Here I am living in Japan, working as an English teacher, loving the culture, the food the people and the language. The are times when I stumble with the language and misunderstandings occur because I have a different cultural take on a situation or I just don’t understand what the heck is being said or has been written. This comes with the territory and is to be expected especially when you are in a country that has its own script and very unique language.
However in these modern times Japan has embraced English and the catch phrase “international” has made it very trendy to scatter English words into advertising, signage and conversation with some very interesting outcomes. With more and more foreigners visiting Japan for tourism and work, the Japanese try very hard to have multilingual signs to aid these intrepid world travelers, myself included. I thank them for this and you would think that this would make life much easier but there are times that this can cause more confusion than clarity! If anything it can definitely add a bit of humor into the working day! English seems to have morphed into its own form of Japlish or Engrish.
Some times a simple spelling mistake or confusion in pronunciation can lead to funny situations. Japanese often struggle with the difference between L and R and V and B. I got quite a shock when a student told me he had an “erection” tomorrow. I wondered if this was something one had to schedule in Japan or if this was some kind of perverse come on only to find he referring to a local election and he didn’t know who to “boat” for. The personal confidences continued. While I was hiking in the middle of nowhere and a young man candidly told me he had problems with “bowels” Was he trying to ask me in an indirect way if I had remembered the loo paper? Nope he was talking about English grammar and the use of “a” verses “an” and pronunciation of soft sounds and hard sounds Another Japanese friend was puzzled when her mechanic in NZ suggested she see a doctor after she told him something was wrong with her “crutch”.
It must be said that these kind of mistakes are not only the prerogative of the Japanese. Any foreign language learner will fall into these traps! Heck we all know you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Direct translations from your mother tongue can have embarrassing results. I was once at a morning tea with a group of genteel middle aged ladies. They were asking me about my boyfriend who at this point was my ex. I was trying not to launch into a bitter scathing tirade so in order to say something nice about him I tried to say He was a sportsman and was very fit. The best I good think of was He plays sports which I nailed. For he is very fit I went with a direct translation of “He has a good body”. This resulted in choking sounds and flushed faces and a quick change of subject. Afterwards my host told me what I said meant he was very good in bed. Whoops!
A friend whose husband was in the diplomatic service and posted to Japan was entertaining a group of distinguished guests. She was talking about their stint in Pakistan and talking about how she had to wear full purdah when off the compound. She wanted to say if she had to live like that forever she would probably suffer a mental breakdown, (Mental illness = sei shin byou) She left out the “shin” and said she would probably suffer from some kind of “sei byou” Unfortunately for her this means a Sexually Transmitted Disease!
The spelling mistakes can just be amusing, sometimes confusing or just give a whole new meaning to bath time in Japan.
The compulsion to use English randomly in signage can sometimes be quite amusing when a completely inappropriate word is used. Merry Poo is a dog salon. Who knows maybe it was meant to be pooch? Maybe they offer colonic irrigation for the dog on a health kick? Word association games don’t seem to be a strong point with the Japanese. What do you think of when I say Christmas? Christmas tree? Christmas bells? Christmas cake? Oops I know “wonderfully throbbing Christmas!” Then of course after Christmas comes the sales! yep you know the ones, those F #%$&n’ sales. Actually thinking about this I am not sure that it as inappropriate as I originally thought! I hate the Christmas sales plus they have been known to give me a throbbing headache! And of course those burgers! I can just see all my high school students on their study trip in Australia complimenting their homestay mum on her culinary skills. “Thanks for dinner, They were f#$%&ing yummy Hamburger” Yep and it’s me who will wear it. I went over plurals so many times in class!
Sometimes there is just a blurb of superfluous English for the hell of it. Maybe they think it just looks cool or something. Usually it’s just daft! I don’t think that is the name of the restaurant but if it is, it needs rethinking. They had me at Mother’s Room. I thought it was a feeding, nappy changing station but the waffle suggests Mum and dad dump the baby there and go off shopping! Sounds a tad irresponsible to me. The Pizza? Sounds like they are doing better than Ikea with the Horse meat – meat ball scare.
Clothing often has weird English words or nonsensical phrases written on it. Sometimes just silly and sometimes unwelcome suggestions and absolutely something you wouldn’t want your daughter to be wearing! .
Then there are the well meaning signs that are often so convoluted I haven’t got a clue what they mean and I actually have to read the Japanese to figure it out! I am not sure if this is due to Google Translate which does have a lot to answer for at times or an over inflated sense of importance and the certainty that the very important message they are trying to convey must be said with as many words as possible,
I won’t translate this all but # 1 should read something along the lines of. While walking your dog in this park please keep it on lead at all times. The actual Japanese is closer to – You may think your pet is cute but there are people who are afraid of animals like dogs so please refrain from letting your dog run free and keep on a tight lead. In other words what I said to start with.
#2 Is basically Please pick up your doggy do, take it home and dispose of it appropriately.
This makes you sound like some kind of walking smoked cheese and it sounds like there is a smoking section that you are not allowed to smoke in. Makes a nice change from the non smoking sections that you can smoke right next to! It should read, This is a smoke free building. Smokers are asked to smoke in the outside smoking area.
My favourites are the ones I get but are wrong. Cute but wrong.
It’s all in good fun and for the most part Communication is achieved. While we chuckle at these signs and giggle at the mistakes and faux pas it does pay to keep in mind all those foreigners (gaijin) out there wandering around with badly written or mis-formed Kanji or worse yet something that makes absolutely no sense at all inked on their skin for life. At least the Japanese can take that silly shirt off at the end of the day! Swings and round abouts dear friends, swings and round abouts.
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu