Our Miranda Kenrick recalls some ‘Japlish’ howlers
“No smoking in bed and other disgusting behaviours,” says the sign in a hotel bedroom somewhere in Japan.
Of course, I fall over laughing. I also automatically reach for paper and pen to jot it down. Throughout the years I’ve amassed a fabulous collection of English, as spoken or written by Japanese, that we fondly call “Japlish.”
“Kindly do not make noise for some people prepare to sleep,” says a sign in another hotel bedroom. Another identifies its pillows as “hard and soft sided.” Yet another hotel asks its clientele not to “hang wet clothes on lump shades.”
Wet clothes brings me to hotel bathrooms where such gems as “volume on” and “squelch” or “please dial to shut whenever you want to” may appear above the faucets. One hotel asks its guests “not put towel and soup in bath.”
A message by the telephone in a hotel room reads, “glittering night view and a golden drink. Dial 2 for your gorgeous time.”
Menus are a rich source of Japlish. Be prepared for “fried fishermen,” “mice meat pies,” or “buttered saucepans.” You can order “aspa-rags soup,” “puffing parfaits” or “surprised oranges.” French restaurants are capable of offering “poison.” Just that. Poison.
A Japanese friend describes a house he has visited as “very tasty.”
A hotel menu — and this is in Tokyo, not in the back of beyond — boasts, “All vegetables served in this restaurant are washed in water passed by our head chef.”
Another says, “unglazed tile, goatskin seat coverings, copper medallions and light softly falling from the ceiling contribute to an excellent atmosphere for grilling meat.”
There’s Japlish everywhere you look. A dry cleaner’s slogan is “dress up by cleaning.” A coffee shop dubs itself “Pee Ka Boo.” A cyclist’s face mask is advertised as “crow musk, to stop the cold.”
A nail care product begins its blurb with “for male and female, young and old, please share the joy of having one’s own natural shine with your family.”
A wash cloth called “Clean Clean” describes itself as a “magic towel for health and beauty” and goes on to say “enjoy tenderness and softness to your skin. Sure! Best for beathing and masage. Economical! Yes, you can save 1/2 soap with Clean Clean. Healthy! Tender stimulation will make a better blood circulation and make your skin more charming and blooming.”
Friends decorate their bathroom with a plaque that has on it a couple standing by a bus stop. In the background are a building and a car. Written is “Another Scene. Man and Lady, meet this town. Then they have meltting mood. This town called love lorn town.”
A Japanese letter writing pad is called “Happy” and declares, “This writing Pad is an excellent example of Japanese traditional paper with modern technique of beautiful ‘water mark’ combined. This can be a Cupid for you, conveying Love and Happiness to your friend. Your beautiful Heart will surely be better expressed by this elegant letter paper. Also we would recommend this for your invitatory and congratulatory letter so that most splendid atmosphere might be created.”
This charming message isn’t written on “Happy” paper, but arrives on a Christmas card. It says, “to us, you like light in the dark, your guidance like Pilot Light to boat. May Lord’s blessing always be with you.”
An acquaintance signs a New Year’s card with his own name, then adds, “with 10 grandchildren, 4 children, 1 wife, and 7 goldfish.”
We are traveling around Japan and stop at an observation place on a mountain road. The sign in English means to say, we are sure, “picturesque spot.” However, it comes out as, “This is picture quest pot.”
A friend touring Shikoku sends a post card of the famed bull fights. The explanation in English on the back of the card begins, “Before the bull fight, the bulls consume 20 eggs and a dozen beers to excite.” My friend begins his own message with, “If I had 20 eggs and a dozen beers, I bet I’d excite, too.”
Speaking of Shikoku, I simply cannot believe my eyes when this sentence confronts me on a tourist brochure. After lavishly praising the scenic beauty of the island, the pamphlet adds, “The simple-minded inhabitants are bright as larks and are blessed with good health.”
Elsewhere in Japan, in Nara to be precise, this sign stood for some years in the deer park. “CAUTION. Everybody: Take care of Hind! It is the season Fawn is born about this time. It may be case, if you approach him, his mother deer being full of maternal love gives you a kick by her forfeet.”
Or how about this in a public ladies room in a national park: “Visitors are asked to leave the toilets in a clean condition. An incinerator is provided behind the entrance door.”
I can’t wait to see what Tsukuba Expo ’85 might produce for my collection.
During Expo ’70 in Osaka, this sign was posted in a number of places around the fair grounds: “Gentlemen! Please do not carry your wallets in rear pocket for your backside is easily attacked.”
I worked in Okinawa during the Ocean Expo of 1975. All sorts of press releases, letters and invitations crossed my desk. We were told that among the special attractions would be “bug pipes” from the U.K. and a “string quarter” from Australia.
This was my favorite. “Dear Sir: We would like to hold a cocktail party with foreign and Japanese participants for the purpose of becoming intimate with each other.”
Another letter said, “It is very happy to inform you that we welcome anytime, whenever you and your guests wish to visit us. That time, please phone extension 5839 before your visit, otherwise, we may give you heavy trouble when you come to us. Waiting for your nice courtesy call.”
