I was going back through some old pictures of mine and came across some funny, Japanese English gyms. For those who have been here for quite some time, you probably know quite well that you’re bound to bump into some silly English word or phrase. This is the reason I love smart phones so much. Often you encounter the craziest Japenglish expressions when you’re least expecting to.
From Business logos, to t-shirts, to products, to marketing promotions, to commercials, to acting scripts (oh my lord, don’t get me started, lol), instances of botched English are pretty darn widespread in Japan. I guess a good question to ask is “Why?” Why is it that you can find so many errors? I don’t think there are a number of reasons for it.
One reason is really simple: Japanese and English are two VERY different languages. On the word level, some words just don’t translate the same way into English and vice versa. For example the word yoroshiku (よろしく) is one of those fuzzy, Japanese words. I have seen the word definted as “please treat me favorably,” or “best regards,” but I don’t think it’s that clean-cut. Likewise, there are also Japanese phrases that just don’t translate exactly into English. If I asked you what “Ostukaresamadeshita (おつかれさまでした) means.” You might say it means “Thank you for your hard work” in English, but I don’t think it’s an exact translation, right? These are two of potentially hundreds (dare I say thousands) of phrases that don’t translate exactly into English. Also, when you consider English and Japanese are grammatically flip-flopped, it adds another whole set of issues and hence the funny-ass English expressions.
Another possible reason for the problem is that honestly don’t think people check with a native speaker before okaying these things. Companies have deadlines and I’m sure Japanese workers are often under the gun to get projects completed. Once it sounds good to them, I think they just go with it. I remember many of my adult English students kept saying “I’m a safety driver.” I would hear this over, and over, and over again. Turns out that many students picked this up this very saying from a car commercial (I can’t remember which Japanese car company made the ad, but it was one of the big ones). Did they mean to say I’m a safe driver? I drive safely? I would have to watch the ad to be sure, but students started adopting this as natural English and it wasn’t exactly correct.
One additional reason I might offer is that, from the outside looking in, your Japanese product solely having English associated with it alters your product’s perception. It adds an element of “cool” or “class” to your product. I mentioned before that the younger generation has a perception of English or foreign being cool. Am I wrong? But in America we do the same thing. That’s why things written in kanji are unique, so it sets your product apart. Is that why so many people opt to get kanji tattoos?
Based on cultural differences alone, you’re going end up find some English advertising, comedic gold right here in Japan. For example…nah I’m going to patient and save the funny examples for the pictures below.
Lastly, Japan is growing and attempting to be progressively more global. While I think this is going to be a very long, very slow process, it will happen. While it’s happening, as more and more Japanese people learn English, as more and more foreigners learn Japanese, let’s take the time to pause, step back, and laugh our heads off at some of the funny stuff that we do see from time to time. Take a look at these pictures:
How about you? Come across any funny Japenglish lately? If so, please share it! You can even post pictures in the comments section below!
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