In Yukan Fuji (July 10), Atsushi Sakaki's "I don't really want to tell you" column, which covers topics related to real estate and residential property, starts off by touching on the condominium collapse that occurred in the Miami suburb on Surfside, Florida, on June 24.
"Such a building collapse would be unthinkable in Japan," he writes. "But it brought my attention to another topic, which is use of the word manshon."
Sakaki explains that manshon, derived from the English word mansion, is wasei eigo (made-in-Japan English). Among English speakers, mansion typically conjures up the image of a wealthy person's residence, which one might approach by driving through a gate and then eventually reaching the front door several minutes later. In Japan, however, the term has been corrupted to mean something along the lines of a "3LDK manshon" (abbreviation for a residence consisting of 3 rooms, living room and dinette kitchen -- plus bath, toilet, veranda, etc) -- with a total area of perhaps 70 square meters, inside a ferroconcrete housing complex. In cities it's also common to find "one-room" manshons further shrunk down to as small as 25 square meters.
In any case, Sakaki says use of manshon to describe such mini-residences makes him "feel ashamed."
Manshon as applied to ferroconcrete residences, is believed to have become familiarized from the early 1960s.
"Probably real estate developers just pulled it out of a Japanese-English dictionary," he writes. "At the time, the English word 'apartment' was already being applied to wood-frame rental units, so manshon was coined in order to differentiate the type of structure, with little understanding of the correct meaning of the term."
In Sakaki's view, when marketing condominiums, Japanese realtors devote massive efforts to coming up with appealing nomenclature, which they feel can make or break their sales campaign. Disappointing sales are often blamed on poor choices of words in promotional materials and ads, so at the planning stage it's common for developers to go all-out in search of an appealing name -- sometimes coming up with ridiculous results.
"In my own experience, I can recall over 100 names suggested for a single building," he recalls. "And that is probably the norm.
"In the end however, it's typical that some unimaginative, worn-out name will be the one most likely to get picked," he scoffs.
Several years ago, Sakaki took notice of a "tower manshon" (high-rise) on the shore of Tokyo Bay. Its full name, combining kanji and katakana script, came to 17 characters. On a whim, Sakaki transcribed the name into English and asked a British acquaintance for his impression. The man shrugged, rolled his eyes and remarked "What's that? It looks to me rather like garbaged computer code. Makes no sense at all."
Sakaki's sense of embarrassment notwithstanding, the made-up word manshon -- defined as a unit in a ferroconcrete housing complex -- has achieved official recognition under Japanese commercial law. If considered in terms of its fine shades of meaning therefore, manshon works well enough among Japanese -- although upon hearing it for the first time English native speakers may find its adoption as risible, or pathetic, by turns.
When it's all said and done, Sakaki concludes that from a cultural standpoint, collective housing in Japan continues to evolve. At some point in the future, it's entirely possible that manshon may be supplanted by some other term.© Japan Today