Thursday, June 21, 2007

Engrish with the Art Club

I can't live in Japan and not do at least one post about the silly English you see around here.

I was hanging out with Asaka JHS’s art club the other day. They are a fun bunch of mostly girls who sit around after school, gossip, and draw or trace cartoons in the distinctive Japanese manga/anime style. The characters have big oversize eyes, flat faces, and very dramatic hairdos. We were talking and laughing and the subject of the English on their bags, notebooks, and folders came up. I was telling them that they often have big errors, are incomprehensible, or outlandishly funny. They instantly asked me to start translating the stuff on their bags. Here are some of the following:

  • Who is the person who ate my cake?
  • Stars are always twinkling on our heads.
  • I want to see strange people in South and North country.
  • There’s no reason for loving.
  • Special Happy Time! (With accompanying photo of a morbidly obese blonde girl shoveling ice cream into her mouth; kind of disturbing.)

The kids couldn’t stop laughing at the translations I provided. I’m not sure whether it was my lousy Japanese or the absurdity of the messages printed on their things. Probably both. I’ve become immune to most of the bad English used in graphic design and only occasionally find something hilarious anymore. If you aren’t so jaded and desensitized to it as I am, feel free to look at this website for a few laughs.

But bad English isn’t limited to Japan. Its quite prominent in some of the other asian countries I’ve been to, such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Korea. I even spied some strange things during my trip to Europe (although I don’t recall anything specific or particularly funny). Anyways, just go to for a good laugh.

Also, don't think this is because Asians are lazy and can't translate English. These are part of the graphic design of products and aren't really intended to communicate anything. Americans with Chinese character tattoos might be an apt analogy for understanding what's going on. Americans with chinese tattos like the look and wouldn't be expected to have the communicative competency to avoid a silly error.

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