Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Engrish Panel

With our program coming to an end, we decided to do a review of some of the Engrish we had collected over the past few weeks. This week, we decided to interview some of the local and foreign exchange students of Senshu University. Because we were curious about whether or not other people perceive Engrish as we do (that it is absolutely hilarious), we chose three of our favourite samples of Engrish from three categories (T-shirts, Products, and Signs) and asked the following questions:


Would you want to buy this shirt? Why?
(For Canadian students) If you wore this shirt in Canada, what do you think people would think?


Would you be more inclined to buy this product if the packaging was purely in Japanese Or would you still prefer this Engrish version? Why?
What would you think if this product was being sold in a Canadian store?


If you saw Engrish on a Japanese restaurant versus a Western style restaurant, do your feelings differ between the two?
Would you ever go into an Engrish establishment simply because it has Engrish? Why or why not?
What’s your opinion of the sign?

Our basis for asking these questions was to look into how Engrish was perceived by both Westerners and Japanese people and to see how their perceptions differ. For instance, some Westerners may buy t-shirts or other products with Engrish simply because they are humourous, whereas Japanese people may not have such inclinations. Additionally, we were curious whether or not Engrish affects people’s perceptions about the quality of a product (for instance, does bad Engrish give the impression of poor quality?). In addition, our panel was asked to rate the Engrish samples from 1-10 (1 being boring, 10 being absolutely hilarious). We received some interesting responses, so without further ado, let’s introduce our panel.

Alex “Masuda” Henderson, Ovid “The Crusher” Kwok, and あい (Ai)

And now, their responses.


Our panel had differing opinions on our t-shirt samples. While Alex and Ovid both expressed an interest in purchasing some, if not all, of the t-shirts we showed them, Ai’s feelings were the opposite. Her reason was that she could read and understand the awkward English on the shirt, and would feel shy to wear the shirt in public. However, she did note that if she wore these shirts, people in Japan would probably focus solely on the typography and style of the words, and not so much the meaning. In this regard, she mentioned that if she were to buy a shirt, she would prefer the “Adventure Family” or “Let’s stop the order” shirts because their texts are very small and their words are longer (respectively), which would put less focus on the meaning of the words and more on the shirt’s style.

Alex and Ovid, on the other hand, found some of the shirts quite funny and would purchase them purely for humour. However, they noted that if they were to wear the shirts in Japan, people would not probably give any special attention to the shirt, given that they are so common in Japan. Ai gave the same opinion; it seems that in Japan, at least, such Engrish on t-shirts is prevalent enough that Japanese people don’t give them a second thought. However, we were curious as to whether Alex and Ovid thought Canadians would find these shirts weird if they wore them in Canada. While Alex thought that Canadians would think the shirt would be hilarious, or that she was “special” if she wore it, Ovid thought that the response from Canadians wouldn’t differ that much from Japanese people. Our initial thought was that because Canadians would easily see the errors in the English, they may find the shirt weird and thus get a different impression of the person wearing it than if that person were wearing a normal shirt.

The final ratings for the shirts (Alex, Ovid, and Ai’s scores out of 10, respectively)

Food Revolution:                    7,         8.5,     8
Let’s stop the order thinking: 6,         9,         5
Adventure Family:                  8,         5,         5


Our initial hypothesis was that people may get a different impression about a product depending on whether it had Japanese on it or funny Engrish. For the Geraid hair wax, the Canadians on our panel seemed to agree with us. Alex mentioned that if the wax was found in Canada, people would probably think that it would be of lower quality compared to other products, while Ovid noted that people would think it was a no-name brand and probably wouldn’t buy it. Another common theme in their opinions was buying products like Foot Pee! purely as a joke, and the fact that the Engrish on these products made their functions confusing. For instance, both Alex and Ovid wondered why on Earth you would use the Geraid hair wax for your skin and hair, as is suggested on the packaging; additionally, neither had any idea what the Foot Pee! was used for).

Ai, on the other hand, said she would prefer purchasing a Japanese version of the Geraid hair wax and callus remover rather than buying the ones shown with Engrish. For her, the Japanese version would seem more reliable, partly because she doesn’t understand the English on the product very well. While our previous posts involving interviews with Japanese students have reported that Engrish on Japanese products is used mainly to look good or act stylistically, Ai’s feedback seems to suggest that the presence of English on certain products is not enough to sway Japanese consumers from purchasing a certain product. In other words, looks alone do not sell.

While speaking of looks and the use of English to make products more appealing, Ai gave some interesting insight on the Foot Pee! product. Apparently, the exclamation mark is supposed to double as a lowercase “L”, so that the name actually reads, “Foot Peel!” The product is actually like a face mask, except for your feet: after you put it on and peel it off, your feet should be smooth. Thus, this product is a classic example of the stylistic use of English in Japan, and the (seemingly unintended) humour that can result.

