Getting Ready (Week 1)

Hey guys, it is less than a week before we take off for Japan. It has been a long semester and we're all excited to finally go and experience the culture first hand!

As far as blogging goes, our group will focus primarily on mistranslated signs, menus, advertisements, etc... and anything else that we may come across during our stay in Japan. Since we will be going to lots of places that tourists like to visit, I'm sure that we will encounter tons of "Engrish". Depending on where we find these mistranslations, our group will try to contact whoever made it and try to get a short interview with them. The main purpose of this is to try and see what was going through their minds when they decided to print the sign and get a better understanding of how the translating process works.  If not, we will try to figure out on our own what they were actually trying to say and how the error occurred in the first place. Furthermore, we can also question any Japanese students at the campus about their study of English and what sort of problems they run into when they are using it, whether written or spoken.

In general, we realize that translation errors can occur in a wide variety of forms such as mistakes in the grammar structure, incorrect spelling, use of the wrong tense, homophones, or errors that were the result of “kanji” that hold multiple meanings.

Here are some reasons that may have lead to certain mistranslations:

1. Poor Internet Translators
 poor english

After reading the English translation, we can somewhat guess the meaning. However, it is definitely difficult to read. We suspect that the owner of the sign used an electronic/internet translator, and it jumbled up the sentences, resulting in a message that is hard to understand.

2. Misunderstanding an English word
The Fukubukuro sale

Mortified Japanese Department Store Cleans Up 'Fuckin Sale'
In 2012, a store in Osaka had intended to create a pun with the word “fukubukuro” - meaning “lucky bags”, however the outcome of this resulted in what is seen in the Before photo. The used the words in all of their promotional signs and fliers, which were quickly noticed by English-speaking residents and tourists in the area.  

Later on it was revised to what we see in the After photo.

The reason for this mistranslation may be due to lack of understanding of the English word. From this experience, the store manager would most likely double-check the English meanings before releasing another advertisement.

During our stay, we will look out for advertisements such as these, and may try to interview the store managers about the meaning that they are trying to get across, and what caused the mistake.

3. Pronunciation/Homophones

“To brake or to break...that is my question…”

One of the most commonly seen and heard of mistranslations are due to homophones! These are the types of words that have the same sound but have a completely different meaning. Some examples of commonly mixed up words are "there", "their" and "they're", as well as "your" and "you're". Unfortunately, even some English speakers do not recognize the difference between these sets of words. Another example would be the "famous" part of "infamous"; it is not pronounced as "famous" by itself. Super confusing isn’t it?! Imagine how non-native English speakers would feel! An interesting example can be seen in the picture above. The sign obviously meant the word “break” instead of “brake”, because how in the world is someone supposed to “brake this wall?” At least I don’t know how, LOL.

4. Verbs/ Tense

As we look for more mistranslations of the English language in Japan we realized that the Japanese language has no auxiliary verbs…..SAY WHAT?!?! No seriously, not only that, the Japanese language also has no use of articles or plurals!! (The shock  that I felt when I started learning this language cannot be explained…). Here is an example:

本(ほん:hon)= the book, a book, books

Isn’t that really convenient?!? At least when it comes to writing there aren’t many things you would need to worry about, but imagine the ambiguity you will have when speaking to a non-native Japanese speaker!! THE CONFUSION!!!

The tenses for English and Japanese also differs.

For English, there are 3 tenses (Past, Present and Future), each with Simple, Continuous, Perfect and Perfect Continuous.

Japanese has 2 tenses: Past and Non-past (present and future)

Since for Japanese, it uses the same tense for present and future, errors could occur when translating it into English

5. Sentence structure
Illustration of English versus Japanese word order, showing that in English a noun is followed by a verb and then a modifier, but in Japanese a noun plus the topic particle wa is followed by a modifier and then a verb.
For English, the word order in a sentence is important. It goes by the pattern SVO (Subject, Verb, Object). Whereas in Japanese, the general word order is SOV (Subject, Object, Verb).

The difference in sentence structures may lead to confusing sentences, when translated.

6. Phonology

Another reason similar to homophones is due to phonology, non-native speakers are unable to differentiate the sounds between / l / and / r /. Such said examples can be seen from this poor frog being termed as a flog (poor floggy...)

7. Manner

A funny reason why mistranslations might happen is due to mannerism. You may ask, What do you mean by “mannerism”? Well unlike the English language, within the Japanese language there are many different levels of speech! This is called 敬語(けいご:keigo)also known as honorific language/ speech.

Lastly, there are times when a translation is grammatically correct, however the person translating it might take the literal meaning behind the word. This can lead to misunderstandings to native speakers, especially if the literal meaning behind the words is slang for something else entirely.


These are some of the possible reasons which may lead to mistranslation. During our studies, we will attempt to uncover undiscovered mistranslated items, along with its possible reasons. Be sure to follow us to check out our latest findings.

See you next time!!

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