Sometimes, a name that’s perfectly normal in one language can sound funny, or maybe even offensive in another. One day in college, for example, my friend Gary and I volunteered to show some visiting Japanese students around campus. We met them in the student union, and as soon as Gary introduced himself, one of them couldn’t suppress a tiny chuckle.
You see the name Gary sounds an awful lot like geri, which means “diarrhea” in Japanese. So when my classmate said “Watashi wa Gary desu,” they didn’t hear “I’m Gary;” they heard “I’ve got the runs.”
Of course, the same thing can happen in reverse, too. Just ask the students and faculty of one of Japan’s proudest institutions of higher learning, Kinki University.
No, Kinki University isn’t the name of a video series featuring Japan’s wildest and sluttiest coeds. Nor is it a school for the in-depth study of the nymphomanic arts.
▼ The gate of Kinki University. Ooooh, that’s hot….wait, no, it isn’t.
Kinki University is a respected school that’s been educating young minds in central Japan since 1949. So how did it end up with a name that’s a homophone for “involving or liking unusual sexual behavior?”
Well, Kinki University’s campus is located in Osaka, the largest city in central Japan. Osaka lies on the expansive plain bordering Kyoto, which for centuries was the capital of Japan. As a result, the plain, and by association the surrounding region, became known as Kinki, literally “near the capital.”
▼ WARNING! You must be 18 or older to view this map of the Kinki Region.
Now yes, central Japan is also known as Kansai. However, there’s already a Kansai University that came into existence a few decades before Kinki University. And while it’s unclear if the founders of the latter knew about the possible English connotation, Kinki University’s faculty definitely does now, as President Hitoshi Shiozaki admits that the school’s delegates are “sometimes met with laughter at overseas conferences.”
The issue isn’t going away, either, as Kinki University (no laughing at the back!) is set to get even more international attention in the coming years. In 2016, the school will open a new department of foreign language and internationalism. It’s a serious push for global learning, with an English program developed in conjunction with language specialist Berlitz Corporation and a requirement that students study abroad for at least six months.
The administration also hopes that its new division will attract students from overseas, but realizes it’s hard to have prospective scholars take your school seriously when the first image its name brings to mind is bondage gear and the creative use of whipped cream. “From now on, we have no choice but to revise our school’s official English name,” explained Shiozaki.
In Japanese, the institution will continue to be known as Kinki Daigaku (daikgaku being the Japanese word for “university”). The school is also known colloquially as ‘Kindai,’ taken from the first kanji characters in Kinki and Daigaku, and the school has announced that it will be changing its official English name to Kindai University. By the start of the 2016 school year, the new name will be in place on signs around campus, school literature and stationary, and sports uniforms.
▼ Sad times: No more Kinki basketball as of 2016
Traditionalists, long-time residents of the Kinki region, and linguists may be less than thrilled at the new name, as the new moniker is essentially an abbreviated version of ‘Kinki University University.’ Still, if the choice is between sounding perverted or redundant, we can understand settling for the latter, and if nothing else, the school is no longer in the running for the title of “Japan’s most suggestively named school.”
▼ The ball’s in your court, Tokyo Institute of Technology.