madness in the metropolis 

Spanking size-case

It's been a productive day here at Tokyo Tales Towers. Had a loooong lie-in (I like to get the weekend off to a good start), booked flights back to the UK, researched shipping options, bought assorted sundries related to the move, watched some classic episodes of Frasier.

But the highlight was undoubtedly finding a beautiful piece of Japlish on a neoprene sleeve thing I bought to carry my spare laptop battery. I didn't even notice this until I got it home - you know how it gets in Tokyu Hands; fatigue starts to set in after about the second hour of continually going "Ooh! That's cool! I need one of these!" - but when I actually took the time to stop and read it, I laughed so hard that milk came out of my nose. And I wasn't even drinking milk at the time.




Ah, where to start? So much to admire, so little time. Firstly, the "Spanking!" is in a swirly mock-Ford logo font, whish only serves to emphasise its jaunty Boys Own Adventure pluckishness. Then of course we have the mysterious "it", which we are assured we will find "up completely", not merely "at anytime" but also, miraculously, "at any purpose". I have no idea what they're talking about by now. Something timeless and versatile... maybe Blu-Tac?

And lastly, the Geordie dialect is finally embraced by Japlish copywriters: "That's something, like." To which the only appropriate response must surely be "Hadaway man, ya taakin shite."

Posted by chris at 10:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Swivel on *this*, Little Nell

Gah. Too busy to post anything lengthy but I had to share this snippet: the kawaii Japanese female tarento on NHK's "let's learn Italian" show last night was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with, underneath some abstract logo I didn't recognise, the following slice of fried gold:

Dick Swiveller
Oh. My. God.

And yes, I know that Richard Swiveller is actually a character from a little-known Dickens novel, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that, even if our smiling hostess is similarly well versed in the works of England's greatest novellist, she may not be fully cognizant that her t-shirt effectively reads "I spin round on penises".

Posted by chris at 04:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Get Do Some Exercise

As seen on the back of a football manager-style long anorak coat thing on the train one day:

Japlish scribe 1: "So which is it: 'get' or 'do'?"
Japlish scribe 2: "Oh, I don't know; let's use have write try both."
Japlish scribe 1: "Okay, next: what about 'some' or 'a little'...?"

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v2.0 Japlish archives. First posted 2000/06.

Posted by chris at 12:35 AM | Permalink

Feline Japlish Miscellany

As seen on a pencilcase:

This ominous warning is made all the more sinister by the capitals.

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v2.0 Japlish archives. First posted 2000/07.

Posted by chris at 12:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Crocodile Profusion

Really can't remember where I saw this one... presumably another sweatshirt:

Crocodile Profusion
I like it. Rather like a cryptic weather forecast: "Sunny followed by scattered showers; light easterly winds; crocodile profusion later in the evening."

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v2.0 Japlish archives. First posted 2000/10.

Posted by chris at 11:57 PM | Permalink

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 12:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Agile sports life, I maintain

As seen on a sweatshirt sat opposite me on the train:

If a Jedi you would become, agile sports life maintain must you, mmm, yes.

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v2.0 Japlish archives. First posted 2000/12.

Posted by chris at 08:30 AM | Permalink

Oneself whom be actual

As seen on the back of a sweatshirt in Higashi Nakano:

So if you're lost and need to be found, remember: be "actual". Works every time.

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v3.0 Japlish archives, which existed independently of my setup. First posted 2001/03. I'll be digging some of these out and re-posting them occasionally, in an gradual effort to get all the old content into this snazzy new Movable Type format.

Posted by chris at 08:29 PM | Permalink

Obscure Desire of Bourgeoisie

A recent stroll around the backstreets of Harajuku yielded some marvellous Japlish shop names.

I have to go back and buy something from each, just for the bags.

Posted by chris at 03:03 PM | Permalink

Get your collective groove on

Cool T-shirt spotted in a dive-like ramen joint in Shinjuku:

OUR FAVOLITE collective groove: monkey people
the main reason is, we are all people
Well whaddaya know? The monkey people are *my* favolite collective groove, too. I should have introduced myself.

Posted by chris at 01:16 PM | Permalink

Boil the dog

Dave, get the iron-on printer paper ready - I want to make myself a t-shirt that says:

(via lynne again)

Posted by chris at 10:34 PM | Permalink

European cats

Heads up, Japlish afficionados in the world! Let's have viewing of Lynne's Japlish pages, fill with snippet examples such as the like of

European cats
Many cats are doing usual life
In the beautiful scenery and the streets.
We can see that one part.
(We can see that one part of, yes, "usual life" - but what about the other cats of whom parts we CANNOT see them?!?!? What they are up to? I am frighten.)

