It's easy to make fun of the Engrish phenomenon, but the rest of the world is just as guilty of doing terrible things to those exotic oriental characters.

Sunday, October 25, 2009  11:56 AM

A pricele t-shirt?

I'm not sure if the lettering this t-shirt, which I saw in Hereford in the UK a few years ago and which I just rediscovered while looking for a completely different image, is meant to mean anything, but if it is the nearest word which would make any kind of sense would be プライスレス (puraisuresu), i.e. priceless. If that is the case the shirt (or sweater, or whatever it is) is missing the trailing ス (su).


(Yes, those are my hands you can see reflected in the picture).

Tuesday, February 5, 2008   6:48 AM

Out of line

The other day I was waddling my penguiny way along the major shopping street not far from Penguin HQ when something caught my beady penguiny eye. To be precise, some sort of Chinese characters adorning the door of a trendy-looking coffee purveyor. "Gambatta na", I thought, "but there's something there that looks not quite right".


Stopping to have a better squint at it, it became clear that the middle character is missing a line. It should look like this:

My apologies if this sounds terribly pedantic, but it's visually annoying as for example "Opun" in the same context would be. And more over - and I am writing this from behind the smug, all-knowing safety afforded to me by some official bits of paper in the language - what it actually says is "eigyôchû", which does mean "open", but in the sense of "currently open for business", which it most clearly was not, it being well past 8pm when I took the photo. For the record, "営業時間" - eigyô jikan, "opening hours" - would probably be the more appropriate word to write here.

Motto of the story: if you want to decorate your business with exotic oriental characters, a) take care to copy them correctly; and b) when getting someone to write them down for you (I'm guessing this is what happened here), make sure they get the correct context for the translation. (If I have a chance I'll go in and mention it to them next time I'm passing by).

Friday, February 1, 2008  10:28 AM

The topsy-turvy world of business (dictionaries)

Quite a few years ago I came across this dictionary on sale in a remaindered book shop in the UK:

English-Japanese Business Dictionary

As it was going for a song, and I had vague ambitions of becoming a Japanese-English translator, I didn't hesitate to snap it up, and while I never pursued that particular career, it has come in handy on occasion. It's also quite unusual as it's one of the very few bilingual Japanese dictionaries which hasn't been produced in Japan.

Thursday, January 31, 2008   5:32 PM



Anything written in a script not native to your own country is, by definition, exotic. Of course, in Japan "exotic" linguistic decorations are taken to extreme lengths, but we here in the rômaji-dominated world are also not always immune to the temptations of strange, foreign scripts. Such as with this fashionable laptop bag I spied the other day in an electronics store in Berlin, which proudly bears the name "トウシバ" ("tôshiba", written in the katakana script).

What's wrong with that, you might ask? Well, nothing really - it's spelt correctly, no embarrassing errors. However, in Japan the company of the same name is written either in rômaji ("Toshiba"), or the actual kanji ("東芝") - you'll probably never see トウシバ in normal usage. Also, the font used here would probably have any corporate designer tearing their hair out - to my (design layperson) eyes it looks rather old-fashioned and is somehow slightly mis-proportioned.

The odd thing is, according to the label on the bag, it's actually licensed by Toshiba.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008   6:59 AM

Nippon Chocolate Biscuits

They're made of rice and covered in a thin layer of chocolate: what better name than "Nippon" for these German-made wafer-type biscuits available in various shapes and sizes from a company called Hosta?

Nippon Chocoloate Rice Biscuits

Sunday, December 23, 2007  12:18 AM

Nippon Mouse Killer

Nippon Mouse Killer

(This is the first of an occasional series of posts on stuff found outside of Japan which uses the image of Japan or the Japanese language in strange and / or mysterious ways. Sort of like Engrish in reverse.)

Right now I'm visiting my parents in the UK, and as they live deep in the inaka they are engaged in semi-permanent conflict with large sections of the flora and particularly the fauna. Mice are a particular problem, and what else would the discerning householder use to control the domestic rodent population other than "NIPPON Mouse Killer Pellets"?