I came across this tweet today:

Is this the least confidence-inspiring use of inverted commas ever?

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The English part of the sign has "Safe" and "Comfortable" in inverted commas, and the Japanese part likewise has "安心" (relief, peace of mind) and "快適" (pleasant; agreeable; comfortable) in quotation marks / corner brackets.

I've previously seen people, including native speakers of English, use quotation marks for emphasis in English, though it's listed as a "Word Crime" in "Weird Al" Yankovic's song. Do people use quotation marks for emphasis in Japanese as well?

(Note for non-native speakers of English: Don't worry about the stuff said in "Word Crimes" - it's complaining about mistakes made by native speakers, not those learning it as a second language, and some experts disagree with some of the rules about English espoused in the song)

  • 7
    Haha, that's hilarious!
    – istrasci
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 3:41
  • Yes, though "emphasis" doesn't necessarily mean a straightforward one.
    – user4092
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 7:22
  • Related: boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=682713
    – Pacerier
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 17:49
  • This is common in less-polished Japanese video game translations. Something like, 'A long time ago, in the land of "Astoria", wizards used the power of "mana" to control the economy. One day, King "Lucius" ordered the creation of "Knights of Menace" to ...'
    – Alexey
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 17:43

2 Answers 2


Japanese language doesn't have italics or all-uppercase. Emphasis using square brackets (「」) is natural in Japanese, especially when other means of emphasis (like 傍点 or bolder fonts) is not applicable.

For example, when you have to write in plain-text format, something like this is totally natural:


Such usage of square brackets is also natural in serious novels. (Using katakana ("シタ") is out of the question, by the way. You can't use asterisks (*like this*), either.)

That said, to my eyes, this JAL sign (or at least the Japanese part of it) looks poorly-designed, if not instantly laughable.

Well, I think I understand why this English is funny, although I don't know how many of native English speakers will instantly find this English laughable.

I think "安全" and "快適" in this Japanese sentence are not something that should be strongly emphasized, either. A few Japanese people may actually doubt if the flight is really safe and comfortable.

I believe it's best not to emphasize these words at all, but when I really felt like highlighting these words a bit, there are better ways than brackets, like using a different color or font.

  • 6
    I think it's funny in English because they look like "scare quotes", so it implies that it's not really safe or comfortable.
    – user1478
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 15:34
  • Good to know that. I think one way to simulate that effect in Japanese is to use 二重カギ括弧(『』) instead. It more strongly implies that the content has a special connotation.
    – naruto
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 16:25
  • Perhaps, but I really do not think that any sort of brackets carries the ironic meaning that "scare quotes" have in English. Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 17:39

Yes, we use quotation marks (of our own kinds, not yours) for emphasis all the time.

The kinds we use are 「」、『』、〈〉、《》、〔〕 and there might possibly be more. Just like the rules regarding punctuations, Japanese is more lenient than English. More is left to your own aesthetic preferences in Japanese.

「」 and 『』 are the ones used most often for emphasis -- particularly 「」. These two are also used for direct quotation and showing titles.

〈〉and 《》 are used nearly exclusively for emphasis.

  • 4
    Hmm, do you mind elaborating on how to decide when to use which? For example, if "infinite" is not really "infinite", should we write 「無限」,『無限』,〈無限〉,《無限》, or〔無限〕? What are the difference in nuances between them?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 17:47

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