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The Real Challenge of Japanese to English Mistranslation

25 November 2020 / By ustranslation
An example of Japanese to English Mistranslation on a door

The Real Challenge of Japanese to English Mistranslation

One of the things most foreigners on a visit to Japan find funny is the mistranslation of Japanese to English. The mistranslation of Japanese to English is quite common, particularly when foreigners pay a visit to Japan. This phenomenon of mistranslation is popularly referred to as “Engrish” and this occurrence is mostly true with traditional English speakers.

The phenomenon of “Engrish” is predominantly a result of Japanese confusion with the letters “L” and “R.” Although it is particularly common in Japan, you can still find it happening in some other Asian countries, especially China (Chingrish) and South Korea. Some Japanese to English misinterpretations will leave you scratching your head about the meaning of the actual message. If you eventually adopt the literal meaning, you might find it funny or confusing.

Most mistranslations are a result of each country’s culture and character. Other times, these mistranslations arise from using direct machine translations from Japanese to English. These two leads to funny errors because English and Japanese are distinct in all aspects, including language, culture, and character.

Japanese to English misinterpretations leave many impressions to the reader, but most times, none of it is intended. These misinterpretations can be comic, accidentally lewd, poetic, nonsensical, and even offensive. Therefore, it is best to be nonjudgmental and lighthearted about these misinterpretations.

Below is a list of some of the most common and funniest Japanese to English misinterpretations.

1. Store and Product Names 

Don’t be surprised that you will find some of the funniest Japanese to English mistranslations in many stores and product names. It is common because many business owners love to translate their business names to English from the original Japanese that it was written. Even though it is common in Japan, the art has not been properly mastered. Although Japanese business translation shows an effort to English speakers and is appreciated most of the time.

A lot of Japanese stores have typical Japanese names. Common examples are Genki Sushi (roughly, “happy sushi” – a sushi chain) and Kikkoman (roughly “tortoise and good fortune,”), which is particularly referencing common Japanese folklore. Other internationally famous, puzzling, and funny Japanese brand names are Collon (biscuits), A Bathing Ape (BAPE: street fashion), and Pocari Sweat (beverage).

I know a tourist wouldn’t eat here:
Or here for that matter:

2. Informational Signage 

Another place you can find interesting and funny of Japanese to the English language is various information signage. With many foreigners seeing Japan as a possible destination for tourism and other purposes, the country would love to put many things in place to make navigation easy. Therefore, considering the need to communicate in the best possible language, it is only normal to find funny Japanese to English translations in various signages all over the country.

For instance, the internet and manga café might want to communicate to their customers that they have a separate floor for smokers, only to go ahead to pass a message like “you can choose where you’d like to sit.” Nevertheless, the personalization and imagery of this signage is a little bit more delightful and can help in passing a clearer message.


Instwead of saying “restroom available only to customers”, here is what can be found in one of the signs inside a fast food chain:

Then, there is translations like this:


3. Advertisements 

While advertisements are normal in any language, you will commonly find English misinterpretations in advertisements that aim to add a touch of foreign flavor or style. They often do this to remain unique and gain a wider range of foreign audiences. Many products and establishments make Japanese to English misinterpretations on wallpaper posts and spray painted in walls.

Nevertheless, the language’s aesthetic values make it loved by most westerners. Many westerners find Asian characters exotic, artful, and cool enough for various uses. They even find it suitable enough for making tattoos on their bodies. Funny enough, the 26 alphabets are only used as decorations on the opposite side of the world for those who don’t even care to read it.

Here is an ad full of Engrish:

And another one:

4. Romanization 

Romanization is one of the souls of the misinterpretations from Japanese to English. Romanizing Japanese also means back-translating English. It is also an attempt at translation, but in this case, it involves translating English to something a little more different. The result of this misinterpretation can be weird, out-rightly wrong, or in the best scenario, some people will find it helpful.

5. Nuance Missed 

Suppose you observe many Japanese to English misinterpretations; in that case, you will stop wondering why people will grab and invest some yen in an available native English speaker for proper translation, rather than using some loose English that will hit the wrong point or those that won’t even hit the point.

There are several instances of Japanese to English Misinterpretations that neither hit the right words nor pass the intended message. For instance, the word “Goon” is synonymous with thugs and gang members in native English. However, this same word, “Goon” is associated with smiling babies in Japan, which is quite contradictory.

Another typical example is an inscription that says, “Parts of the car are offered” “Hot Parts.” While native English sees the grammar and might even find it easy to overlook it, this business owner might reconsider advertising like this. The word “hot” commonly means stolen in Japan. Consequently, you might expect it to pass the wrong message.

This guy is apparently selling “Hot”, or stolen parts.

Having a baby-brand name that is commonly known among gangs = only in Japan.


Japanese to English misinterpretations is a representation of what can go wrong in day-to-day non-professional translations. Therefore, it is appropriate to give a big salute to various individuals, companies, and establishments that seek editors and translators’ help to make the right translations. Others that neglect this are often the ones in the center of memes and media jokes.

In some cases, native English speakers and other foreigners try to explain the translation errors. Often, such remarks are welcomed with an appreciable response, while other times it is ignored or considered offensive. Be careful not to offend anyone despite your good intentions.

Nevertheless, it appears that the influence of foreigners and native English speakers in Japanese to English translations is not enough. Despite their presence, many Japanese to English misinterpretations still exist to this day in both commercial and informational content. If you are travelling to Japan, you might find it interesting to pay attention to these misinterpretations.

So let’s have fun with these misinterpretations!



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