Yes, “This is a pen,” but this is definitely not the reason Japan has fewer coronavirus cases.

Japan has a large, high-density population and primarily relies on public transportation. Businesses have historically been resistant to telecommuting, and the small size of homes severely limit how much you can stock up on supplies, forcing frequent shopping trips. All those factors seem like they should have led to an explosion of coronavirus infections, but so far Japan has only had about 16,000 reported cases.

By comparison, the U.S., which has a population roughly three times as large as Japan’s, has had nearly 1.6 million infections, and the U.K., with about half the population of Japan, has had some 250,000 cases. Some say Japan’s reported number is artificially low, due to less extensive testing in the country, but Japan has also had remarkably few deaths from the coronavirus, with just 784 (compared to 35,704 for the U.K. and 93,806 for the U.S.).

So unless there’s some secret mass grave where the Japanese government is stashing bodies, Japan really is weathering the coronavirus pandemic extraordinarily well. But how? Here with a baffling theory is Japanese broadcaster TBS, in a video shared by Bloomberg’s Kurumi Mori.

The clip, from an unspecified TBS talk/news program, shows a Japanese woman in profile, with a piece of paper clipped in front of her face. First, she speaks in Japanese, saying “Kore wa pen desu,” which means “This is a pen.” As she does, the paper sways moderately in front of her.

Next, she says “This is a pen” in English, and this time, the paper snaps violently back at the gale-force breath that emanated from her mouth as she says “pen.”

Cut to the studio, where one of the presenters declares “Sugoi!” (“Amazing!”). “Even though it’s the same ‘pen,’ the amount of breath expelled was really different between English and Japanese, wasn’t it?” observes another presenter, all while the text at the upper-right corner of the screen reads “The reason why the spread of infections has been slow in Japan: The difference in pronunciation between the languages used?”

So…there’s a lot wrong with this theory, or at least in how it’s being presented here, plus a few red flags that make one think whoever came up with it might not have a very strong linguistic background. First off, while a lot of English loanwords end up with corrupted pronunciations in Japanese, “pen” isn’t one of them. It’s pronounced exactly the same way in Japanese as it is in English.

So right off the bat, it’s kind of weird that TBS is using the word “pronunciation” when they’re really talking about how strongly a word is being emphasized within a sentence. But more important is the fact that no one speaks English like the woman in the video does. It’s impossible, because before long someone will punch you in the throat for all the annoying wind you’re blasting into their face, crushing your trachea and rendering you unable to speak.

There’s also the fact that if you speak Japanese with the same unnatural level of intense focus on the word “pen” with which the woman in the video speaks English, you can blow back a paper just as dramatically, as several helpful Twitter users have demonstrated.

Making the theory even fishier is the example sentence TBS chose to use. “This is a pen” is often the very first English phrase students in Japan learn, and even within the country it’s become such a cliché that it’s often a symbol of someone who actually isn’t very knowledgeable about the language. Holding it up as an example of “Things English speakers say” is like starting your discussion of the Japanese diet with “Japanese people eat a lot of teriyaki beef” (no, they don’t – that’s just a popular menu item at Westernized Japanese restaurants overseas).

Now it’s entirely possible that Japanese and English, by virtue of their different available sound sets and specific vocabulary, might actually involve different frequencies and forces of exhaling during an average conversation. TBS’s “This is a pen” example doesn’t do anything to establish that, though, and you could even go so far as to say it’s dangerously irresponsible of them to imply, “Hey, as long as you’re speaking Japanese, you probably won’t catch the coronavirus!” And if the program really just wanted to give Japan a pat on the back, it could have highlighted Japan’s cultural willingness to wear masks, schools’ decisions to shut down before the pandemic got really out of hand, or the complete lack of large-scale “We refuse to stay home because the government told us to!”-style public protest gatherings.

Honestly, I’m actually a little worried about a new wave of infections being set off by all the exasperated sighing TBS’ ridiculous “demonstration” is causing.

Source: Twitter/@rumireports
Top image: Pakutao (edited by SoraNews24)
Insert image: Pakutaso
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