Call us cynical, but we find that our standards over what constitutes funny Engrish have been changing. Unless it’s something really hilarious, perhaps involving naughty words or references to embarrassing body parts, we just can’t muster up the same kind of enthusiasm we once had. When it comes to English that’s just a little bit off in certain ways, it’s sometimes just not that funny, especially when you understand the number of reasons why Engrish happens in the first place. However, visitors to Japan will always remember that first taste of Engrish fondly, even if the same example might fail to raise an eyebrow after a few years of acclimatizing. The last piece of Engrish I felt was worthy of documenting can be seen above – it’s a T-shirt from a store in Osaka and several years later it still blows my mind. However, there’s also plenty of pretty mediocre Engrish to be found, as we’ll demonstrate after the jump.
Over the years, Japan has earned a reputation for its awkward command of English, with results ranging from the perplexing to downright hilarious. The country’s translation screw-ups are so common that they’ve even earned their own collective name, “Engrish.”
But for all the sites that poke fun at Engrish, it’s almost impossible to find one that talks about why it happens. So today we’re offering a bit of explanation along with the laughs, as we look at a sign in Japan that informs English-reading passersby that “Today is under construction.”
Sep 10, 2014
Japanese TV personality Yuko Ito has been working in the entertainment industry for almost 20 years now. Having been at turns a swimsuit model, actress, and pitchwoman for Sapporo Beer, Nissan, and telecommunications provider NTT, we imagine she’s run into more than a few disingenuous showbiz types while paying her dues and building a career for herself.
Now, it looks like she’s done putting up with their two-faced double-talk, assuming she can actually understand the English on the T-shirt she wore during a recent TV appearance, which implored those watching, “Protect me from all your bullshit.”
Sep 3, 2014
Osamu Mukai is a well-known drama and commercial actor in Japan, best known for playing heart-throb types on prime time TV. He also apparently does not speak English or pay much attention to his fashion choices, as a recent appearance on what seems to be a typical Japanese evening talk show proves.
While the majority of the Japanese audience probably had no idea what the English on the actor’s drab green T-shirt meant, one eagle-eyed Twitter user seems to have noticed, and thus immortalized, Mukai’s unfortunate fashion choice for the world to see.
Aug 10, 2014
If you’re located outside of Japan, think of some Japanese restaurants around you and chances are their names contain easily recognizable, if uninspired, nouns like “sakura,” “Tokyo,” or “Fuji.” For instance, near me are eateries like Umi, Kaze, Samurai Boston, and countless Teriyaki House’s. One even contains my name, requiring me once in a while to explain that no, I’m not related.
Now, imagine the surprise of one Japanese Twitterer who stumbled upon an okonomiyaki restaurant in Berlin, Germany called “Hanage (はな毛)”, or nasal hair. Mmm, scrumptious!
At first glance, you’d think that this is simply another case of unfortunate word choices by a non-native speaker, like some kanji tattoos or English directions on Asian food packages. Almost as surprising as the bodily reference, however, is the fact that this restaurant was opened by a Japanese woman! To quote one Twitter commenter, “Why? Why? Why?”
Mar 6, 2014
Everyone loves Engrish, and everyone enjoys lampooning the machines that create it and the silly humans who wear it.
But is it as funny when the tables are turned? What happens when non-Japanese deck themselves out in clothing with unintelligible characters on it, only to have the true meaning outed on the web for all to see?
Feb 18, 2014
With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, restaurateurs in Tokyo are already thinking about how they can appeal to the crowds of foreign tourists set to descend on the city. Most of them are focusing on spiffing up their English menus and adding pictures, but some eateries are actually cooking up new menu ideas to appeal to the non-Japanese palate.
We got word that a ramen shop in Shinjuku had concocted just such a dish, so we naturally went to check it out.
Has internationalization taught us nothing? How strange it is that so many people can laugh unabashedly about the Orient’s attempts at “Engrish” and yet remain stubbornly ignorant of the meanings behind many Asian symbols, whether they’re printed on t-shirts or inked into their skin?!
Yes, the existence of tattoos with inappropriate meanings remains an epidemic. What’s perhaps the most surprising is that even in this day and age many people sporting these strange Asian symbols didn’t necessarily skimp on the research and just got suckered into something by their tattoo artists. Rather, many Western people don’t care enough to ask about the meanings at all!
Jan 12, 2013
Here’s an awkward situation I’m sure we’ve all had to deal with at one point or another.
Your recently-divorced out-of-the-closet father with a thing for guys in uniform has begun bringing home high ranking military officials.
You want to show these officers and gentlemen their due respect, but every time you go to salute your lack of technique makes them look at you like you’re some kind of dirty hippy. That scornful glare cast by a Rear Admiral as he flings on a feather boa is just the worst.
Luckily, the modern incarnation of the Japanese Navy, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) put together a free iPhone app and instructional video to teach the proper way to salute. The iPhone app called Salute Trainer also measures your saluting ability in detail and gives you a score and military style ranking.
