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,


Ingrid's Contribution

I think one aspect of the Engrish that isn’t examined very often is the spoken engrish. English, to my knowledge is a required class to take from elementary school to junior high school. While not all continue on with English education after high school, in the younger generation, some English is floating around. However, I’ve been told that after junior high English, the most that people tend to understand is how to say “this is a pen”.  From my own experience, though, people who have studied English and know the language relatively well, are eager to test out their English on foreigners.
I think it would be interesting to pay attention to the verbal mistakes that Japanese people make while speaking English. There will likely be a whole range of skill among English-speaking Japanese, but I think it would be interesting to observe mistakes that are made consistently. These mistakes would likely be caused by something to do with Japanese grammar that carries over to English. For example, I noticed that my one Japanese friend had a tendency to leave out nouns and pronouns. She would say things like “when are we going to buy?” instead of “when are we going to buy it?” I’m curious whether other Japanese people will make the same mistakes, and what other kind of mistakes they make.
I think this would also be helpful information to know. I want to teach English in Japan, and I know others in our class are interested in doing the same. This information would help me to focus on what kind of mistakes are common so that my future students will speak better English. That, and it may help other people understand English-speaking Japanese if they realize what is trying to be said. 
By Ingrid Falkenberg-Andersen

Talia's Contribution

Engrish has integrated itself into all aspects of Japanese pop culture, and music is no exception. Engrish can frequently be seen worked into what are otherwise completely Japanese lyrics. These lyrics seldom hold meaning, and serve, for the most part, simply as fashion. Engrish in music has grown in popularity as it has made its way into mainstream pop culture throughout Japan. Engrish found in advertisements, on product packaging, and on clothing has provided the groundwork for its popularity in the entertainment sector. Many of Japan’s top musical acts utilize Engrish in their lyrics and song titles. One of Japan’s leading female vocal groups, Perfume, frequently use Engrish in their music. With titles such as, “Twinkle Snow Powdery Snow”, “ポリリズム”(Polyrhythm), and “Kiss and Music”, their songs epitomize the use of Engrish in Japan’s music industry. These songs are prime examples of fashionable use of Engrish in entertainment. The addition of Engrish to the music industry has followed Westernization and modernization across Asia. It is representative of all things modern and new and the growth of their popularity in Japan.

My challenge to Team Engrish – to branch out beyond the visual and explore the music scene of Japan and its use of Engrish. Music has the ability to reach the people, and because of this, its influence its broad. Music played at concerts; shows; in shops & boutiques; and on the street all reach a unique demographic. Investigate the various locations in which music containing Engrish can be found. To what audience is this music being played? Do you believe that it is target-specific? Check out’s section on Engrish in music. There you can find all sorts of amusing photos of artist album covers with great Engrish. It is my belief that the majority of the Engrish used in today’s new music is representative of the new generation of increasingly Westernized young adults in Japan. I believe it draws on the desire of Japan’s youth to stay up-to-date and in fashion. So go out and explore Japan’s music scene and attempt to uncover Engrish use within it. Maybe a TORA/Team Engrish collaborative field trip would be of interest!

By Talia Wells 

Herman's Contribution

Recently, I came across a blog that mentioned the usage of the word “smog” in its katakana form “スモッ” during a broadcast of the NHK news. As you all can probably guess, it was our professor’s English blog about Japanese vocabulary. At first, I didn’t pay it much attention and didn’t think of why they chose to use this word instead the words they have in Japanese for smog. It wasn’t until when Alex mentioned some possibilities of why they might have chosen to use words that were borrowed from the English language, over preexisting Japanese words, that it occurred to me. Perhaps it was directly related to the connotations attached to the word “smog”, that they chose it over “(きり)” and “煙霧(えんむ)”. A quick search on the definitions of ” and “煙霧” told me that they meant fog, mist, or haze. For native English speakers, the difference between fog/mist/haze and smog is clear. Smog is essentially fog that has some sort of pollution mixed in. Now, I do not know the connotations attached to the words ” and “煙霧”, but if they are to be translated as fog or mist, then it would be sensible that they chose to use “スモッ” as a way to emphasize the point that it is harmful, man-made pollution.
This sort of behavior isn’t by any means unique to Japanese, nor is it uncommon. We probably do not notice, but even the English language has many examples of borrowing words from a different language, rather than using the English equivalent. Examples include words such as manga (comics), sakura blossoms (cherry blossoms), hors d’oeuvres (appetizer), panzer (light tank), mu gu gai pan (mushroom chicken), and chow mein (fried noodles). As we can see from these examples, while they are both the same thing essentially, there is an underlying difference in the connotations of the words themselves. In the example of manga and comics, the subtle difference between them is that manga are comics done in a specific fashion, and that manga have to be made in Japan. The emphasis is that manga is a Japanese creation, and that manga are not the same as North American comics.
Well, it is my theory that when one person, who isn't completely fluent in the language, translates a sentence, they will choose to use some words over others, because they feel that certain words will "fit" more. Also, with respect to sentence structure, they may choose to phrase in such a way that the original "feeling" of the sentence is not lost. In doing so, the result may just end up being engrish.

