Thursday, 5 February 2015

Japanese Musings XII: Engrish

world-map osawano


Another Japanese Musing this week, this time on the subject of how my mother tongue can be so very elegantly butchered. Being an ESOL teacher, I’ve heard this done in many different ways over many, many years but I have to admit that these flowery examples still bring a smile to my face.

Let’s enjoy the multifarious usage of English language to enliven our joyful lives! 

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt


Links to all the Japanese Musings:

Series 1

Japanese Musings I: Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Japanese Musings II: O-ha!!!

Japanese Musings III: The Thin Blue Line

Japanese Musings IV: Nihon no Shokyu

Japanese Musings V: The Sporting Life

Japanese Musings VI: A Bad Day

Japanese Musings VII: Time, time, time…

Japanese Musings VIII: The Joys of Internationalisation

Japanese Musings IX: Meri Kurisumasu!

Japanese Musings X: It’s Cold Outside!

Japanese Musings XI: Moomins and Mydo Cardo

Japanese Musings XII: Engrish

Japanese Musings XIII: Valentine’s Day

Series 2

Japanese Musings 2.1: Arrival: Tokyo

Japanese Musings 2.2: Arrival: Inaka

Japanese Musings 2.3: Riding the Kamioka-sen

Japanese Musings 2.4: Onsen

Japanese Musings XII: Engrish

One of the stranger features of Japanese life is perhaps the widespread use of what is known as ‘Engrish’. Now Engrish is a difficult concept to explain but it comes about through a widespread use of English in advertising and the existence of a population who know not what they are reading. For the Japanese I imagine, English must have a pretty cool look about it, and that’s why it is used extensively. However, since very few people speak the language, I assume that it matters not what is said, but more the appearance of the slogan.

Of course bad English usage is not limited to Japan and indeed every country produces certain hilarious language faux-pas. I remember well from my time on Corfu that the common girl’s name ‘Pippa’ is actually Greek for ‘oral sex’. This of course produced many snigger inducing moments, though perhaps the funniest overall is when Greek TV bought the rights of the Australian soap ‘Home and Away’, only to have to cancel the show after the first airing due to complaints from the virtuous public that one was the central characters had the name ‘blowjob’. Indeed, Japan provides us with many similar cases, CRAP washing powder being one of the best. However, when I refer to Engrish, I am actually talking about something entirely different. Engrish is where our Japanese friends have purposely created a slogan in English for their product that somehow is not quite right…

For example, the other day I decided to enjoy a pleasant can of coffee from a vending machine. However, Japan has more vending machines than any other country on earth, so the choice is remarkable. Which brand should I pick?

Firstly there was the slightly humorously named ‘Blendy’ coffee which is “Casual, yet rich in substance. That’s how you are, and so is Blendy.”


Hmm, casual yet rich in substance. They know me well and I must admit, I was tempted but in the end I opted for Blendy’s rival Cafe Miami. Here's why...

“We established a fine coffee

What everybody can say TASTY!

It’s fresh, so-mild, with special coffee’s bitter and sour taste

‘LET’S HAVE SUCH A COFFEE NOW!’ is our selling copy

Please love CAFE MIAMI

Many thanks”

How could I not buy it?

But of course, here in the land of commercialism and bad English combined, it doesn’t stop with coffee. How about some mineral water...?

“Moistens your body rapidly and softens your soul gently. Postonic is life for us all.”

That was Postonic water, which I of course bought after I read that it was “Newly Tastly Improved Enhanced.” What more could one ask for?


Another pasture of creative opportunity for the slogan-maker is stationery, such as the exquisite ‘BITS’ stationery range.

“The perfect Goods to climax a happy occasion... to make any occasion happy BITS goods goes along.


Or we could go Pastel Vivre....

“Pastel Vivre Notebook

The smoothness of the paper guarantees satisfaction.

The best quality goods always make you happy.

This is the most comfortable notebook you have run into.”