With that said, here are the panellists’ scores for the above Engrish in products (Alex, Ovid, and Ai’s scores out of 10, respectively):

Geraid hair wax: 7      5          10
Foot Pee!:           9       8          10
Callus remover: 7        3          2


Our Engrish samples in this category came from department stores and a restaurant. In the case of the restaurant, we were interested to see whether or not people would perceive Engrish in Japanese restaurants differently from Engrish in Western-themed restaurants (that is, do people have the expectation that Western-themed restaurants would have better English in signs, and thus would be more critical or find more humour if the restaurant had Engrish in it?). Again, the use of “Pee” was found—this time, in a sign for a wine bar. When asked whether they would have differing opinions on Engrish in Japanese versus Western-themed restaurants, Alex and Ai answered no, and would probably have the same reaction to both. In Ai’s case, she wouldn’t think much of the Engrish—she would just assume it’s a normal restaurant name. However, Ovid thought that Western-style restaurants should probably have proper English, while Engrish on Japanese restaurants is not as unexpected. In addition, both Ovid and Alex noted that they would probably go into an establishment solely because of its Engrish for humour’s sake. In this sense, the Western perspective on Engrish becomes clear: it’s very funny—sometimes so funny that you just have to go into the restaurant or buy the product that has Engrish on it just so you can say that you did. By contrast, Ai noted that she would not go into an establishment solely because it had English on it, which again shows that the supposedly cool use of English may not be enough of a selling point to attract Japanese customers.

The second picture, which had a sign reading, “I really don’t know how to apologize to you. Please move to other cash registers,” elicited some interesting observations. As Alex nicely put it, the Engrish seems to be a translation of a perfectly normal Japanese phrase that can’t be translated literally into English without sounding unusual and funny. The inherent message is obvious: the cash register is closed, and the cashier is asking the customer to use a different register. However, this Engrish acts as a typical example of the cultural differences between Japan and Canada. In Japan, where manners and respect are highly regarded, it is extremely important to speak humbly, which often leads to very indirect, roundabout conversations or explanations. This cultural aspect is clearly evident in the Engrish here: rather than simply saying the register is closed, the sign emphasizes respect towards the customer in its apology and the often indirect style of communication found in Japan that carries a very humble tone.

When Ai saw this sign, she did not see anything unusual about it; in fact, she found it rather interesting that we saw it as humourous, whereas she wouldn’t have paid any specific attention to it. The same applied for the last sign we showed our panellists, which asked customers to purchase only one item per person. Here, the humour derives from the choppy writing and odd grammar, and while Alex and Ovid gave relatively high scores for this sign, Ai only gave a score of 2.

The final scores for the signs category: (Alex, Ovid, and Ai’s scores out of 10, respectively):

Pee Wine Bar: (Forgot to get Alex’s and Ovid’s score)         8
I don’t know how to apologize:                                             8          6          2
Please buy only one item:                                                       7          7.5       2

An interesting aside: One thing we hadn’t found out was how Japanese people felt when foreigners laughed at Engrish they thought was funny. When we asked Ai whether or not she felt offended as a Japanese person in such situations, she said no; such humour was 大丈夫. As she put it, most Japanese people don’t know English very well, so it’s expected that mistakes will happen when they try to use English. In this regard, parallels could be drawn to our learning of Japanese: when we communicate with other Japanese students, it is guaranteed that we’ll use broken Japanese with humourous results, yet we won’t feel offended if others find it funny. And while we may feel a bit shy in such situations as we are unaware of our own mistakes, Ai noted that she would feel shy in similar situations when she uses English. However, as Ai assured us, any concern for offense can be dismissed.


Given that humour is deeply influenced by one’s culture, it’s not surprising that for some of the Engrish surveyed here, we got a different response from Ai compared to Alex and Ovid. While Ai did find some of the Engrish humourous after we explained it to her, she noted that if it weren’t for our explanations, she wouldn’t have noticed any humour in the Engrish. Taking this in consideration with the comments received by other Japanese students we’ve interviewed, it may be said that the Engrish that is becoming more pervasive in Japan often goes unnoticed by Japanese people—at least in terms of its meaning. When used in marketing or in fashion, it is meant to give a cooler look, but as Ai’s comments show, not all Japanese people will buy a shirt or enter a restaurant or other shop just because it has English on it. That is, the use of English does not always convey a sense of greater reliability or quality.

More generally, our findings over the past weeks have shown that the Engrish in Japan sometimes offers a distinct reflection of Japanese culture, especially in long-winded, indirect translations that reflect the humble tone adopted by Japanese people when communicating with each other. While the translation may be accurate compared to the original Japanese, it sounds funny to Western ears, showing how cross-cultural communication usually doesn’t work if it’s simply translated literally without considering the cultural aspects inherent in a language.
To everyone in the Senshu program, it’s been a blast! Thanks for reading; now let’s make the most of our last day!

Monday, May 24, 2010

What’s in a name? Engrish in Store Names

After looking back at some of the pictures we had taken of Engrish during our time in Japan, we came across an unused stash of many weird store names from MYLORD, a large shopping complex located within the Shinjuku station. According to their website, the name MYLORD was taken from the old English greeting used towards people of higher status. However, what struck us as really odd was the seemingly random nature of the store names, which incorporated odd punctuation, irregular capitalization and fonts, and strange word choices that did not give much information as to what kind of stores they were.