Maybe you can have the class vote on which is their favorite engrish of the week and then on the final week they can vote on their overall favorite engrish among the weekly winners. And perhaps whoever in the class submitted that photo can get a free bag of candy or something along those lines. I think this way you can foster more involvement with your readers.

By Herman Lam

Alexandra's Contribution

I think that this research topic is a really interesting one. I had never thought about why there might be 2 words for something, one “authentic” Japanese word and one “foreign” Japanese word (like クラス and 授業). I think that it will be very interesting to find out why that is. However, I was just wondering about the format of your research. Will you be simultaneously looking for Engrish and katakana words? Or will you focus on Engrish for the first 2 weeks and then katakana words for the last 2 weeks? I feel that it might be best to focus on only one aspect at a time, as it may become overwhelming to focus of too much.
Something else that I would be interested in, but may be difficult to find, would be who creates the new words. Although it will be nearly impossible to determine who thought up the new word, it may be useful to document where you heard it first.
An interesting source of new or interesting words could be Yang先生’s blog, Japanese Word Watch ( This could provide you with new words to investigate, and if you were stuck or needed further elaboration, the author would be easily accessible! Another interesting website I found is which appears to be a list of the most interesting words of 2009. I think NHK or another television station did a report on the most interesting words. It might be interesting to investigate some of the words on the list. 
I’m really looking forward to the Engrish portion of your research. I’m interested to see how regional differences change the frequency of Engrish. I agree with your prediction about smaller and non-franchised restaurants having more Engrish. A prediction that I have is that larger, more global cities like Tokyo will have less Engrish because they are exposed to more fluent English speakers.
I was just wondering how the Engrish earns a cringe-worthy rating. Will the clarity of the message factor into the rating? If the message is just confusing, will it have a low rating? How does the Engrish earn a Potato-smiley? I think that a guideline to the criteria being considered would be very helpful.
I’m really looking forward to what you find from your research! If I see any funny engrish signs, I’ll be sure to show you!

By Alexandra Henderson

Carmen's Contribution

I thought you guys did a great job of laying out your research in a detailed and highly organized manner. You defined what Engrish is very thoroughly and using examples was very effective. I liked how you talked about the cultural misunderstandings between two cultures when you gave the example about the 'happy grass'. I look forward to seeing whether or not your hypothesis about the Engrish being more divergent in smaller establishments is true or not. I have certainly encountered my fair share of Engrish in many Chinese restaurants in Calgary. Some great ones being 'Mini Stone Soup' and 'Ham Bugger.' Having a LOLPoints grading system is very fun and imaginative. Engrish seems to be something that isn't exclusive to just Japanese, but any language when it is used to serve a purpose for a foreign language. Perhaps by using Japanese as a case study or example, your group could draw a conclusion on misinterpretations and Engrish globally? 

Your project also looks at how effective language has been used to communicate an idea to a certain number of people. Maybe also look at who these Engrish objects are aimed or targeted at? For example, many emergency signs at hotels in Japan feature mistranslated English which becomes Engrish. When aimed at tourists or native English speakers, that sign in question is no longer very effective at conveying a message and could, in fact, become a safety hazard, because important information is not given correctly.

Your project also examines how culture has been transferred from one culture to another. In this case, Western, American, English or North American culture to Japan through language and how the Japanese have adapted English or foreign languages into their own language and therefore, culture. Perhaps you could also give a brief summary into the history of Katakana words or the English language entering Japan? It would provide a great historical context and also say a lot about how internationalized the Japanese language is, with words like パン for bread, coming from the French word pain for bread. Katakana utilizes not only English words, but also French and Portuguese etc. You could talk about the foreign influence on Japanese through Katakana since it originated as a way to translate Buddhist texts from India.

