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Shirts with meaningless Japanese now common on sidewalks of New York

19 Comments

Mag2.com, which presents a selection of articles from various online sources, recently featured a humorous piece filed from New York City by locally based businessman Katsuaki Takahashi. In New York these days, he reports, T-shirts bearing weird or meaningless Japanese words and phrases are "in."

Such shirts are not necessary a bad thing. After all, articles of apparel are far cheaper and less painful to remove than tattoos, Takahashi observes. And when the messages they carry turn out to be silly or meaningless, the embarrassment can be ended merely by removing them -- or just wearing them inside out.

T-shirts bearing Japanese characters are, of course, popular souvenir items for tourists visiting Japan. The most popular seem to be items bearing words like samurai or bushi (warrior), or those carrying the names of the places visited, such as Osaka or Asakusa.

Takahashi, who writes an online column titled "New York Matenro Tayori," reports that of late he's been observing shirts bearing "New York Nihongo" on an almost daily basis. And much of their contents could be described as hen (strange). For instance there was one that read 読書感想文 (dokusho kansobun, "book review") and another with katakana reading システムキッチン (system kitchen). Then there were shirts with おにぎり (onigiri, seaweed-wrapped rice balls) and 素敵 (suteki, nice)

Others, however, seemed completely out of place on garments: Like 送料無料 (soryo muryo, free shipping) and 肌荒れ (hada are, skin roughness). Or one reading バカまるだし baka maru-dashi, exposed as a fool). And one can almost imagine the smirk on Takahashi's face when he saw a dad pushing a baby stroller while wearing a shirt emblazoned with デキちゃった婚 (dekichatta-kon, shotgun wedding).

One that appears fairly commonly is a black shirt with white lettering reading 日本人の彼女募集中!(Nihonjin no kanojo boshuju!, now accepting applications for Japanese girlfriend). Asking the wearers, Takahashi found they understood what the words meant. "But no one ever told me wearing the shirt had helped them get one. (I can understand why ladies would be turned off by anyone who approached them.)"

In a bar on Manhattan's Upper West side, Takahashi encountered a slightly inebriated Caucasian youth, who appeared to be a university student, with a shirt reading ケンカ買います (kenka kaimasu, I will buy a disagreement). "If in Japan," he wrote tongue in cheek, "that would be a cause for concern, since a dispute might flare up."

Next came a brawny black gentleman with impressive dreadlocks, wearing a shirt whose contents seemed in complete contradiction to his appearance: 茶道部 (sadobu, tea ceremony club). "I felt somewhat skeptical."

He also got a good giggle from the couple he passed on the sidewalk. The gent's shirt read 焼き餃子 (yakigyoza, fried meat dumplings); his lady friend's garment read 水餃子 (suigyoza, boiled dumplings). They did not appear to understand the meaning, but Takahashi felt they were a good match for one another.

In addition to T-shirts, baseball caps with characters also seem popular in New York.

"Do you know what that word on your cap means?" he asked a black gent who operated a street pushcart dispensing hot coffee. The single character read 狼 (okami, wolf).

"Of course I do," the man replied confidently. "It means 'karate.'"

"Er, not exactly," Takahashi said. "You see, 'karate" is written with two characters, and that's only one."

"Oh, so in that case I guess you would just read it 'kara,' right?"

Takahashi declined to provide further details.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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Well I guess this balances out all the weird English on clothing and signs in Japan.

20 ( +20 / -0 )

Haven't been to the Orient, but we watch a lot of Eastern movies and shows, and it seems like at least half of the "English" words on tees and sweats are nonsense, or spelled so badly as to make one scratch one's head in bewilderment.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

It gets worse. The British clothing company that markets the brand Superdry puts all sorts of "Japanese" on their threads but the "Japanese" is actually mainland China style Chinese. First time I saw the duds on display at their store near Piccadilly Circus in London, I had a real WTF? moment.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Many of those are joke shirts - people know what they mean, but they wear it to be funny, like:

https://jbox.com/SHIRT-SKIRT1

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Wrong many don't what is written.

Recall one ladies horror after I explained what 'pat my pussy' means. Just a sampler.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Still short an lady in the states who introduced herself.

