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Forever Protector of Old Ladies

Tokyo Tales is proud to be the first result on Google for Japlish, the misappropriation of English words and phrases for use on t-shirts here in Japan. Or adverts, or song lyrics, or whatever; but t-shirts tend to provide the most fertile ground.

The inverse of Japlish would, I suppose, be 英本語 (eihongo), but knowing how Japanese works, 英和語 (eiwago) would probably make more sense. (Eiwa is at least a word, meaning "England and Japan", or "English-Japanese", whereas I don't think eihon is. Or if it is, it probably means "English book". The final "go" is the suffix for language. But maybe I should deliberately pick a word that isn't a word... aaaanyway.)

If Japlish's natural habitat is Japanese people wearing badly written t-shirts they don't understand, then the inverse's natural habitat is surely... westerners getting kanji tattoos.

As I was doing a bit of browsing this afternoon, I tripped across the excellent Hanzi Smatter, a weblog devoted to critiquing badly done (and often just plain wrong) kanji (hanzi in Chinese) tattoos. Not just tattoos actually, but also t-shirts, rugs, bumper stickers, and so on, but the tattoos are clearly the best part. I can't put my finger on it, but there's just something... schadenfreudelicious about the idea of someone getting "small penis" forever etched into their forearm, when they thought they'd asked for "wild man".

This is going to be my new favourite blog, I can just tell.

The author is a Chinese-American chap with a keen eye for a misplaced radical. I share his amazement that people will happily scar themselves for life with ideograms, the meaning of which they have no hope of understanding. I run (though I haven't checked in on it for a while) The Kanji SITE, which is a resource for people studying Japanese kanji and I am ALWAYS getting e-mail from two kinds of people:

1) American teenagers who want to know the kanji for carburettor, so they can get it tattooed on the back of their neck; and
2) American teenagers who have already gotten what they were told was the kanji for carburettor tattooed on the back of their neck, and just want to check that that's actually what it means. (Sadly, it never means carburettor. It usually means princess. Or tofu. But never carburettor.)

I never reply. Recently I just haven't had time, but more fundamentally there's just no way I'm comfortable with telling people "Hell yes, tattoo this on the back of your neck. Of course it means carburettor!" because... I'm... not... Japanese. Or Chinese. Or anywhere good enough at either language to be an authority on the subject.

If someone mails me a request for the Japanese kanji for the Japanese word "budo", which they know means "martial art", then I can do it (武道), because I can't really get that wrong. But I'm not about to offer a translation of my own. Nuh-huh. Perhaps I'll set up a proper tattoo service on the site when I finally overhaul it, but I'm making damn sure it's plastered with more comprehensive disclaimers than those waivers you have to sign when you volunteer for medical trials: "Warning! You may end up with 'princess' tattooed on the back of your neck!".

Let me say it again: I will not take responsibility for your tofu carburettor. Thank you.

Posted by chris at October 5, 2005 12:54 AM | Permalink

Comments is now the first thing on the google list when one types in japlish.

Posted by: prue at January 7, 2006 08:28 AM

No it ain't:

And if you're going to try spamming my comments with urls, you might at least like to try spelling them properly. Sheesh.

Posted by: chris at January 7, 2006 09:45 PM

What do you think about this? I think it's great looking. I wrote asking for a kanji and they told me the translations were made by a person who speak japanese and english using dictionaries, because they want to give the most precise and descriptive meaning for every kanji on their page. I want to get a kanji tattoo because I just think they are pretty and better because they mean something.
I'll check back later. Bye...

Posted by: Aisha at March 19, 2006 06:26 AM

Well, Aisha, I'm afraid the fact that they proudly claim that they use dictionaries means that they almost certainly aren't a native Japanese speaker. So I'd take anything on that page with a pinch of salt. Most of the ones on the front page appear ok at first glance, but some on the second page look distinctly odd to me.

You really oughtn't to be trusting just a dictionary; you should get it checked by a native speaker. I can't stress this enough; you'd be crazy to take the word of an anonymous website without doing further research yourself.

Plus, it might mean one thing in Japanese and another in Chinese. So that's another thing to consider.

Posted by: chris at March 19, 2006 11:56 AM

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