(Memo to self: in future, reserve own synthetic Japlish dialectical generator for internal monologue *only*. That is all.)

Posted by chris at 08:57 PM | Permalink

Secret Force

Actually, one thing which was worthwhile about today was spotting a nice Japlish sweatshirt when I ventured out to the convenience store. A young chap was lounging against a vending machine, thumbing his cellphone, wearing a top that loudly proclaimed:


Either way, my friend, I think your cover is blown now, hmmm?

Posted by chris at 07:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Let's play bowling

I love finding random japlish-bearing receipts in pairs of trousers I haven't worn for ages; this one's from a ten-pin bowling alley, on the occasion of Raju's birthday last month:

Do you like bowling? Let's play bowling. Breaking down the pins and get hot communication.

There was certainly a lot of breaking down the pins going on, but I don't remember getting much hot communication. Possibly that happened while I was in the bathroom - at the same time as the launching of every Zig for great justice, no doubt.

Posted by chris at 09:06 PM | Permalink

rm -rf hair

Fans of open-source hairdressing will no doubt be glad to hear that there's an emporium in Akabane called "Unix The Supermodel Hair Salon". I can't believe that having several thousand people working on your 'do simultaneously is a good idea, though.

Posted by chris at 10:52 PM | Permalink


Spotted a shop in Shibuya today with the following neon sign in the window:

The implication being that now they're closed? I missed them? Then why was the neon turned on? Isn't that a little perverse? Come to our shop! Some other time! Bye for now, though! If you could bring a book on elementary punctuation, that would be great too! Thanks!

Started half-heartedly doing the Christmas shopping today... though to be honest I wasn't really in the mood for checking things off lists and scouring the stores for that must-have pair of socks for Auntie Doris (NB: I have no aunts called Doris - so it would most likely have been a waste of time anyway). Instead I picked up a sandwich and cycled through Yoyogi Park, whooshing through the (shallow) drifts of orange-brown leaves. Honestly, they keep that place so tidy - I want bigger drifts, dammit. The weather was fine, though, and at least it was nice and warm as I cycled from place to place, failing to find a pair of snowboarding trousers that I liked.

Abort mission, abort abort abort. Back home to laze on the sofa and read the papers instead. I'm going to be so busy at work next week that I think I could probably do with the downtime, bad though I am at it. You know those people you work with? The ones who contrive to screw things up in various ways? The ones who appear incapable of following even the most explicit and straightforward instructions? The ones who make your work unnecessarily stressful and time-consuming? Well, guess what - I work with them too. It's a small old world, eh?

Posted by chris at 11:17 PM | Permalink

Fun! Car! Go! Funcargo!

Inspired by the Honda Life Dunk advert, I've put a new top five list on the sidebar: favourite Japanese car names. More fine examples of the art can be found here, and Metropolis also have a good piece on SUV tyre cover Japlish too, for those of you with an urge to "Keep Green".

Just keep those goddamn Bongo Navi Navi! away from me...

Posted by chris at 10:08 PM | Permalink

Coffee not included

Just spotted out of the corner of my eye: a TV ad for a new Honda minicar - the Honda Life Dunk.

Think I'm making it up? Suit yourself...

Posted by chris at 09:11 PM | Permalink

Forgive me, farther (longer, harder, etc.)

One of the bars Daniel and I found ourselves in over the weekend seemed to have some kind of quota system in place for members of the clergy - witness the sign on the door explaining their cover charge system: "One drink required per parson". Good thing I didn't do what I usually do and pretend Dan was the Bishop of Durham.

Posted by chris at 03:16 PM | Permalink

"Hitachi: Proofread the Next"

Hitachi's current tagline:

Hitachi: Inspire the Next

Inspire the next? The next what? The next generation of ad agency slogan generators who can't bear to have a native speaker check over their prose before it goes live? Honestly. Anyone would think this was *Japan* or something... oh. Right.

Posted by chris at 12:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The mainstream of our days is in the style

For some reason, Japanese SUV drivers are unable to finish their designs without allowing the marketing department to scrawl all over the spare tyre covers. Hence this proliferation of appallingly twee, cloyingly sentimental Japlish exhorting the joys of the great outdoors and the importance of living in harmony with nature. Obviously the irony of having these slogans adorning the backs of over-sized, petrol-chugging monstrosities which never venture off tarmac is lost somewhere in translation.