Nov 16, 2012
Japanese people often get a hard time for their lack of English language skills. But with so few Japanese ever setting foot outside their own country, it’s little wonder that one of the most frequently heard reasons given for struggling with the language is the lack of opportunity to use it.
Just last night, in fact, I was completely caught off guard when a teenage girl in my local convenience store seized the opportunity to break out her English and asked me whether I needed a plastic bag. Unfortunately, I was completely unprepared for the question and it was only after she had repeated herself three times that I realised that a) she was speaking English and b) I’d probably just ensured that she never dare to do so ever again.
But perhaps the prospect of a free cup of coffee would rekindle her enthusiasm for language?
As part of a promotional campaign for the launch of its new ReFLEX language learning software, Rosetta Stone is opening a special limited-time-only cafe in a Shinjuku book store, giving customers the chance to use their English, and doling out free cups of coffee to those who can.
It’s really difficult to hate on Japan’s toddler-level comprehension of English. A lot of the time it really is like watching a small child, perhaps one babbling incomprehensibly into a small plastic Playskool cellphone, doing their best to mimic the sounds the grown-ups make when they do the same. They look silly doing it, but by god are they trying.
Of course, even the endearing charm of Japanese Engrish can quickly turn into the worst kind of awkward when it’s used in over-the-top, inappropriate settings. The video below is the perfect example of this.
Michelle Lynn Dinh
Sep 24, 2012
While living in Japan and working as an assistant English teacher, I’ve lost track of how many times Japanese people have asked me why most people in Japan can’t speak English. Due to compulsory education requirements, every Japanese citizen must take 6 years of English language courses. What’s more, starting from the 2011 school year, elementary school fifth and sixth graders are also required to have an English class once a week. Some school districts even offer English classes for kindergarteners and elementary school students in grades first through fourth.
But even after spending half or more of their adolescent years studying the English language, many Japanese struggle to carry out an everyday conversation in English. This isn’t just a casual observation by Japanese citizens, either. Japanese students have among the lowest English TOEFL scores in Asia.
So when Japanese tourists want to take a trip abroad, many are unequipped with the practical language tools necessary to go about daily life in English. The reality of this can be discouraging and even come as a shock to people who have spent years studying back home in Japan, especially when they realize phrases like “Is this a dog? No, It’s a pen.” don’t come up in conversation as much as their textbooks had suggested.
The following is a compilation of impressions of Japanese tourists who have limited English ability while traveling abroad.
Many Japanese people lament their inability to carry out a proper conversation in English despite studying it for 10 years in junior high, high school and university.
Some people blame the education system, some people blame the lack of transparency between Japanese and other languages; but there just seems to be something about Japanese people that makes them terrible with foreign languages.
Continuing from yesterday’s post, we’d like to share the last part of Japanese columnist Ryuuji Haneishi’s discussion of why he believes they are.
Many Japanese people lament their inability to carry out a proper conversation in English despite 10 years of study during junior high, high school and university.
While anyone who has taught English at a public school in Japan would probably be quick to point their finger at a curriculum still largely grounded in rote memorization and strange textbook phrases, it’s also important to realize that Japanese has absolutely nothing in common with any of the European languages and most other languages in the world.
But aside this inherent disadvantage, there just seems to be something about Japanese people that makes them terrible with foreign languages.
Aug 21, 2012
Every foreign visitor to Japan has experienced it at some point: you’re walking through a convenience store when you catch a glimpse of a product with an outrageous name that you just have to take a picture of.
User yt0648 over at Japanese list-sharing site Naver Matome has put together a list of 10 Japanese product names that turn foreigner’s heads. While there are surely more hilarious choices out there, the list does a pretty good job at putting together the most commonly.
Have a look below!
This Japanese University English Textbook is a Joke, We’re too Worried About Japan’s Future to Laugh…
Jul 21, 2012
Yesterday we shared the highlights of an online discussion of what Japanese students think of their junior high school English classes.
Another similar thread has popped up on 2channel, this time sharing several pages from a university-level English textbook that are so mind-numbingly simple you’ll wonder what those 6 years of compulsory English education were for.
Jul 19, 2012
Perhaps the most popular job among Westerners living in Japan is Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) at a public school.
Anyone who has worked as an ALT before could likely write a book on their observations of Japanese students and all the crazy things they say (or, as is often the case, don’t say) in and out of the classroom. But have you ever stopped to think about how your students are observing you?
A thread on Japanese message board site 2channel titled “Things that often happen in junior high school English” offers some humorous insight.
Apr 11, 2012
Everyone loves Engrish, and everyone enjoys lampooning the machines that create it and the silly humans who wear it.
Is it as funny when the tables are turned? What happens when non-Japanese deck themselves out in clothing with unintelligible characters on it, only to have the true meaning outed on the web for all to see? Read More
Mar 3, 2012
A cover of “Hey Jude” performed by Aki Toyosaki, a Japanese singer and voice actress best known for her role as Yui in the anime K-On!, has become the joke of the internet after a video of the performance was uploaded to YouTube earlier this year.