Thus, for this week, we decided to investigate the opinions of native Japanese students regarding these store names, and whether they, like us, found them odd and humorous, or perfectly normal names. Our interviewees (a.k.a. guinea pigs) for the week: Konomi, Mi-chan, and Fumiya, who graciously gave up some of their time to answer our questions (credit goes to Abby for giving us the idea to do a questionnaire in her contribution to our blog).

The following MYLORD store names were used in the interview:
E hyphen world gallery
Rid.dle... from
as know as de base
mysty woman
cactus ..cepo.
Ducky Duck/パスタ&ケーキ
leap lippin
Dip Drops
Earth music&ecology
unlogical opinion
iro-mi-ne by ITS' DEMO

To further our findings, we decided to also get the opinions of our interviewees on names of stores found in Market Mall back in Calgary. To that end, we decided on the following list of names for comparison:
The O Zone
Things Engraved
The Total Look
Twisted Goods
Hot Gossip
iviwa athletica
Please Mum
RW & Co.

1.      What are your thoughts regarding the Japanese store names? Do they sound cool or appealing? Do they sound awkward? Are there any reasons why you think this?

Konomi didn’t find the names funny/strange; rather, she noted that the names sounded very normal, while we found the names to be strange and a mish-mash of gibberish. However, she also noted that the names were not very meaningful, a common theme amongst many Japanese stores, where the purpose of the English name is to merely sound (and look) cool, rather than be informative. Like us, she said that Japanese people really didn’t interpret any meaning from the names; most people simply take them at face value.

Mi-chan was a special case because his major is English, and thus has a relatively firm grasp of the language. Like Konomi, he commented that Japanese people find these names to be relatively normal, and tend not to pay attention to the meaning behind store names, mostly because they can’t translate or understand the English name, and so only pay attention to the visual appeal of the name. This may explain why some stores use awkward punctuation and word choices, such as Rid.dle... from, Ducky Duck, and LaZY SwaN; while we may find the random use of periods and capitalizations odd, it’s relatively obvious that they would offer a greater visual appeal not seen in Western storm names. Ducky Duck is a particularly notable example of lack of meaning in Japanese store names—contrary to our initial belief, it is actually a pasta and pizza restaurant that serves no duck whatsoever. Here, the name derives its appeal merely from its sound.

In his personal opinion, Mi-chan didn’t find the names appealing or cool, mostly because he is an English major and can clearly see the lack of meaning in the names. As well, Fumiya thought Japanese store names lacked meaning, similar to what Konomi and Mi-chan thought.

2.      What are your thoughts regarding the Canadian store names? Do they sound cool or appealing? Do they sound awkward? Are there any reasons why you think this?

All three interviewees thought that the Canadian store names had more meaning than the Japanese names; in particular, Konomi found Things Engraved to be rather informative. However, Mi-chan noted that these meanings did not seem very deep at all, and when asked whether he found them funny or awkward in the same manner as we found Japanese store names funny and awkward, he merely said that he was neutral towards them and didn’t find them particularly funny or awkward when compared to the Japanese store names. Fumiya also thought that the Canadian store names were more serious compared to the Japanese store names.

3.      If you had different feelings or thoughts when you read the Japanese and Canadian store names, could you explain how you found them different, and why you had different feelings?

In all cases, each person had a different feeling when they read the Japanese store names in comparison to the Canadian store names. However, there was an interesting contrast in how they found the names different and why they elicited different reactions within them. Konomi felt that the Japanese store names were simpler than the Canadian store names, while Mi-chan though that the Japanese store names were harder to read than their Canadian counterparts. Both, however, found the Canadian names more appealing due to the fact that they used correct English, which gave a totally different feeling in Konomi’s opinion. For Mi-chan, the use of correct English helped him understand and read the store names more easily. In Mi-chan’s opinion, however, other Japanese people would find the complicated Japanese store names more appealing than the Canadian names due to the fact that they use unorthodox English, which seems cooler.

For us, we felt the Japanese names gave a totally different feeling compared to the Canadian names, mostly because we couldn’t understand the names, nor get any sort of meaning out of the names (for instance, Carolynn thought LOWRYS FARM was a pet shop of some sort when it was a clothing store, while Alex, as a biology major, thought RNA MEDIA was very humorous because RNA stands for ribonucleic acid in biology). In this sense, we related to Mi-chan’s point of view the best.

4.      Which 3 Japanese store names do you find the most appealing? The most awkward/confusing/funny?

Konomi found X-girl, RNA Media, and Earth music&ecology the most appealing, whereas  Ducky Duck, Crisp, and POU DOU DOU VINGT-TROIS made Mi-chan’s top 3 most appealing list. For Konomi, Earth music&ecology sounded cool, whereas for Mi-chan, Ducky Duck was merely funny, Crisp was odd, and POU DOU DOU VINGT-TROIS was appealing because he couldn’t understand what it was supposed to mean.

