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From 押しの子, chapter 2:

A guy in this panel holds a sign that reads 30秒前 to singers before their play starts. I initially thought it means "30 seconds ago" but from context, it is best understood as "starting in 30 seconds." If that's case, then why use 30秒前, not 30秒後?

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  • If something starts in 30 seconds, it's 30 seconds before the start now.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Aug 26, 2023 at 23:05

1 Answer 1

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The basic meaning of 前 is not "ago" but "before". 3年前 can mean "3 years ago" if the reference time point is now (i.e., "3 years before now"), which is the default interpretation. However, it can also mean "3 years earlier" when the reference time point is set (either explicitly or implicitly) to somewhere in the past or the future.

With this in mind, you can interpret this sign as "(it's) 30 seconds before (the start)". The reference time point is implicitly the start of the song, not now.

In general, this is how you "count down" in Japanese, and people are accustomed to this pattern from a young age, for example with a rocket launch video. You may argue that 30秒後 would also make sense, but if the sign said something unconventional like 30秒後, the singers would be confused.

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