The Japanese language has absorbed countless English words and phrases over the years, so it’s common to see English everywhere in Japan: on signs, on menus, in games, in advertisements, and so on.
But when these foreign words get absorbed, they often change meaning and usage until they become something new – a sort of “Japanese-style English”. There’s one really good example of this that can be seen almost everywhere in Japan: the English word “let’s”.
In English, we tend to rely on command forms of verbs to persuade people into doing things. As an example, if you look at most English-language ads, you’ll notice that they give you direct commands: “Get the power!” “Act now!” “Sleep better!” “Taste the rainbow!”
Nike is to be obeyed
I apologize if this gets stuck in your head again
Mattel tells children what to do
Billy Mays here with a voice you can still hear in your head
Just look at how many direct commands this ad gives!
Everything in this Netflix ad (except the name "Netflix") is a direct command to persuade you to use their service
Of course, not everything is like this. But the next time you see a commercial, keep an eye out for the wording they use!
In Japanese, though, persuasion relies more heavily on suggestions and recommendations: “it would be good if you ___”, “how about ___”, or “you should ___”. Invitations are another major form of Japanese persuasion: “let’s ___”. In fact, such invitations are so common that Japanese ads use the English word “let’s” everywhere:
A commercial for a Bugles-style corn snack goes all out with the "let's" approach
"Let's" also lends a fancy, exotic vibe in some situations
Pretty much anywhere you look in Japan, you'll see "let's". I wonder what the average "Time to Let's" is for people who visit Japan
A government agency uses "let's" to try to keep the elderly from becoming infirm and senile
The word “let’s” is such a force in the Japanese language that it’s even used as a name for everything from restaurants to businesses to beverages:
A Japanese cafe named "Let's" and a studio named "Let's" share the same building
Whenever the Japanese language absorbs a foreign word, the word changes a bit. In this case, any standard English grammar associated with “let’s” is discarded entirely. For example, it’s extremely common to add a noun right after a Japanese “let’s”:
"Let's Coffee Time"
"Let's Tensai Terebi-kun"
It’s also common to see a Japanese “let’s” followed by a verb ending in “-ing”:
It's also normal to see punctuation used after a "let's" when it doesn't normally make sense in English
A restaurant advertises its unique service that involves "dinner hopping"
The "let's ___ing" form is so strong it's even absorbed Japanese back into it!
After a while, seeing so many "let's" wears you down until you barely even notice smaller issues like this one
The reason “let’s” is used in this new way is that the Japanese volitional form allows for nouns, unlike in English. In other words, the English word “let’s” gets used in a way that follows Japanese grammar rules and not English grammar.
For more details about the Japanese volitional form, see here.
This new form of “let’s” has actually been around a long time. It appeared in the earliest Japanese video games and regularly appears in games released today. Below are some examples of “let’s” in action:
A basic, early example of "let's" in Japanese game - this one is from 1979
The arcade version of Crazy Balloon prominently features a Japanese-style "let's"
The phrase "Let's Play" is in so many Japanese games, especially old hobby games and old arcade games
This "let's" is a good example of the "invitation" style of Japanese persuasion
"Let's Begin" in an old Japanese gaming magazine ad
What would we normally say in English here? Something like "Now try the next level"? Maybe something like "Try again on a harder difficulty"?
Sometimes "let's" accidentally turns into "let" as seen here
Another "let" in action
The original Super Mario Bros. 2 features a "let's" invitation after you unlock some secret levels
Vroom in the Night Sky for the Nintendo Switch demonstrates that "Let's" continues to live on
If you're a gamer, you've probably encountered "let's challenge!" at some point, whether you remember or not - it's that common in games
"Let's" is an example of why it's not always best to leave English text as-is when translating a Japanese game. The Japanese language basically has its own English that should be considered separate from "proper English", so it should be treated as such in translation.
If you find any other examples of “let’s” in Japanese video games, let’s let me know so I can add them to this list!