Japanified English or “Engrish”

A Christmas card sent from a family in Japan to their daughter-in-law's relatives in the United States proclaimed, “We are enjoying Christmas in a small cake.” Students wear shirts with phrases like “I want to get naked and dance on the moon with poetry.” Small children grab their heads in mock horror and shout, “Oh, my Goddo!” On bags, pencils, cups, beer cans, the sides of vehicles — everywhere in Japan — you'll see English written with ghastly spelling and grammar.

Why don't these advertisers and designers hire better editors, you may wonder? Perhaps they are relying on the many computer software programs in Japan that will conveniently translate text from Japanese to English. Machines are hardly sensitive to nuance, however, which is why the results of directly translated slogans are so amusing to native English speakers.

Is Japanese written vertically from right to left?

People often assume that Japanese is always written in the opposite direction of English. In the past, Japanese was written from right to left, when writing either vertically or horizontally. Nowadays, it is usually written from right to left only when vertical, and from left to right when horizontal.

What is Japan's fascination with English and where does it stem from? The presence of English on high school and college entrance examinations has made it mandatory curriculum from junior high school on. The average Japanese has studied English formally for between three and ten years. Adult English conversation classes and proficiency tests are found in even the most remote mountain villages.

Thanks to afterschool television shows such as “Eigo de Asobou” (Let's Play in English), many kids are familiar with basic self-introduction phrases, number and color words, and terms for different foods. NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, also runs a daily radio show for adults who want to improve their English. The Reader's Digest-type monthly textbooks that accompany these radio broadcasts are often sold out by midmonth.

Several words in everyday Japanese conversation sound like English, but seem way out of context. This is because the Japanese have taken many English words and appropriated them in ways that Westerners may not immediately recognize. Take the word “service,” for example; in Japanese, it is pronounced saabisu and means “something for free.”

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