For the most awkward names, Rid.dle... from, mysty woman, and POU DOU DOU VINGT-TROIS made Konomi’s top 3, while Mi-chan chose Earth music&ecology and as know as de base. It was interesting to see that Mi-chan and Konomi had opposite opinions on Earth music&ecology and POU DOU DOU VINGT-TROIS. Unlike Konomi, Mi-chan found the use of “ecology” in Earth music&ecology strange and humorous given the fact that the store sold clothes. For Konomi, Rid.dle... from was awkward given the difficulty in reading the name.

5.      Which 3 Canadian store names do you find the most appealing? The most awkward/confusing/funny?

Hot Gossip made the top 3 for both Konomi and Mi-chan, with Konomi rounding off her list with RW & Co. and Skoah and Mi-chan with Please Mum and The Total Look. Both thought Hot Gossip sounded cool, while Mi-chan chose Please Mum because he found it humorous.
For the most awkward names, Mi-chan chose Skoah, RW & Co. and Vireo, whereas Konomi chose The O Zone and The Total Look. Here, we again found differing opinions between the most awkward and most appealing names in the cases of Skoah, The Total Look, and RW & Co. From our perspective, we found some of the Canadian names rather uninformative and couldn`t really tell whether or not the names had any specific meaning; thus, while Japanese store names may seem odd to us in their reliance on visual and aural appeal, the same can be said of Canadians store names which, in retrospect, could very well be indistinguishable from some Japanese store names (e.g. Hot Gossip or Skoah). As an aside, Mi-chan and Konomi both found TABI to be very interesting as たび in Japanese means “trip” (in the sense of travel).
While Westerners would likely find the Engrish in Japanese store names to be random and incomprehensible, the Japanese don`t see anything particularly odd in the names. Our interviewees shared a common opinion with us when they saw no specific meaning in the store names, and found Canadian names more meaningful and appealing. The interviews also re-emphasized a previous point made in earlier posts: that the use of English in aspects of Japanese society such as marketing tends to focus purely on the visual appeal of the English rather than any particular meaning.

While this Engrish is fodder for humour from a Western perspective, the West is by no means guiltless in the misuse of other languages, including Japanese. This is evident in an example Konomi brought up in regards to a comparison between our interpretation of Engrish as Westerners and the Japanese perspective on the use of kanji in Western society—namely, through t-shirts. Just as Japanese stores use English in order to sound cool, Westerners sometimes buy t-shirts or other paraphernalia containing cool-looking kanji merely for style and appeal. However, we don’t think about the meaning of the kanji, and Konomi noted that Japanese people find it odd when they see Westerners with kanji t-shirts that make absolutely no sense, just as Westerners find English on store names weird. Thus, language misuse may be more universal than we previously believed.
By Carolynn and Alex

Engrish in Japanese Fashion: English, T-shirts, and Babies

Although Engrish can be seen in every corner of Japan, it can be most commonly seen on clothes. On many of the trendy stretches of urban Tokyo, such as Shibuya and Harajuku, hundreds of teenagers and style gurus don fashionable clothes plastered with bolded English words. Whether or not the English makes sense isn’t the issue, all these young Japanese care about is how cool it looks.

This week, we decided to research the prevalence of Engrish in Japanese fashion because we believe clothes are one of the best ways for young people to openly express their values, attitudes, and beliefs. We will be looking to answer several questions: are the wearers aware of the mistaken English? Do they know the meaning of the English on their clothes or just see the English words as an artistic image? Do they prefer clothes with English written on them, and why?

To answer these questions, we asked several Japanese people for their opinions on several T-shirts with English words splashed across them. Dan’s conversation partner Keita actually often wore shirts with Engrish phrases on them. This is one of them:

Although the English on this shirt is spelt correctly with somewhat proper grammar, it semantically makes little sense. It was interesting, however, to find out the Keita (the Japanese student wearing the shirt) was both unaware and apathetic to the meaning of the English. When asked, he stated that he only bought such shirts simply for the design, regardless of what the English meant. It appears that to many Japanese people, English is part of the design itself, existing as an artistic pattern of shapes instead of as portraying a messaging. The function of English as an artistic device can be seen by the broken letters at the bottom of the shirt. These scrambled and nonsensical letters are simply part of the design, and clearly not meant to portray any kind of meaning. Keita coming to the decision to buy the shirt is evidence enough that such artistic use of English appeals to young Japanese people.

In comparison to the shirt below:

When we asked Keita whether he would rather purchase this shirt or his “Torrid Love” shirt, and why, he said that this white shirt had too much awkward, lengthy English for it to be appealing to him. He said the wordy blocks of text are not very visually appealing, and thus, he would always choose a shirt with simple, short, and bolded words. That said, he mentioned that the English was more of a compliment to the shirts design, and that the actual design and pattern on the shirt is the primary thing he looks for when making a purchase.

