Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

Explaining Japanglish

The following blog is derived from comments in an earlier post. I thought I would re-use the question and answer here for the benefit of any who may be curious about the origin and reason there is so much delightfully curious English on offer upon the streets, shops and media broadcasts in Japan.

“Kurt, I have followed your video and picture journey for a year or so and I am always struck by the odd names of the various Japanese businesses that crop up. Are these names usually the corruption of English names/words? Richard (North of Seattle)”

Hi Richard, It’s great to hear from you. Thank you for your question about “Japanglish” which you correctly identify as the sometimes curious attempts Japanese people make to incorporate English into their culture for the purpose of display and advertising. The names that you see are typically derived from direct translations of phrases which make sense in the Japanese language (either linguistically or culturally) but which fall apart when translated directly into English. The people who make the translations may not have much functional practice using English and therefore may be unaware of how curious or even funny the translations often seem to a native speaker. The reverse can sometimes be seen in the West with people who attempt to use Chinese ideograms (Kanji characters used in both China and Japan) on T-shirts or (sadly) tattoos which are either translated wrong, printed upside down or which may be correct but carry a slightly different meaning in common usage than the description given in a English/Chinese dictionary. I remember how my Japanese wife would sometimes react when she spotted hip-looking American’s walking down Main street USA wearing a T-shirt sporting a cool word such as “Samurai” in bold kanji characters but which was printed upside down. The intended effect was of course lost completely and verged almost on the border of comedy. That’s similar to what is happening here as the people who prepare and publish such strange, funny and sometimes almost incomprehensibly poetic English usually have no idea that this is happening. Often, in fact they may not even care, as my wife has often told me that it is the mere appearance of English which is important while the meaning has no significance at all. By way of example witness the young girls sometimes seen walking down a Tokyo street with phrases like “Fuck Machine” written in huge, bold lettering on the front of their shirts. Few people here (besides English speaking foreigners) seem to note or give any regard to such a sight. Thus the tradition of Japanglish continues which fact supplies a steady stream of interest and delight to native English speakers who choose to make their home here.

Hearty nose

Hearty nose


One comment on “Explaining Japanglish

  1. Jorge Straube
    October 13, 2012

    Very nice and interesting text. 🙂

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This entry was posted on October 13, 2012 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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