Japanese an Ideal Language for Twitter?

Have you ever been frustrated by the 140 character limitation on Twitter? If you're tweeting in English, you probably have had to edit and re-edit some tweets to get them to fit. But if you're tsubuyaku-ing in Japanese, probably not. The same 140 character limitation applies in Japanese also, but by virtue of 3 factors of the Japanese language, this small-footprint limitation is no big deal.
Factor #1: Kanji. For those of you not familiar with Japanese, the Kanji are Chinese characters borrowed into the Japanese language centuries ago. These logographic characters each have a specific meaning, like hieroglyphics, and are therefore equivalent to entire words in the western sense. Obviously writing "東京大学" (4 characters) is much shorter than "The University of Tokyo" (23 characters including spaces). But wait. "USC" (3 characters) is shorter than "南カリフォルニア大学" (10 characters) right? Well, sure, but "南カリフォルニア大学" is shorter than "University of Southern California" (33 characters including spaces). Besides, a Japanese person is likely to write "USC" anyway, which brings us to...
Factor #2: Versatility. In Japanese, you have 4 character sets to work with -- Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana and Alphabet. Kanji, as mentioned before, are roughly equivalent to words, and by using them in combinations, create new meanings. Hiragana and Katakana are phonetic characters that correspond to a vowel or consonant-vowel combination. And finally you have the Roman alphabet. Japanese is very flexible in that you can use all these types of characters to get your message across. And with Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana, no spaces are required between words. Very efficient. But is it perfect? Of course not, which leads us to...
Factor #3: Wabi-sabi. A sense of "flawed beauty." The notion that "nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect." One might say that this uniquely Japanese aesthetic is clearly evident in the Japanese language. Sentence fragments are commonplace, as it is considered a virtue not to state what needs not to be stated. By the same token, in Japanese the subject is often missing -- when the "I" or "we" is obvious (to the writer, at least), you simply do not state it because it will come across as crude. Incompleteness is part of the language, part of the culture. When tweeting, this makes for shorter messages. When translating to another language, this can be a real bugger.
All in all, tweets in Japanese can be much more information-packed and entertaining than in English. Compared to the cryptic IMO, BTW, BRB, LOL and RTFLMAO that characterize English tweets, Japanese tweets flow much more naturally and can be much less geeky looking. With such a Twitter-friendly language in place, we look forward to seeing more people here using it for business and for pleasure.

Doug McGowan

Copywriting, Transcreation