This shirt simply just a clutter of random English sentences, and does not really make any sense at all. One of the lines reads, “The Believe Thing is Therell”. Clearly this line is rife with spelling and grammar mistakes, but according to Keita, the mistaken English isn’t the issue at all. Instead it’s the fact that this plain, script-like English is on a simple white shirt with no appealing pattern or cool design to compliment it. Because Keita (and presumably many other Japanese people), search for a stylish design first, and views English as just a nice addition, he stated that he would never purchase this shirt. In fact, this shirt was on sale with an excess supply, which might imply Keita’s opinion in fact the opinion of many other Japanese people.

This is another shirt that uses English in a way that is appealing to Japanese youth. Its bold neon words are very stylish to a Japanese person, even though in English it makes no sense and even misspells the word “body” as “bady”. When we asked a several Japanese people which T shirt they would prefer, the Japanese boys said that the colours were almost a prerequisite for them to buy a shirt.

When we asked the Japanese girls, they said that in high school they bought many shirts similar to this one because at that time they had fewer English-speaking friends. They thought that the English on clothes was very cool, which leads us to further conclude that the actual meaning of the English does not matter to Japanese consumers.

This next picture brings up the question of culture differences:

Although the English on this shirt appears to be correct, its meaning is fairly ambiguous. When we asked some Japanese students to translate the phrase “I feel happiness when I eat a potato,” they used the word, 幸せinstead of うれしい. The difference between these terms is that if one is うれしい they have temporary satisfaction, whereas if one is幸せthere is nothing they would rather be doing at that moment. 幸せ is a sort of lasting happiness. Thus, these shirts are saying that potatoes are the key to lasting happiness, as children are so easily satisfied. We think that the designers of these shirts simply wanted a short English phrase to make children look cute. We do not think that the designers really wanted to portray any deep message concerning happiness, as it says “I feel happiness”, as if the child is saying it.

In conclusion, we found that many Japanese people do not care about the correctness of English on their T-shirts. They pay more attention to the design, patterns, and colours of the shirt. English merely acts as a compliment to a shirt’s design. Also we can safely conclude that English IS simply just an artistic tool used by designers, and not a medium to communicate messages.

By Brenda and Dan

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Engrish in Convenience Stores: Quick, Functional and Delicious

This week, we explored the variety of Engrish present in the nearby Welpark convenience store, and found a bountiful supply. While some examples of grammatically correct and easily understandable English were discovered, many of the products had either quirky, grammatical error-ridden Engrish or ambiguous, overly flowery descriptions of their products. Not all types of products had Engrish in them (for instance, we found no English at all in any medicinal or healthcare products) but one of the first things we noticed was the prevalence of Engrish in beauty/hygiene products. For instance, we found this Engrish on a container of hair wax.

Firstly, note the prevalence of fragments in this Engrish. In many of the examples we found, a common error was the use of fragments rather than complete sentences. In other places, our classmates have found Engrish such as, “Take Free,” and “24 Open” made up of fragmented sentences. A possible explanation for this could be the fast-paced culture in Japan, as well as the way in which Japanese people view English on products, signs, etc. Dan’s conversation partner, Keita, noted that direct English which gets its message across in as few words as possible is much cooler than proper English with prepositions, pronouns, and other “unnecessary” particles. In this manner, all the short, fragmented Engrish we’ve seen, such as, “Claim of wild & beautiful,” may be more eye-catching for Japanese consumers, even though we find it a humorous and odd description. Certainly, it gets its message across succinctly despite the grammatical mistakes; while “claim” is a rather unorthodox word choice, you understand that the product is trying to sell itself by claiming that it will make you attractive. This is another example:

On this product, the “unnecessary” English particles that would make it a comprehensible sentence have been omitted. In this way, the removal of such words has rendered its meaning fairly ambiguous. For example, does “for beauty body” mean the drink is only for beautiful people, or that it will give you a beautiful body? Hence, the cost of making this sentence more appealing to Japanese people is that it makes it less understandable to English speakers. According to many of our Japanese friends, few Japanese people even read such Engrish on the products they are buying, and many do not understand it at all. There is definitely some irony to it.

Having said that short, succinct English is seen as cooler by Japanese people, it should be noted that from a North American perspective, these “short” phrases may actually seem long and redundant when taken as a whole. For instance, while the three fragments used above are short in themselves, the overall description is relatively long and heavy-handed, possibly because of the choppy nature of the sentences.

This label should say something along the lines of “Gives you dry, beautiful hair. The blended ingredients are gentle on your hair.” This is simply a grammatical error that could be correct given the proper attention. It appears that this sample is suffering from the direct application of Japanese grammar rules to the English language. This is evident from the presence of verbs at the end of the sentence, as it does in Japanese, in comparison to English where verb and noun order is much more variable and flexible.

In other cases, the phrasing is overtly long and filled with flowery language that can easily be misinterpreted by English speakers because of the gaping cultural divide between Japan and the West. This can be seen in other examples we found.

This product is one rife with one long winded sentence that takes away from its impact.

