Photo: YouTube/西武・そごう チャンネル

English ad in Japan has some seeing a command to stay infected with coronavirus this Christmas

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

It’s been a tough week for well-meaning department store ads in Japan. First there was Takashimaya’s attempt to promote Kyoto as a beacon of hope in these troubled times, which ended up sounding to many people like we all need to band together and stop the city’s diabolical plans.

Now comes a different ad campaign from rival department store group Seibu Sogo, whose yuletide message doesn’t seem to have hit its intended mark with all who’ve seen it. Take a look at the video below, in which Seibu Sogo suggests a number of ways to keep your spirits up during the 2020 Christmas season, and see if you can spot why it’s raising some eyebrows.

In just about any other year, the ad’s boldly proclaimed tagline, “Stay positive,” would be seen as straightforward encouragement to remember to look on the bright side of things and be thankful for all the little sources of happiness you’ve been blessed with. However, with the ad coming in the middle of a global pandemic, where many people’s inner monologues consist of bouncing back and forth between the questions “Am I/my family/my friends going to get sick?” and “Wait…are we already sick but just don’t know it yet?”, some people’s immediate interpretation of the word “positive” isn’t in the sense of “happy,” but “infected,” making it seem like Seibu Sogo is saying “Make sure that your COVID-19 infection lasts through the holidays!”

It’s probably not helping that the Stay Positive print poster shows two friends giving each other hugs with extremely extended arms, standing so far apart that they’re not even in the same room, visually hammering home a reminder that the coronavirus is floating around out there right before bringing up the word “positive.” Negative online reactions have included:

“Get ready for Christmas by staying infected!”

“I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help laughing about this.”

“NOBODY noticed this?”

“We’re at the point now where advertising production companies really should have two or three people who’re really good at foreign languages on their design teams.”

“They should contract for a native speaker to check these things.”

“Should have gone with something like ‘Stay strong’ instead.”

“This is terrible, Seibu. The meaning of ‘Stay positive for Crhismas’ [sic] depends on things like the time and conditions in which it’s said.”

On the other hand, a number of commenters have no problem with the ads, instead taking them in the way that they were obviously intended.

“’Stay positive’ is a perfectly normal way to say ‘stay upbeat.’”

“I think Seibu Sogo’s ad is fine. It’s better than ‘Save the World from Kyoto,’ anyway.”

“If you hear ‘Stay positive’ and you think the only thing they could be talking about is the coronavirus, I think you’ve got something wrong with your head.”

“Come on now, let’s try to think more positively.”

In Seibu Sogo’s defense, the English word “positive,” with the corrupted pronunciation pojitibu, is a commonly used loanword in Japanese, and is used only in the sense of “happy/optimistic.” While there’s plenty of talk about people’s coronavirus infection status going on in Japan these days, when speaking of someone who’s tested positive for a disease, the term used is always the indigenous Japanese yosei, or alternatively kansensha (“infected person”). The use of “stay” also nudges the needle towards the “happy” interpretation of positive, since saying “stay infected” would sort of imply that being infected is mankind’s default state, which isn’t the case.

Sources: Seibu Sogo, Twitter/@cetus03 via Jin, Twitter

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Could Coronavirus be helping prevent the spread of influenza? Japanese Twitter speculates

-- English mistake makes Kyoto the enemy of the world

-- Tokyo plan to give 100,000 yen to residents who get infected with coronavirus sparks backlash

© SoraNews24

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Think Positive might have been more appropriate.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

Reminds me of the sign we saw on the concierge desk of a fancy hotel in Singapore:

"For best service drop trousers here"


5 ( +13 / -8 )

Nothing wrong with this ad.

People are just too sensitive these days - even before the pandemic lets face it.

People should focus more on their personal prevention than on trying to find something wrong with a very normal Christmas ad.

-13 ( +7 / -20 )

And Japan has the lowest TOEIC scores in Asia, go figure...

25 ( +27 / -2 )

Stay being a jelly baby with long arms for Christmas

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Let's all stay positive with a trip with GoToTravel and SAVE'

6 ( +6 / -0 )

And Japan has the lowest TOEIC scores in Asia, go figure...