Toyosaki is an avid Beatles fan and in the video, which is taken from the DVD of her first solo tour “love your live,” she appears to singing her heart out in tribute to the band.
Unfortunately, that enthusiasm only seems to amplify Toyosaki’s ‘cutsy’ high-pitched voice and thick Japanese accent, which, to the ears of most of the internet, make for an unforgivably disastrous cover of the beloved Beatles classic.
In recent years, sushi has quickly become the most popular Japanese food outside of Japan.
It is against this backdrop of rapid sushi globalization that Japanese film director Noboru Iguchi, the mastermind behind such cult horror classics as RoboGeisha and Mutant Girls Squad, dares to ask the question: what if sushi grew fangs and tried to eat us?
Enter Dead Sushi.
- Truck driver hailed as “hero” for cutting off car on wet highway1
- Ready to tie the anime knot? Company offers marriage certificate for you and your 2D waifu2
- Sharp’s awesome new display tech licensed to Nintendo… who may not even use it for games3
- 20 crazy facts about North Korea4
- Latest evolution of Pokémon cafe to open in Shibuya this January5
- Too busy to wrap Christmas presents? Not if you’ve got 12 seconds, Japanese store shows【Video】6
- 10 slightly strange Christmas trees from Japan7
- Toilet slides and turd hats: welcome to Tokyo’s crappiest exhibition8
- Don’t believe in the magic of the 100 yen store? This product will seal the deal!9
- How to make epic pancakes with your Japanese rice cooker10
- Korean illustrator gives Western fairy tales a whimsical Eastern makeover【Pics】1
- Self-taught Singaporean artist creates unbelievably realistic art on plywood2
- Ready to tie the anime knot? Company offers marriage certificate for you and your 2D waifu3
- Life imitates (Sword) Art (Online) as Japanese gamers find they can’t log out of online RPG4
- Character images of new Digimon Adventure series released, expected to air in spring 20155
- Artist magically transforms Sailor Moon characters into black women6
- Too busy to wrap Christmas presents? Not if you’ve got 12 seconds, Japanese store shows【Video】7
- Japan’s cutest rodent commuters take the high-road【Video】8
- Our hero Ladybeard shows us and the world how to properly wear the much-talked about boob shirt9
- How humanity ends: Virtual reality headset hooked up to Tenga love cup for men 【Video】10
- Self-taught Singaporean artist creates unbelievably realistic art on plywood1
- Buyers’ remorse in China: After a record-breaking day of online shopping, the angry selfies begin2
- Tiny town in northern Japan creates gorgeous, gigantic artwork out of rice paddies 【Video】3
- How to say “I love you” in Japanese – 47 different ways 【Videos】4
- Japanese man proposes to girlfriend with Guinness World Record-winning GPS drawing5
- Historic Kyoto temple first in Japan to offer gay weddings6
- A Ghibli mystery solved — the identity of exotic looking food in Spirited Away revealed!7
- Korean illustrator gives Western fairy tales a whimsical Eastern makeover【Pics】8
- Hayao Miyazaki comments on Chihiro’s final test scene in Spirited Away9
- Fashion gone wrong? Boob shirts take Twitter by storm10
- “No one sleeps in her class!” Internet goes gaga for gorgeous Chinese science teacher1
- Hayao Miyazaki working on new project, says “I’m going to continue making anime until I die”2
- Mickey and friends in human form are more charming than we had imagined! 【Pics】3
- A sad turn of events at a butterfly exhibition in China4
- Self-taught Singaporean artist creates unbelievably realistic art on plywood5
- Buyers’ remorse in China: After a record-breaking day of online shopping, the angry selfies begin6
- Chinese cat with unfortunate dark patch of fur tired of people asking why it’s shocked7
- 1,200 Japanese workers convert above-ground train to subway line in a matter of hours8
- Tiny town in northern Japan creates gorgeous, gigantic artwork out of rice paddies 【Video】9
- Japanese high school holds annual contest to decide the prettiest “girl” in school10
- Too busy to wrap Christmas presents? Not if you’ve got 12 seconds, Japanese store shows【Video】
- 10 slightly strange Christmas trees from Japan
- Toilet slides and turd hats: welcome to Tokyo’s crappiest exhibition
- Don’t believe in the magic of the 100 yen store? This product will seal the deal!
- How to make epic pancakes with your Japanese rice cooker
- Sick of BABYMETAL? How about some sumo metal!
- Flipping the kanji for “husband” upside-down reveals slightly worrying double meaning
- Pokémon fans’ heads exploding over guy’s classic Game Boy makeover video
- One more time! Anime fans choose the series they’d most like to see rerun on TV
- Self-healing glasses on sale next year
- 11 never-ending hypnotic GIFs that just made a portion of our weekend disappear mysteriously
- New Evangelion short film now streaming on animation studio’s website
- How to say “I love you” in Japanese – 47 different ways 【Videos】