Here, this product repeatedly mentions the improvement of your “laundering experience” by using their detergent. Indeed many of the labels focus on providing an enhanced experience by using their product, as opposed to getting enhanced results from using it. It describes experiences, such as doing laundry, which in Western societies would be very mundane and may not possibly be conceived as being a pleasant experience at all. Clearly, there is a focus on making everyday chores more enjoyable, as opposed to the Western concept of getting them done as fast as possible. This is reflected in such Western mentality by results-based thinking, with most of our products being advertized as being able to achieve better results, faster. In Japan, the focus is on the process, and not merely the results.


In conclusion, we found that most of the Engrish products were in the cosmetics and hygiene sections. These sections of the store had a larger amount of domestic Japanese products and few Western ones. The Engrish was generally made up of either short, choppy fragments or run-on sentences that offered unnecessarily long descriptions that were abundant with errors.

After talking with many Japanese friends, we found that although we may find Engrish humorous, Western society is just as guilty of butchering foreign languages. For instance, one of our friends, Yuta, recalled a time when he saw a foreigner with the word 冷蔵庫 (refrigerator) tattooed onto his arm. Just as the Japanese may find contracted English as cool, Westerners find meaningless kanji just as appealing, and are just as prone to using them in awkward ways.

By Alex and Dan

Week 2: Exploration of Magazines

By Jun and Carolynn

This week, we decided to look for engrish and the usage of katakana in magazines. We read various magazines, such as fashion, entertainment and English magazines. We felt that the magazines tend to use katakana to express things. We saw that it was mostly fashion magazines that used katakana. We wondered why those magazines prefer Katakana to Kanji. We didn't believe that it is because the Katakana is easy to write because the magazines are printed and not hand written. Therefore, we felt that there should be some other reasons for the use of Katakana in place of Kanji. In addition, we also found some engrish in the magazines we looked at. The following paragraphs will provide an explanation of our thoughts and discoveries.

The first magazine we read is called, “Real Design”, which focuses on interior design for offices and information about office supplies. This magazine is targeted toward office people. We believe that this magazine provides monthly updates on the latest products and designs. There are many terms written in Katakana.

For example, the organic cotton is written as “オーガニックコットン”, but there are kanji that can be used for this term, “有機綿 (ゆうきめん)”. We thought that the cotton is similar to soy milk, because the kanji “有機” can be used to describe organic soy milk, and we wondered why these two Kanji cannot be used for the words “organic cotton”.

The people who read this magazine want to be technology savvy, or professional in the topic of office design and are looking for the latest information. Sometimes, the term is from English and has not been translated into Japanese (Kanji), so the katakana will be used to translate from English phonetically into Katakana. As a result, the magazine tends to use a lot of Katakana.

The second magazine is “オリスタOnly star”, which focuses on celebrities, dramas, and movies. This magazine is targeting toward the young people who are interested in the entertainment market.

Those young people do not use Kanji very often and they feel that it is more convenient to use Katakana. They usually type in Katakana when they are sending email to their friends because they feel it is cool to use Katakana. They think that Katakana is closer to English, and they feel they are trendy when using English. Those people are more inclined to understand the English meaning of the Katakana. Therefore, the magazine will use more Katakana in order to attract those young readers.

For example, they use “アートレス”as artist , while they do not use “歌手” which has the same meaning. They even change the hiragana word into katakana, such as “カッコイイ” instead of “かっこいい”. In order to attract the young readers’ attention, katakana is also added after the Kanji words, so those people can better understand the katakana. For instance, in the term “ 厳選(げんせん)ピック”, 厳選(げんせん)means “top-pick”, but they also add ピック(pick) after. We felt that because the kanji term is difficult to understand for young people, katakana is more attractive and easier to read.

The third magazine is called “Hanako”. This magazine is about the beauty and health for women.

The ladies who are concerned about their health, beauty, life quality, and lifestyle are the major readers for this magazine. Those ladies are well educated and are interested in the most recent information about those topics, which is the same as the first magazine’s readers. Therefore, Hanako magazine is more likely to have a lot terms written in Katakana, so those intelligent ladies can understand more easily than other people. The magazine is probably providing those ladies the feeling that they are in higher level of knowledge about those certain topics. For example, they use “ミネラルコスメ”, which means mineral cosmetics, instead of using Kanji, “鉱物(こうぶつ)” for mineral, and “化粧品” (けしょうひん) for cosmetics.

In addition, they use “ソング” (song) alternatively to “歌”, and use “フット” instead of “あし”.

On the other hand, we found some engrish in the magazine, “Aera English”, which teaches Japanese people English.

For example, “The grass is always greener” is odd because it omits some words from the phrase. It is supposed to be “The grass is always greener on the other side”.

According to the Japanese term, the word “隣” is not translated into English. We believe that it is easier to have shorter sentences for Japanese people learning English, because they can easily remember short phrases. In addition, we think that when the lines in an English movie were translated into Japanese, it lost its feeling and some of its implications.

