonalds had been made aware of the problem of the temperature of the coffee repeatedly before the incident, and therefore there was an element of negligence to it as well.

6 ( +14 / -8 )

The McDonald's lawsuit was because the woman received 3rd degree burns. The skin sloughed off parts of her legs and she needed skin grafts. It was not just because 'there was no warning on the paper cup'. This article is just sloppy, Josei Seven.

9 ( +19 / -10 )

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