Lastly, perhaps the funniest use of translation I have seen occurs in pirated DVDs from China where movies are filmed in a theatre in English and then English subtitles are added and the translations are utterly nonsensical and communication is completely degraded. Is this a phenomenon in Japan as well? Do they have poorly translated movies and TV shows? Perhaps while you're in Japan you could find a movie and watch to see if the Japanese or English is translated correctly? It's certainly another facet of Engrish on a grand scale. 

By Carmen Siu

Abigail's Contribution

 Japanese language and culture is extremely interesting and confusing; without even thinking about it Japanese people are able to transition their speech from very casual between friends, to formal, to honorific, and extra-modest or humble. These transitions accompanied by different vocabulary and conjugations become natural to them, perhaps almost reflexive. Therefore, it can be inferred that their choice of vocabulary and speech may alter from what they commonly use when talking to native English speakers.  The conversation partners may be more inclined to use katakana words as opposed to the Japanese word simply because they believe that it would be easier for people learning Japanese to understand or because it is more commonly known. This does not mean that they do not usually use the Japanese word or that they prefer to use the katakana word but simply that their style of speech has changed to accommodate the person who they are speaking to.  I do hypothesize that many more katakana words are being used by the younger generation instead of the equivalent Japanese word. For example, トイレ compared with おてあらい. However I find it necessary to distinguish between those words that are increasingly becoming popular to say in katakana and are preferred to be said in katakana and those words that are used by conversation partners for other reasons, such as a way to make it easier for foreign exchange students to understand what they are trying to say.
 In order to contest this I propose that the Japanese conversation partners be told that the interest lies within their choice of words so that they are encouraged to speak as they would with one of their Japanese friends. An alternative approach would be to listen to the way in which Japanese people speak amongst their friends and see how often they use katakana words. Furthermore, in addition to asking the conversation partners about Engrish verbally I propose that a questionnaire be given. This may give Japanese people a better chance of explaining themselves and allow them to think more comfortably and freely. I imagine the questionnaire to contain both English and Japanese. Perhaps there may be a section that simply lists some katakana words and Japanese words and asks them to circle the one in which they prefer to use and maybe even give an explanation to why they prefer to use it. Another section may ask people to translate English sentences into Japanese and to note which words they use. The next section could contain a few images or quotes with Engrish asking questions about what they think about it, if there is anything wrong with it, etc. The end would include a couple of idioms that asks them what they the meanings are. I believe this is where the problem lies for the most part. Just as with the image “the grass is smiling at you”, the words together have a different meaning then that is expected. It would be really interesting to go over idioms in both English and Japanese because the meanings are usually hard to understand and interpret. I would target those students who are majoring in English or those that have been to Western countries to study English. I also think these students would be best to ask about Engrish and whether they see the humour in it or whether they understand its mistakes or downfalls.

Criticism and Suggestions
I think that the way in which Team Engrish went about their detailed plan of action is quite impressive and very informative. The questions you guys developed are interesting and your topic is focused. The only thing that I have a concern about is with asking conversation partners about their use of katakana. Perhaps, it would be beneficial to first inform them that you are interested in whether they prefer the katakana word or the Japanese word, rather than just noting the amount of times they use katakana words. The reason in which I suggest this is because I think that the Japanese conversation partners may have a tendency to use katakana words in front of exchange students. This may be because they think that the Japanese equivalent may be harder to understand or may be unknown to English speakers. This may also have an impact of the extent to which demographic age effects on the choice of speech. For example, teachers may be more inclined to be formal towards the students and expect the students to use Japanese words rather than katakana words.  
In addition to asking your conversation partners about Engrish verbally, my suggestion is for you to explore the use of Engrish in Japanese society through the use of questionnaires.  I imagine these questionnaires to contain both English and Japanese. Perhaps there may be a section that simply lists some katakana words and Japanese words and asks them to circle the one in which they prefer to use and maybe even give an explanation to why they prefer to use it. Another section may ask people to translate English sentences into Japanese and to note which words they use. The next section could contain a few images or quotes with Engrish asking questions about what they think about it, if there is anything wrong with it, etc.  At the end you may also include a couple of English idioms which asks them what they think the meanings would be. I believe this is where the problem lies for the most part. Just as you mentioned on the image with “the grass is smiling at you”, the words together have a different meaning then that is expected. It would be really interesting to go over idioms in both English and Japanese because the meanings are usually hard to understand. This would probably be easier to go through with those Japanese students majoring in English or those that have been to Western countries to study English. I also think these students would be best to ask about Engrish and whether they see the humour in it or whether they understand its mistakes or downfalls.
by Abigail Obispo

Roman's Contribution

Technology and Language

Since the effectiveness of technology is ever far from waning, the text language must be studied and prodded. The world is in a constant flux of change and development. One such piece of technology is the cell phone, and the use of text messaging. Since cell phones and text messaging is quite prevalent Japan, it would be quite interesting to study the language of text messaging to see patterns in text language, be it, the hiragana, katakana, kanji similar to the writing system, or implementing more romaji, or if there is a new hybrid Japanese language through texts similar to what has happened to English, and the extensive use of abbreviations, for example: lol, ttyl, and g2g.