For example, when the hero says,“People are dying out there. I wanna know why”, he is panicking, nervous, or anxious. However, after it is translated into Japanese, there are more words and longer sentences, so it becomes difficult to express the original feeling.

Also, in this article which talks about a wind bell, there is a sentence which is hard to understand and a little bit awkward.
We were surprised that even in the magazine about English there are some Engrish. As a result, Japanese people would learn incorrect English which brings more Engrish.

In conclusion, these magazines represent the current culture and life in Japan, and they have the latest Japanese language. Therefore, it is a good source to use for our Engrish research. After this week’s research, we concluded that more and more Japanese people prefer katakana to Kanji or Hiragana, so in order to meet their needs, those magazines try to use Katakana more often. In addition, Japanese people are more interested in English, so Katakana plays an important role in Japanese language. Even the magazine that tries to teach English to Japanese people has some misleading English phrases. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Week: Engrish on a Public Standing Ashtray

By Jun and Alex

Our travels in our first two days in Japan took us to the Shinjuku and Harujuku areas in Tokyo. Keeping our eyes out for any kinds of Engrish, there were many instances of well-translated Japanese. However, we noticed a fair amount on English translations could be found on official public information sources. Case in point: a standing ashtray.

Standing ashtrays such as this one are offered to encourage smokers to smoke in way that is considerate of others (e.g. preventing second-hand smoke exposure, preventing littering, etc.). What we found interesting was the way in which this request was made on the standing ashtray. Different pieces of information were presented on separate panels.

The English translation of this message is quite a literal translation of the original Japanese, which is basically asking smokers to be aware that the cigarette they’re carrying is hot and to take care when smoking to not accidentally burn someone around them with their cigarette. From a North American perspective, we found the use of a first-person perspective in the English translation somewhat odd; in Canada, such a message might use something like, “You are carrying a 700°C fire; please be careful” rather than, “I am carrying a 700°C fire.” However, the first-person perspective may be used to elicit a greater willingness from the smoker to follow the suggestions by speaking to them on a similar level, rather than acting as a direct order for them to follow (which may induce resistance). While there is nothing grammatically wrong with this translation, it is actually an accurate literal translation of the Japanese, though some of the implication is lost which may explain why we find it a bit odd.

In this example, the first-person perspective is again used, and offers a much more passive request to be considerate of others when smoking. This may be indicative of the culture of Japan, where respect is regarded as extremely important.

First, when we saw this sign, we were a little confused as to what the real message was. The English translation matches the Japanese quite well in a literal sense; basically, it says that when you dispose of a lit cigarette, you’re just making more smoke (like an incinerator). The inherent meaning, however, is that if you dispose of cigarettes in the standing ashtray without extinguishing it, the cigarette is still going to give off smoke that can bother people. We found it a bit odd that they separated “stand ashtray” from the second sentence, rather than integrating it into the second sentence like, “Disposing of a lit cigarette in a standing ashtray just creates more smoke.” However, this was done because “stand ashtray” is a literal translation of the first Japanese sentence. From a Japanese perspective, this may sound quite normal, but to us, it sounds odd, thus furthering the general trend of literally translated Japanese that loses some of its implicit meaning. In addition, “stand” should be translated as “standing” to act as a proper adjective.

Here, the original Japanese reads something like, “The way the smoke travels. Except for the smoker, other people are bothered (by the smoke).” While the first sentence in Japanese is not a question, it has been reworded as a question in the English translation to sound more natural. As such, the translation is less literal but carries the implicit meaning in the original Japanese more clearly than some of the other signs.

While the English translation here is grammatically correct and explains the original Japanese very accurately, it is quite an odd message. Some in our class thought the sign was pro-smoking in presenting a cigarette as having feelings. The other opinion that was suggested was that the personification of the cigarette was meant to evoke some feeling in the smoker to properly dispose of their cigarette, rather than just tossing it away as if it had no emotions (which, admittedly, it doesn’t). Jun thought that the message discouraged smoking because the message suggests that it is harsh to the cigarette when the smoker throws it away, so why not stop smoking it from the beginning? On the other hand, Alex thought that the sign was trying to indirectly tell the smoker to properly dispose of their cigarettes, because tossing it out on the street is just “rude” to the cigarette. The attempt to personify the cigarette as a person may reflect the highly passive and indirect nature of communication in Japan; rather than directly telling a smoker to properly dispose of their cigarettes, an ambiguous message is used instead to suggest something else. In any case, this is another excellent example of perfectly translated Japanese that holds a very odd meaning for Westerners.

The original Japanese in this last picture can be literally translated as, “The hero carelessly threw away his cigarette. This was in an old movie.” The message implies that only characters in a movie will do something as careless as throwing their cigarette on the street; as you are not the hero in an old movie, you shouldn’t casually toss out your cigarette, but use the ashtray.