I am XY from Japan? I love men and can eat them all day long. She tried to talk about ramen and got it wrong.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

One that appears fairly commonly is a black shirt with white lettering reading 日本人の彼女募集中!(Nihonjin no kanojo boshuju!, now accepting applications for Japanese girlfriend). Asking the wearers, Takahashi found they understood what the words meant. "But no one ever told me wearing the shirt had helped them get one. (I can understand why ladies would be turned off by anyone who approached them.)"

Here's a shirt like that BTW:

https://jbox.com/shirt-gfp2

And others like "Beware of Perverts"

Men's: https://jbox.com/shirt-chikan

Women's: https://jbox.com/shirt-ckn6

Baka Gaijin: https://jbox.com/shirt-ckn6

Caution: Karoshi Death from Overwork: https://jbox.com/shirt-overp1

In Case of Emergency, Commit Seppuku Here: https://jbox.com/category/apparel-cosplay/shirts/shirt-cut1

3 ( +3 / -0 )

”Kenka kaimasu” doesn’t translate as “I will buy a disagreement”, unless you’re a literal-minded simpleton.

It’s more like “(I’m) looking for a fight”.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sounds like writing in English in Japan and writing in Japanese in America are both done on the cheap, and not very well.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@1glenn

And don't forget the "English" written in America....

; )

2 ( +3 / -1 )

This is just karma for those who have inflicted Engrish upon the rest of us.

bullfighter:

It gets worse. The British clothing company that markets the brand Superdry puts all sorts of "Japanese" on their threads but the "Japanese" is actually mainland China style Chinese.

I don't mean to be rude, but do you actually know the difference between Japanese and any of the Chinese languages? The most well-known logo from Superdry is 極度乾燥. If that were Chinese as written in mainland China, the first character should have been written as 极. It gets worse. The third one should have been written as 干.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I’ve an American friend here in Japan who buys t-shirts advertising his favorite rock band: Foreigner. So when Japanese point at him and say “Gaijin da!” He can congratulate them on their translation skills.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

There was a housewife ahead of me at the checkout counter in the supermarket last week, and in discrete letters it said on her T-shirt, SCREW.

Should I have asked her if she knew what it meant, like Mr Takahashi in NY? I wanted to get a shot with the iPhone, but decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I can picture this Japanese guy writing the article about the funny shirts while wearing a sweatshirt that says "Dream the Stylish Downtown Jump High".

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Reply to lucrabrasi: how true!

In a recent conversation with a cousin who is a teacher in a European country, he informed me that they now teach "English" and "American" in their schools, as separate subjects. I find that hilarious, if embarrassing. I have noticed that 50 years ago most spoke English with a British accent, whereas today most speak "English" with an American accent.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@1glenn

Yep. It's weird when languages split like that.

I know Swiss German kids have to learn "real" German as a foreign language, and some of the TV dramas made in Brazil have to be subtitled when they're shown in Portugal....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There was a housewife ahead of me at the checkout counter in the supermarket last week, and in discrete letters it said on her T-shirt, SCREW.

I once saw an obaasan wearing a T-shirt with the words JUICY emblazoned on her chest. You just can't make these things up.

they now teach "English" and "American" in their schools, as separate subjects.

And ego-boast for people from UK and US? They can now claim to be bilingual.

I know Swiss German kids have to learn "real" German as a foreign language,

Otherwise, I doubt there'd be much mutual intelligibility between the Swiss and the Germans. Just because the Swiss are speaking 'German' doesn't mean it's anywhere near the same as the language spoken by Germans, especially those from the north. I couldn't understand a single word in an interview with the tennis player Roger Federer. All I noticed was that he kept on pronouncing Schweiz as Schwiez.

There are a lot of people who speak 'Chinese' in Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but a foreign student of Mandarin will not understand a single word spoken in their homes. There is NO such thing as a single Chinese language. Even Beijingers are going to find it difficult to understand Sichuan Mandarin.

some of the TV dramas made in Brazil have to be subtitled when they're shown in Portugal....

I've heard that many Brazilians understand South American Spanish a lot easier than European Portuguese. Personally I can't understand a word of it, but I can catch some of the words in BP.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Who really cares what kanji is printed on t-shirts in New York?

I don't.....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I observed a young chap in the izakaya a while back, wearing an SS sweater. That was quite an eye opener. I doubt he was trying to be deliberately offensive, though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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