A letter of introduction came around to say, “It gives you great pleasure to introduce me to you as the new Pavilion Manager.”
A thank you letter read. “It is my best pleasure that my mother and wife been entertained well from your heartfull hospitality during their visit. Surely they have enjoyed too much and naturally must be kept in memory forever. Again, thanks for your best kindness to them.”
At Expo we received pages and pages of instructions on emergency procedures and first aid instructions. I bet you didn’t know that “a convulsive fit does not directly endanger patient’s life. So there is no need to panic. It will end spontaneously while you are watching him.”
For epilepsy, we were told to “wrap chopstick in cloth and put it between his upper and lower teeth to prevent him from biting his tongue. P.S. Handkerchief can be used instead of chopstick.”
We were told how to rouse unconscious patients. “Apply vinegar, perfume or ammonia fumes to his nose, dash water on his face, call his name loudly, or rap him on hand or foot.” We were also cautioned “never apply artificial heat (hot water bottle) except for drowning victims on cold days.”
All this reminds me of other medical forms that have come my way. One says in part. Please one tablet of gall fluroscopy helpers by 3 p.m. of the previous day to make sure nothing happens and then take the rest at 5 minutes interval from 9 p.m. Diarrhoea is no problem but if this caused measles please do not take any more and tell so at the counter.”
This same questionnaire asks if you have “hot fit,” “shiver of fingers” or “feel as if there were 2 when there is only 1.”
Years ago, when Okinawa was still American, this sign greeted visitors at the airport: “Welcome. You have just arrived in an area which was formerly affected by malaria. This disease has been eradicated after a long and costly campaign. But a single person carrying malaria parasites in his blood may infect local mosquitoes and contribute to a malaria epidemic.” And local mosquitoes must be protected at all costs!
A friend is asked to re-write some copy about a visiting French chanson singer. He realizes at once, of course, that she is being praised, that her’s are soulful renditions of sad ballads. What is written, for his approval, however, is “Please enjoy her pathetic voice.”
I re-write the blurb for a brochure on a burglar alarm system called Watch Dog. The brochure begins with this modest statement. ‘This is an all transistorised automatic radio wave alarm devised for the first time by us,” and goes on to describe “various alarming devises.”
It says, “the first alarming is made at once by the alarm lamp which projects a menacing light on the invader in the dark.” I learn that “if an invader steps within this spherical area regardless of the angle and the direction, the radio wave is disturbed and the electro-magnetic wave produced by the phase difference in the frequency of the radio wave caused by the reflection to the eradiated wave on the invader is transmitted back to the master unit.”
I also learn that “delayed action system and unsuitable alarming due to small animals is eliminated,” and that it “can be placed in a room without spoiling the atmosphere.”
All very reassuring, that we can protect our homes from invaders and invasions.
From time to time, the local newspapers have such stunning headlines as “Police grill hostess in burned body case,” or “Change in executing editor.”
Some stories are fairly incredible, too. This one, for instance, about a thief who specialized in stealing items from parked vehicles and kept his victims’ drivers’ licenses as a record of his work.
Three hundred thefts later, the police found 181 drivers’ licenses, 47 credit cards and 90 purses and wallets in his room.
The newspaper account said, “Asked why he had kept such evidence, Ito said another thief had told him that he was scolded by detectives because he could not remember details of his many crimes. Ito kept a diary of his thefts for about three months after he first became a thief, but the diary was stolen by a burglar. He then decided to keep licenses. Questioned by police, Ito easily gave the dates of the crimes when he was shown the licenses.”
Speaking of thieves, I remember a news item about three masked men who broke into the house of eel-keepers, bound and gagged them, then proceeded to net 60,000 eels. “The thieves also took 30 bags of eel food, each containing 20 kilograms, to cap their six hours of work,” says the newspaper.
And what about this! The news item begins, “A university professor of bacteriology was shot and injured seriously being mistaken for a rabbit by a hunter, while collecting wild mushrooms in a forest in Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture, Monday afternoon.”
The story goes on to say the police are questioning the hunter on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injury, and ends with “investigators suspect that the hunter shot the professor at about 50 meters’ distance, taking him for a rabbit.” Which, really, has to be the ultimate insult to injury.
To move on … a friend of mine goes to a tailor who advertises his suits as “easy fit.” The tailor looks at my friend, shakes his head and says, “Oh, sir. You are semi-fat. Not easy fit.”
A secretary asks for a letter of recommendation after years of dedication to her company. This is what she receives, “Miss Suzuki has worked for our company for 14 years. She is leaving at the end of the month. We are very satisfied.”
Finally, a British friend of mine has made up his mind that he is going to retire on New Year’s Eve, 1999.
One night, in his cups, he phones his favorite Tokyo hotel and says he would like to make a reservation for a party on December 31, 1999.
Long pause. Then the voice on the other end of the line says, “I think we are very busy on that night, sir. How about December 30?”I think we are very busy on that night, sir. How about December 30?