Overall, we found that the English on the ashtray consisted of direct literal translations of the original Japanese, and while grammatically correct, these translations sounded odd to us and lacked the implied meaning in the Japanese. The tone of the English seems to reflect the tendency of Japanese people to not make direct requests for certain things. As a public information source, it would be expected that the English translation would be faithful to the original Japanese; however, in our example of the ashtray, some translations do not entirely convey the implicit message in the original Japanese.

Week 1 Report: Cultural and Grammatical Differences


While we went out with our new Japanese friends, we took the opportunity to speak with them about the use of English in their everyday conversations in Japanese. Dan asked his language partner and his language partner’s friends how often they use English-based words such as kurasu as opposed to jugyou. Resultantly, many Japanese people are not aware that many English inspired katakana words like ‘tenisu’ are in fact near direct transcriptions from Japanese to English. Apparently students who are majoring in English literature/language are the only ones aware of this fact. For example, Dan was often asked by a few Japanese students who were not majoring in English whether or not some familiar Japanese words in fact originated from English. They also are the kind of people who would normally use these English inspired words in their everyday speech. One of the reasons for this is that they see the connection between using these English-based katakana words and, at the same time, they are effectively practicing their English language skills. It also seemed that some Japanese people we met jokingly accused their friends that were majoring in English of pretentiousness because of their constant use of these relatively foreign words.

We think that young Japanese people refrain from using katakana-based words that have traditional Japanese counterparts not because they care about preserving Japanese tradition, instead, it is simply a matter of convenience and underexposure to such English-based words. Also lack of katakana usage might be a result from the fear of their friends misunderstanding or not knowing the meaning of such words. In general, it is safer to use an old, but widely-known, word in comparison to a relatively new and unknown one. In fact, it seems that Japanese people with less formal education, such as shop attendants or kitchen staff, are less likely to know any English words at all, even lacking the knowledge of many English-based katakana words. Clearly it would be highly inconvenient for university students who are aware of such words to use them in an everyday setting if they are to communicate effectively with regular Japanese people.

In addition, the use of English words without prepositions is viewed as being cool because of its simplicity among Japanese youth. For example:

In this picture, the sign says “Enjoy beautiful life” in English while the Japanese reads: 「うつくしく輝く楽しい人生を!」Literally it offering a “happy, beautiful, and socially rich life.” It is a clever usage of the double meanings of the words うつくしく, 輝く, and楽しい. It is easy to see how these lush, overly descriptive Japanese words could lose their meaning when translated into English. “Enjoy beautiful life” is an almost painful abbreviation of the Japanese phrase. When Dan asked his Japanese conversation partner けいた what he thought of the poor English translation, he said that short English phrases, devoid of unnecessary grammar particles, is “the coolest.” He also said that if the sign had been corrected to say “Enjoy a beautiful life” or “Have a beautiful life” it would lose much of its appeal as an advertisement. In addition, these shortened, much simpler English phrases have the appeal to attract foreigners or anyone who is familiar with the English language. Thus although native English speakers may laugh at such blunt grammar mistakes, they do not realize the deep meanings carried by its Japanese translation, namely informing the reader that their beauty school is offering you a rich, fulfilling and “beautiful” life.


This is simply a blatant grammar mistake that is most likely supposed to say: “Please ask for permission before taking pictures.” We found it inside a small toy shop on one of the top floors of an Akihabara department building. This suggests that our theory of smaller shops having more Engrish may be correct.

The Engrish on this menu is simply the result of a direct and literal Japanese to English translation. In the first sentence: “Please choose the commodity in the menu seat”, the final word “seat” should be “sheet” as the Japanese above states. Also, the correct translation of this sentence would be “Please choose the commodity FROM the menu.” Although the word “commodity” is rarely seen in English-speaking restaraunts, this is a literal translation of the Japanese word 商品which is an extremely polite word for the items on a menu. Also, in Japanese one would usually choose items “from within the menu” (この中から) which explains the mistranslation of メニューで into “choose the commodity IN the menu” when it clearly should be “from the menu.” Additionally, the sentence: “Please buy the meal ticket by the ticket vending machine in the inside of a store when the menu is decided” would be properly interpreted as: “Please buy a meal ticket from the ticket vending machine inside the store when you have decided on a menu item.” The phrase “by the ticket machine” is an English grammar mistake resulting from the Japanese particle にてand its meaning of “location”. This exceedingly polite particle has simply been recklessly translated into a sentence that seems to say that you can buy a ticket from a place “by” the vending machine, and not from the vending machine itself. This is simply a misunderstanding by the author of this sign of how the particle にてtranslates into English. The final sentence, “Our shop cannot use the credit card” simply states that the shop cannot accept credit cards. This is most likely from an awkward translation of 利用meaning “use,” which could have been more eloquently translated into “accept.”

- Daniel and Carolynn

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

All Contributions Have Been Posted

All the contributions that we have received were fantastic! Thank you to Roman, Abby, Carmen, Alex, Herman, Talia, and Ingrid for giving us your input and amazing suggestions/critique! You can find each of their contributions in the posts below.

We'll try to implement at least something from each contribution as we go through our Engrish adventure!

Thanks again,