I'm off to "TAKE A GRIP OF STEERING!" - I suggest you do the same.

Posted by chris at 11:37 AM | Permalink

Making me proudly

Junk mail through my letterbox this week - a new apartment block is opening nearby. I usually just throw them away without reading them, but this one caught my eye with its sophisticated English slogan:

Invitation for the Proudly Life.

Sign me up immediately, young man. I happy acceptingly some of that Proudly Life.

Posted by chris at 09:35 PM | Permalink

Having a morning-hair-water day

Spotted in a chemist's this evening:

Morning Hair Water

Water to smear on your scalp to tame unruly hair (grrr! back, I tell you, back!)? A potion that makes you wake up resembling a werewolf, but leaves you looking like William Hague by sunset? A pick-me-up tonic distilled from someone else's freshly-shaved 7am stubble? Whatever it turns out to be, it can't be good.

Posted by chris at 12:37 AM | Permalink


Spotted on the way to work - a sign for:

Auto Galage - CREW

Galage as in the act of being a gal? A female equivalent of laddishness?

Intuition tells me it should be spelled "gallage" but I suppose we need to keep "gallage" distinct in order to refer to the act of being galled by something, eg "Captain Montague's repeated apologies did nothing to assuage Emily's gallage".

Um, anyway - fuhgeddaboudit. (Psst: more Japlish here...)

Posted by chris at 05:05 PM | Permalink

All you need is (a) rub

You know the average westerner's stereotypical view of how Japanese people pronounce English? Swap r's and l's and you have instant comedy Japanglish? Well, they're more correct than most people's automatic political correctness barrier would allow for. There's a good reason for this, but I'm going to have difficulty explaining it to you without a whiteboard and a set of coloured marker pens.

Basically, the Japanese consonant found in the syllables ら, り, る, れ, ろ (and typically romanized as either ra, ri, ru, re, ro OR la, li, lu, le, lo) is pitched somewhere between the English "r" and "l" sounds. Hit the inside of your upper row of teeth once with the tip of your tongue once as you say each syllable... hang on, I've got a whiteboard here somewhere... um... this red splodge is your tongue, right, and... um... I swear it works much better in person. Hence Japanese learners of English often have difficulty discerning between (and producing) the two sounds, as neither actually exists in Japanese - the closest thing they have is this half-way-in-between consonant.

Anyway, the reason for all this lingusitic lambada is as follows: an e-mail from an old friend set me thinking: what are the top five words which can be humourously manipulated simply by performing the old r / l swap? Here's what I came up with after a couple of minutes' chin-stroking:

  1. implore --> improle (convert someone from upper-class to working-class by force of argument alone)
  2. self-abandon --> serf-abandon (the illegal dumping of surplus rural workers)
  3. lunar --> runal (of or pertaining to runes)
  4. impair --> impail (to limit a person's ability to perform an act by driving a spear through them)
  5. frighten --> flighten (to make someone lose weight by terrifying them into involuntarily defecating)

And, just in case anyone decides to take offence, I wish to make it absolutely clear that this is most definitely not a manifestation of any kind of racism, latent or otherwise. Read around a bit more and you'll realise, I hope, how much I love Japan, the Japanese, Japanese English and English Japanese. I personally am guilty of far more heinous crimes against the Japanese language than any number of confused Japanese tourists asking for directions in Ros Angeles or Rondon could ever hope to perpetrate against the English language. So righten up.

Have something to add to the list?

Posted by chris at 01:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

There is a God (of Japlish)

I just found something buried in my Palm Pilot that I have to share, something I absolutely must add to the Hall of Japlish.

Dave and I are heading home on the Tozai Line one evening, when a guy gets on and stands in front of us, strap-hanging. Nothing strange there. I happen to notice the brand label on the pocket of his jacket. A little brown patch logo, three wavy strips and a single word. I try not to laugh. I succeed. I alert Dave subtlely ("Hey Dave! Look at what this guy's got written ON HIS JACKET!!!" Dave sees, goes a bit wide-eyed, and also manages not to laugh... not until the guy has disembarked, anyway.

The brand name? "Wanky".

It is moments like this that I live for. Thank you, oh God of Japlish. We bow forever at your altar.

Posted by chris at 12:29 AM | Permalink

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