Photo: Engrish in Japan

These English signs in Japan have us scratching our heads

By Aaron Baggett

In Japan, you are bound to notice unusual if not straight up bewildering translations of English from Japanese. They are so prevalent that the word “Engrish” was coined just to lump them all together. From local government to expensive ads, somewhere down the line from conception to the implementation, someone never bothered to ask a native English speaker, “does this actually make sense?”

There are several arguments for why this happens—none of which I buy. The obaasan (grandma) running the local curry shop might not care if her English makes sense, and really, we should be grateful she’s even trying to let us know the toilet is broken. When it comes to huge businesses and local governments pushing tourism, though, what’s their excuse?

There are so many English-speaking foreigners in Japan they could hire for translation jobs. I would gladly accept a bowl of ramen as payment for proofreading.

Cannibal buffet

Photo: Engrish in Japan

Talk about a continental breakfast. This hotel restaurant in southern Japan’s Kumamoto has discovered a sneaky way of making sure tourists stick to the à la carte menu, but I think someone is eventually going to start asking questions about the chef’s special.

Quick! Warn the perverts!

It’s about time someone stuck up for the perverts…? This announcement found in the dorms of Kobe University says, “chui! Kono fukin de chikan ga tahatsu shiteimasu,” which means “Warning! There are a lot of perverts in this area!” In Japanese, a chikan (groper) is someone who commits sexual harassment. You’ll see a lot of these types of signs where, although they mean well, the message is lost in translation.

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Sometimes, of course, the 'error' isn't actually an error, it's just an idiom used outside of where that idiom is understood, or a confusion between homonyns (words that sound the same, look close to the same, but carry different meanings)

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Aaron Baggett (the author) got all these from our FB group ENGRISH IN JAPAN. 

Want more? Join here

4 ( +4 / -0 )

After years of studying how to translate complex texts into Japanese and vice versa, even simple English sentences elude most people in Japan.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I can see where they were coming from. "Good ass" food, etc. is a common expression. It goes without saying that "Best ass" is of a higher quality than "good ass".

2 ( +3 / -1 )

If you’d allow us to post pictures to respond to this article, it’ll surely be a hall of fame comment section.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Got tons of these in my smartphone and old cellphones.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"Best ass meat barbecued pork Ramen"

I'll try it!

"Only the person who ordered a buffet is eaten"


1 ( +1 / -0 )

Was the "best ass meat" being served in Bikkuri Donki?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have seen thee all before. Weren't they copyrighted?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Yes, but it cuts both ways.

A few years ago - there was a billboard campaign in England by a car manufacturer - probably Toyota.

What did it have - a large photo of a very desirable car - and in one corner - some kanji. I've no idea what the kanji said - but the inference was clear enough - this is a damned good car - because it's JAPANESE! You had to go right up to it and read the badge on the front of the car. Brilliant, I thought.

But, while we are on this Engrish, I'm surprised that no-one has yet re-posted the all-time gnomic example - the sign outside the rather good "Café Dorf" coffee shop on Takaragaike-dori in Kyoto.

I can't post a picture here - but it reads -

"Café/Restaurant Dorf (with picture of a Dutch woman in clogs)

Ladies use the word 'sweat' when they feel it best for their best."

Every year, I offer my lecture class students fifty pounds if they will give me a convincing explanation of what was in the translator's mind.

No- one has yet won it - some say - oh, they men 'sweet' but have spelt it 'sweat'. I don't buy that!

Most of these translation infelicities are actually rather touching (and a few teach us about our own language) - and hey - do you see similar translations into Japanese in any place in the USA or Britain? - no way - so don't take the piss, as some posters on here tend to do - at least the people are trying - and probably making a real effort in doing so to show thay welcome 'gaijins'

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Gives context to that phrase, "Lost in Translation."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'd love to see how they translate that dish called Bukkake Don.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You would proofread for a bowl of ramen? Really. One hopes you’d then contract out the copy/line editing work for payment.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I am sure there is occasions where English words don't make sense when translated into Japanese as well.

there is another funny website called there was one memorable one and it was from a hospital info board, it had Chinese or Japanese writing, but it was also in English, the translations was, I would say the "gynecology dept" this way but it had a English translation of c**t dept this way underneath. it beats me why they just don't ask a native person (jaigin) to proof read it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Errr you call that error ? ... At least you know is pork ramen, read the Chinese translation it say is premium chicken ... Lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Never use google translate.

Many years ago I had occasional work re-writing poorly translated advertising material into proper English for the tourism industry. I was often told by my Japanese employers that what I wrote was wrong or not proper English, because they had the so called English speakers in the office check it. These were the people who wrote the bad copy in the first place.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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