Otaru will no longer direct drivers to the town fart.

The town of Otaru, on the coast of Hokkaido Prefecture, has a number of claims to fame. It boasts a charmingly preserved canal district, mouthwatering seafood, and it’s also the hometown of chocolatier Letao, who gets it name, pronounced “Rutao” in the L-less Japanese language, by reversing the syllables of “Otaru.”

However, for the past three decades-plus Otaru has also been inadvertently claiming to also have landmark-caliber flatulence, at least according to the English notation on this street sign.

Located along a stretch of road in the city’s Akaiwa neighborhood, the sign is there to help drivers make sense of the sometimes chaotically shaped intersections that sometimes occur in Japan’s often initially unplanned street layouts. If your driving destination is the town of Yoichi, for example, you should hang a right at the next intersection, then veer left when the road subsequently splits in two. On the other hand, according to the sign drivers should turn left at the intersection if they’re headed to the prefectural capital city of Sapporo…

…as should those intending to stay in Hotaru and take in the sights, and presumably the sounds and smells, of the Otaru Poot.

And yes, that’s “Poot” with a capital P, implying that no attempts at muffling will be made.

However, you’ll be relieved/saddened to know, depending on your personal predilections, that Otaru does not, in actuality, offer tourism attraction-level farts, and the sign is actually supposed to say “Otaru Port.” Nevertheless, the sign has been pointing motorists to “Otaru Poot” for 31 years now, as it was put up all the way back in 1992 and the mistake has only recently gotten significant attention.

So how did this happen? In all likelihood this is a funny translation/transliteration error that goes beyond being just a simple typo. For that purpose, just for a moment, let’s take off our juvenile humor caps and put on our linguist helmets.

▼ Heavy linguistic lifting requires proper protective headgear.

First, let’s examine what the sign says in Japanese. 小樽 is just Otaru, written in kanji characters, and 港 is minato, the Japanese word for “port.” Since Otaru itself is a place name, obviously it doesn’t need to get translated, so that means the city planners, transportation department, or whoever else was in charge of preparing the sign’s English text just had to translate minato, but odds are they didn’t bother hiring a translator with top-tier credentials just for that one word. After all, the English “port” is a pretty commonly understood word in Japan, and even used as a loanword…kind of.

One characteristic trait of the Japanese language is that with the exception of N, no syllable can end in a consonant. As a result, the pronunciation of “port” has to be corrupted in order to be easily said by Japanese speakers, so an -o is tacked on to the end. But “porto” isn’t pronounceable by most Japanese speakers either, because now it’s a two-syllable word where the first syllable ends in R, so either a vowel has to get stuck on after the R but before the T, or the R has to be eliminated from the word.

There’s no perfect solution, but between “poruto,” “poroto,” and “poto,” the eventual linguistic consensus was that “poto” was the closest fit, especially if the first O sound gets stretched out and it becomes “pooto,” with the elongated O sounding pretty close to someone speaking English with a nasally voice, and so pooto became the correct, official pronunciation of the loanword “port” when speaking Japanese.

Getting back to the sign in Otaru, it seems that whoever was tasked with preparing the English text was aware that:

● Minato and pooto mean the same thing.
Pooto is a loanword that comes from English.
● The Japanese pronunciation and spelling don’t quite match the English ones.

It’s pretty common for words to acquire an O at the end as they make the transition from English to Japanese, so apparently the person preparing the English text knew to trim that, but didn’t catch the need to convert the elongated OO in pooto back to an OR, thus giving us “Otaru Poot.”

▼ A quiet night in Otaru’s canal district, ostensibly with no audible farting

As is so often the case when such silly signage pops up in Japan, though, it’s important to also take a moment to recognize and appreciate, the effort that was made. Sure, “Otaru Poot” is a mistake, but it’s still a lot more helpful than 小樽港 for someone who’s looking for Otaru Port and can’t read kanji. And at the very least, “Otaru Poot” conveys the information that taking that road will keep you in Otaru, while the others are sending you off towards Sapporo and Yoichi, so even if you didn’t decipher the intended meaning of “Otaru Poot,” it’s probably still the route you’d pick out of the three shown on the sign if your goal is to get to Otaru Port.

As mentioned above, the sign has been standing for over 30 years, but Otaru Poot’s days are numbered. A resident brought the mistake to the attention of the city in October, and after making the necessary preparations, the mistake is scheduled to be corrected on December 7.

▼ If you want to take one last look, you’ll need to hurry to the spot marked here.

Of course, there’s still a chance that Otaru’s city administration will eventually come to embrace the legacy of Otaru Poot and commission an anthropomorphic fart mascot character, or perhaps host the next installment of the Let’s All Hear Beautiful Girls’ Farts Together stage performance.

Source: Yomiuri Shimbun via Livedoor News via Jin, Hokkaido Shimbun, Tadatabi Life
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)
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