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Culture

These Totally Lost in Translation English Signs in Japan Have us Scratching Our Heads

Well-intentioned, but hilariously incorrect English signs in Japan are just the humor we need right now.

By 5 min read

In Japan, you are bound to notice unusual if not straight up bewildering translations of English from Japanese. They are so prevalent that the word “Engrish” was coined just to lump them all together. From local government to expensive ads, somewhere down the line from conception to the implementation, someone never bothered to ask a native English speaker, “does this actually make sense?”

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Thanks. I’ll pass.

There are several arguments for why this happens—none of which I buy. The obaasan (grandma) running the local curry shop might not care if her English makes sense, and really, we should be grateful she’s even trying to let us know the toilet is broken. When it comes to huge businesses and local governments pushing tourism, though, what’s their excuse?

There are so many English-speaking foreigners in Japan they could hire for translation jobs. I would gladly accept a bowl of ramen as payment for proofreading.

First of all, what kind of crazy person is going to Kyoto and starting fights with monkeys?

Regardless, Japan’s weird English translations are typically harmless. It’s the kind of thing that makes you smile because, hey, at least they tried. Some are just so silly they are too good not to share, which is what the kind folks over at the Facebook group Engrish in Japan are doing. Every month, they get submissions showcasing some of the best examples of Japanese English, but only a select few can be “post of the month.”

Here are some of our favorites.

Cannibal buffet

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“Tamagoyaki is peeeeeooople!”

Talk about a continental breakfast. This hotel restaurant in southern Japan’s Kumamoto has discovered a sneaky way of making sure tourists stick to the à la carte menu, but I think someone is eventually going to start asking questions about the chef’s special.

Quick! Warn the perverts!

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“Tell ’em hells coming with me!”

It’s about time someone stuck up for the perverts…? This announcement found in the dorms of Kobe University says, “chui! Kono fukin de chikan ga tahatsu shiteimasu,” which means “Warning! There are a lot of perverts in this area!” In Japanese, a chikan (groper) is someone who commits sexual harassment. You’ll see a lot of these types of signs where, although they mean well, the message is lost in translation.

No touching…except

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Keep your hands to yourself. Or don’t.

Speaking of perverts, pointing to this sign as you’re dragged off to jail isn’t going to mean much to the police. In Japanese, it says, “sutaffu igai wa ote wo furenaide kudasai,” which translates to “please don’t touch unless you are the staff.” Unfortunately, the bosses in charge of these fancy knick-knacks in Okinawa didn’t care enough to double-check.

Extraordinary toilet

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Why would they lie to us?

This sign leading guests at the Zao Fox Village in Miyagi to the ladies’ room is making some bold claims. Is it truly extraordinary? Is there four-ply toilet paper? Or have Japan’s mythical kitsune (fox spirits) set an elaborate trap for unsuspecting foreigners? Probably not. The Japanese text says, “rinji joshi toire,” which means “temporary ladies toilet.”

Be offensive

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I mean, if you say so. 

This flyer from Yamaguchi University telling students to “be offensive” might look like a shot at cancel culture, but it’s more than likely an homage to William S. Clark, a renowned scholar in Japan most famous for his quote, “Boys! Be ambitious!”

Slip it in the…wait. What!?

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No. I don’t think I will.

Actually, no. Please don’t do that. This sign found in a children’s park on Ishigaki Island is asking visitors to only use their butts when going down the slide instead of something like a trash can lid or cardboard box. The Japanese text says, “ro-ra kowaremasu,” which means “the roller will break.” We think people could have figured it out with the big red “X” and the misspelled warning alone, but okay.

Sorry for the confusion

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I’m confused.

This reads like a guy trying to explain himself to an ex-girlfriend through texting. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. First, “please come in.” Standard. Definitely, not crazy. Then comes the negotiation, “price down” in big red letters because he swears he can change. Wait! Under renovation! And finally, acceptance. He knows he’s confused. Sorry for bothering you.

Don’t throw away dog

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Missing a key word there.

Are heartless monsters just casually throwing away dogs in Japan? Well, yeah. People in Japan actually do abandon animals quite often. But this sign actually says “inu no fun wo sutenaide kudasai,” which roughly translates to “please don’t leave your dog’s poop here.” How that turned into a warning against abandoning your pet entirely is anyone’s guess, but please don’t do that either.

Protect ya ass

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We can do it if we work together, guys.

By now, you have probably heard of the great toilet paper war of 2020 brought about by COVID-19. It seems some people have resorted to stealing toilet paper from public bathrooms when stores limited the number of packs one person could buy. This sign from Naha Airport in Okinawa pleading with customers not to rip them off says, “mina no oshiri wo mamoru,” which means “let’s keep everyone’s butts clean.” While that is a pretty good translation, “ass” is a bit much. Oshiri is more of a cute way to refer to someone’s behind.

Don’t fight the monkeys

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Hahahah!

Cue the Pokemon music. First of all, what kind of crazy person is going to Kyoto and starting fights with monkeys in Maruyama Park? Secondly, where do you get off underestimating me? I don’t know what the grapple-game for monkeys in Japan is, but I’m pretty confident in my striking. Maybe not a troop of monkeys, but one on one? It’s entirely possible.

Never change, Japan. Never change.

What’s the funniest Engrish sign you’ve ever seen in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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