Or what about the auto industry for which Japan is famous? The Nissan Terrano is a must buy:

“NISSAN TERRANO is for the car enthusiast who wants to feel the beat of life in his own life.”

“Whenever and everywhere we can meet our best friend nature. Take a grip of steering, NISSAN TERRANO.”

Actually, Mother Nature features rather heavily in car slogans. Countless times have I pulled up behind a 4wd drive emblazoned with slogans urging me to ‘respect’ and ‘nurture’ Mother Nature, obviously exactly what the environmentally-conscious 4wd drivers are doing in purchasing petrol-guzzling mobiles, (such as the Nissan Terrano...).

But my favourite is this classic:

“Shining elegance

A high qualified feeling which appeals to our mind

An admirable elegance that makes us wide-eyed

Authentic elegance has an incredible power which changes the surrounding atmosphere


And what was that one found on? Well, none other than a frying pan of course!!

Of course, absolute honesty is not always necessary when creating the right slogan. A friend of mine has a “beautiful ceramic heater which provides enjoyable warmth for all, everybody.” Yet her heater is plastic.

What’s more, this Engrish phenomenon does not limit itself to advertising, another area worth looking at is that of fashion items. Just ask my friend with the ‘Erectric Killer’ T-Shirt. Other T-Shirt slogans include “My first marriage was one of convenience”; “Let’s Flesh Milk!” and the all-time classic, “Spread Beaver – Showing in vaginal area”!! Imagine these being worn by young kids, their parents oblivious to the meaning. It’s a common sight in Japan!


Why not try a snack, such as those pretzels covered in chocolate, known as “Pocky Sticks”. Of these, the finest are the mint chocolate “Men’s Pocky Sticks” (quite why they’re not suitable for women I never got), but the packet does tell us that they are intended for “the intelligent connoisseur who enjoys the finer points in life”.


To be honest I’m getting a bit tired of it all; the continual use of words such as ‘invigorating’, ‘connoisseur’, ‘qualified’ and ‘authentic elegance’ is beginning to hurt my brain. I’ve got to relax and what more appropriate than ‘a piece of cigarette’ for you know that “complete relaxation has been attained when one enjoys a piece of cigarette”. No wonder they all smoke here!

Considering all this, myself and a few comrades decided the other day to really try and figure out the slogan-maker’s art. The answer is simple, firstly think of a good slogan in Japanese and then translate it directly without changing the grammar. Then, why not look through the dictionary for the longest words you can find and place them liberally in your slogans? Finally, to put the icing on the cake, use a few of those English phrases you were taught at school, in particular if they start with the word ‘Let’s’ and end with ‘together’. Using these principles, one can develop a whole new way of speaking.

In the pub:

A: What are you drinking?

B: I am enjoying karua milk. The creamy goodness of the milk combines with the exhilaration of the karua to produce a taste experience that is intense.

And you?

A: I’m drinking Suntory whisky. For many years the establishment of Suntory has been taken by the world as a symbol of enjoyable and quality whisky for happy consumption.


Or perhaps we suggest a day out?

A: Where shall we go today?

B: Preservation of our physical health is essential to our soul harmony. Let’s enjoy onsen experience together!

A: But in the modern world the needs of the body and soul are multiples. Let’s enjoy Fabore Shopping World where quality and value produce an invigorating and wholesome shopping experience?!


And finally, the other day I had a lesson with a rather quiet and uninterested group of students on the topic, “Why do we study English?” Not the easiest topic to teach to a group of people unlikely ever to leave Toyama-ken), an area where speaking English is hardly that useful, since you’ll be the only one who can anyway). How could I inspire them? Luckily, I had my Engrish spiel ready...

“Do you remember child hopes and dreams? To fly in the sky or enjoy Mother Nature, our best friend? Supreme life fulfilment can only be obtained if we pursue our dreams. Study with honour and happiness. Fulfil child dreams. Let’s study English together!”


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