Well, to be honest, I think North Korea is doing slightly worse. Just slightly.

Hell, I bet even Kim Jong Un's English is better than most Japanese politicians.

My question again is, Why the need for English in the first case? It's not even an official language here. When you really need English, it's not available.

-7 ( +6 / -13 )

Ha! Ha! Stay positive! Meddy Karismasoo!

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Kim Jong Un's English is better than most Japanese politicians.

i believe he was in an english language boarding school in Basel, Switzerland for several years, then in an english language university in Germany.

Anyway there’s a lot of Engrish to learn here in Japan.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Translations can be tricky, esp. if the two are not the least bit related. And it can lead to messy things sometimes.

Remember in 1979 Masaya Nakaguma had a new video game that would become a major cultural sensation. The Japanese name originally translated into Roman letters as 'PUCKMAN'.

Good thing that was amended!

-9 ( +1 / -10 )

In the 1990s, the Hankyu Department Store in Osaka's campaign was "Hot Mind Christmas".

They've fixed it now, but for years, the in-store announcements at Parco throughout Japan would begin "Thank you for your coming".

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Looking at the whole video, they seemed to take in account the pandemic situation but

2 - To wear favorite things

7 - Enjoying meals together

10 - Living together

seems to purposely dismiss it as still putting physically social distancing but in fact brooking it for 2 and 7 and in 10 just throwing away all social distancing. Would be interesting to talk to the one doing the campaign as 2 contrary interpretation could arise.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"For best service drop trousers here"

here's a couple that will really confuse you

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Some Engrish efforts can be pretty cringe-worthy, but I thought this was rather sweet. I like to think the creators deliberately and with goodwill aforethought used positive in its sense, rather than the sense of 'infected'. It's a play on words.

But grumblers gonna grumble, I suppose.

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

Lovely! Reminds me of Mr Tickle and Mr Happy.

Mad auld telly back in the 70s. Although looking back on it now, Tickle would be locked up these days for his dubious doings.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

The intent was clear, and amusing interpretations happen no matter how hard people try to avoid them. If the ad had said, “Stay negative...”, it would not have improved things.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

That's a perfectly fine English phrase. Only pedants and troublemakers deliberately taking it out of context could have a problem with it.

-7 ( +4 / -11 )

Interesting...At least it's more innocent than last year's McDonalds adult cream pie.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

What about non-christians?

What about them? I am a non-Christian. Is there something I should feel triggered by here?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have the misery of Christmas and New Year in Japan to look forward to thanks to Covid.

Keep any and every possible source of amusement coming, please.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

expatToday  06:48 pm JST

What about non-christians?

Stay just as you are until further instructions, I suppose. Do you feel excluded? Do you want your own sign? Thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to worry about Santa being up on proper mask protocol, I would think.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Poor choice of words, but it didn't help that they had an image of people packed together in the peace sign just before the "stay positive" showed up. Great mental image!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Maybe they do not understand the English language but pretended that they do. very common in Japan.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Translations of other languages into English that could imply more than the seller or manufacturer intended aren't confined to Asian languages. For many years several models of Ducati motorcycles had this little graphic either above the shock adjuster or on the tail section that said "Soft Damp".

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Making the world smile, one funny translation after another.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I'm an American and English speaking native with Japanese as my second language.

I personally found the ad fine as is. "Stay Positive" is a commonly used phrase and I think taking it out of context to reference positive test results is a stretch.

Besides, Japan doesn't do enough testing, so people won't know if they are positive or not, so they can only assume it means their attitudes and spirits.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My suggestion is "stay hopeful." "Stay positive" seems pretty ok. When checking through the whole video clip, critics might want to nitpick more :)

All the same I've got a message. I also "stay positive" for Seibu-Sogo (and Takashimaya as well) , a major retailer most badly affected by the current crisis.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Yeah, this is a case of people with limited vocabulary over-applying this limited understanding.

Nothing wrong with “staying positive” in trying times.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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