This would prove to be interesting as Japan is a culture that is able to strike a balance between the past, while adapting for the future. The text message is a means of communication, and through this, an evolution of writing. By looking at technology, through the scope of text messages, unearthing different facets of Japan-ness that is either lost in the text language or kept is possible. For example, would there be a strict following towards grammar, or would it be unnecessary just as long as the recipient can understand the idea of the text?

Japanese vs. Engrish vs. English
Building off of the 'Prevalence of English in Japanese Speech' idea, is the concept of cross linguistic homonyms. As it has been pointed out, katakana is used for the translating of foreign words, but the problem with adopting words is that there is a chance that the word or phrase in question has a phonetic similarity already in the host language. It would be interesting to see how Japanese people would respond and react to a word that has a phonetic similarity or do they even care about it. This could also work conversely as there may be some phonetic words that could mean one thing in Japanese, and something entirely different in English.
An example of such confusion is within the penchant of Japanese people to use abbreviations for stores. The convenience store “Family Mart” becomes ‘ファミマ,’ and “Starbucks” is abbreviated into ‘スターバ.‘ These may just sound funny to the people who are not immersed in the language, however, using abbreviations and cross linguistic homonyms may connote vastly different ideas. For example, in Japan, there is a fast food restaurant called “First Kitchin.” Just like “Family Mart,” and “Starbucks,” there is an abbreviation for it which is ‘ファッキ.’ To the Japanese, this is just an abbreviation for the fast food place, however, in English there is a completely different set of narratives with that word, thus showing one example of Engrish versus English.


The idea of ‘Engrish’ is an entrancing one because Japan, today, and through its history, is known for taking foreign ideas and transforming it into something unique with its Japan-ness. Incorporating the Chinese characters, called 'Kanji,' and buying the technology of transistor radios which led to the creation of the 'Play Station' brand are just a couple of much more examples of the 'Japanization' of foreign entities. Using English is just another example of this. As the members of 'Team Engrish' pointed out, the definition of 'Engrish' is, to an extent, mistakes in translation of English. The use of 'Engrish' is prevalent because of the 'World's' penchant of looking towards, and the adaptation of western societies, and the English language is one such aspect.
I do not have much criticism neither to the over arching theme, nor the approach of grappling with 'Engrish.' What I would like to do, however, is to add on to their research. I would like to present two more suggestions to the 'Engrish' aesthetic as a means to try and round out their research by giving more depth and breadth as a compliment to the group's findings. The first is within the global network and the aspect of using 'Engrish' through text messaging and secondly, is the problems with cross linguistic homonyms.
 I believe that "we," the global 'we', Japan especially, are moving towards, if not already in, an age of technological dependence, where anything and everything is placed in the realm of technology. In adding to the group's framework of the "What we plan to look for," I would like to present the technology aspect of Engrish, by way of text messaging. Since cell phones and text messaging is quite prevalent Japan, what I propose is study the language of text messaging to see patterns in text language, be it, the hiragana, katakana, kanji similar to the writing system, or implementing more romaji, or if there is a new hybrid Japanese language through texts similar to what has happened to English, and the extensive use of abbreviations, for example: lol, ttyl, and g2g.
In addition, is the confusion in differentiating between Japanese and Engrish. The problem with adopting words is there is a chance that the word or phrase in question has a phonetic similarity already in the host language, and this poses obvious problems. An example is in the manga 'school rumble' by Jin Kobayashi. Although Jin Kobayashi seems self aware of this problem, he brings it to the fore through the names of his characters. One of the main character's names is Harima Kenji (はりま けんじ), a delinquent, and on separate occasions, he is mixed up with a transfer student whose name is Harry McKenzie (ハリー マケンジ). So my point is; find other examples of this confusion of cross linguistic homonyms and see how the Japanese populace respond and react or do they even care about it.

By Roman Magnaye