Funny English in Japan

When living in Japan, you are constantly seeing funny English phrases everywhere. Many misunderstandings result from literally translating Japanese into English. Both languages have a totally different structure and many formal Japanese expressions have no English equivalent. If you speak a little Japanese, some of the strange English starts to make a lot more sense. Other examples of funny Japanese English are mix-ups between the letters R and L and phrases that can only be the result of the unedited use of online translation engines. There even exists a special website dedicated to the strange English that you can see in Japan and other Asian countries, called Engrish.com. The pictures below are a small sample of my own experience.

Japanese english or engrish

They probably mean Rice and Liquor, although the R-alliteration does have a nice ring to it.

Japanese english or engrish

We saw this sign in a national park in Hokkaido, where, due to geothermal activity, the water is so hot that it poses a serious risk of burn injuries. While they still get the message across, these words are so jumbled that they most likely just input the Japanese sentence into a translation engine which translated everything word for word into English. I wonder if the Chinese and Korean on this sign are equally jumbled.

After having read this post, my friend Yasu inserted the Japanese on this sign into several translation engines. The results are hilarious!

Google: “Once in the sand, and then burn it to collapse.”
Exite: “It will be caved in and burned if it goes into sands. “
Babylon: “I sink and burn myself when I enter the sandy beach.”

But don’t get me wrong, although this kind of English puts a smile on my face, I am not ridiculing the Japanese for these little mistakes. As someone who has tried (and is still trying) to learn Japanese, I fully realize how different the two languages are and what a monumental task it is to be truly fluent in English when you are a native Japanese speaker (and vice versa). So nothing but respect for the many people in Japan who study English and do their best to speak English. Many of them are very good at it and certainly better than I will probably ever be at Japanese.

But back to the topic at hand: funny Japanese English. While I find these strange translations cute and funny, there is another really endearing way that English is used in Japan. When looking for a brand name or a slogan, the Japanese often throw a seemingly random selection of English words with a positive meaning together, giving wonderful results like ‘Freshness Burger’ as the name for a hamburger franchise and ‘Happiness Life’ as a brand of toilet paper.

freshness burger in Nagoya airport

A Freshness Burger restaurant in Nagoya airport. It was our favourite place for a quick bite to eat before a flight. We were first attracted by the funny and cheerful name but actually their burgers are quite nice.

funny english in japan toiletpaper

This Japanese toilet paper packaging made me smile. Happiness life, what more do you really need? We saw this toilet paper in a small town in Okinawa. The rest of the toilet space matched their choice of toilet paper (see below).

cheerful japanese toilet

The most cheerful and beautiful toilet space I have ever seen!

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21 thoughts on “Funny English in Japan

  1. i live in nagoya and am tying to find info on the uv factor before going on my walk. unfortunately, i wasn’t always cautious about those rays and ended up with skin cancer-luckily it was the easiest cancer to cure, basal cell carcinoma, but required a big surgery, so i am now very careful. btw-you are right about the mosquitoes here-the bites actually hurt. love the liquor store sign. the funniest i ever saw was “salt and paper” nothing to do with the pronunciation, just a funny combination of items for sale. well, i guess i’d better go on my walk. i’ve been cooped up all day because of the humidity AND mosquitoes.

    sayonara.

    teresa

  2. lol. yes, they do this a lot. even in other asian countries. which keep things interesting. but japan does it with a better taste. as for the first picture with sign ‘rice & riquor’, i’m assuming it is only because japanese don’t have ‘L’ in their language. thus, a letter L is pronounced as R, which is why they spell it with an R.

  3. I find it rather endearing as well–if anything I’m a little sad that the English on t-shirts seems to be improving so that it’s harder to find the gems that look like they have some deep meaning (my favorite: “Most of all it celebrated an individual’s courage. The satisfaction of hanger requires drop dead beauty. Open salutary ecosystem.”)
    I still enjoy the encouraging messages on sandwich wrappings, though.

  4. Love your post! And the link to Engrish!

    I recently had a funny konglish example, which fits with your second type of examples, fitting positive English words together.

    My (korean brand) bento box lunch set has this cute little label on the bag saying: Enjoy your well being life!

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