Thoughts on Japanglish…

Japanglish (Japanese style English) is a common occurrence found mainly in ¥100 shops in Japan. (The better Japanese equivalent of the pound shop).

It can often be found on bags and clothes in particular, and it is usually supposed to inspire the owner and make them feel a little more sophisticated. I own a few key pieces myself, which I particularly enjoy:

“The brain is controls” after all…

I have had many conversations with fellow English speakers on why the companies producing these goods don’t seek the support of a native English speaker. It remains a little unclear in my mind, so I decided to have a good think and conduct just a little research.

Firstly, from a young age Japanese students enter into a competitive education system. They have to choose a path early on; academic High School and will therefore attend university or a technical high school where they would be expected to enter into work. In fact, one of my colleagues has just started saving for her son’s university fees, he is six! Those designing the Japanglish logos, I suspect, would have taken the academic route. The competition on this road seems to gradually manifest overtime into a fear of making mistakes. Consequently, on the whole, my academic high schools students speak little English and heavily rely on electronic dictionaries to help form sentences. For those of you that have dabbled with Google Translate or Yahoo Translate you will know how odd the translations can sometimes be and how this method lacks the need to understand the sentence structure. Universities in Japan require students to take an entrance examination in English for reading, writing, and listening but no speaking. This is predominantly a multiple choice test and therefore provides little room for feedback. Considering the lack of feedback culture, reliance on translation technology, and multiple choice routes, it’s not surprising that well all get to enjoy so much Japanglish!

Secondly, a kind teacher at one of my schools gifted me the world’s heaviest encyclopedia on Japan. In it I found an article reviewing Japan’s use of English. It considered that Japanglish was deliberately used as a way of evoking amusement and showing a sense of personality. It could also be used to bamboozle the person you are talking to, if Japanese, when you need to apologise or accept the blame for a mistake that could harm your career. It provided the example of a man who was head of sales in a company whose revenue sharply dropped. He was called to a meeting with colleagues to discuss where the fault sat. He used Japanese with intermittent English words and phrases as a means to communicate that he knew he was at fault, but fully taking the blame would lead to his removal. English was therefore used by all as a deflector of the real concerns and all men returned to work without consequence.

Perhaps some of these interesting and amusing sayings we can see displayed on our clothing and pottery are not made in error. Perhaps Japanglish is now a deliberate and clear form of expression (just because native English speakers don’t understand it, doesn’t mean that Japanese people fail to grasp it too!) English is a growing language, constantly evolving. After six months of living here I find myself saying things like ‘lets enjoy’ and ‘see you’ with only a hint of irony.  Next time I need some inspiration, perhaps I will turn to “The brain is controls”. After all, I did buy this knowing it was both inspiring, correct enough for me to ‘get it’, and rather funny in its incorrectness. Perhaps that is job done as far as the manufacturer was concerned!

Overall, Japanglish is enjoyed by the Japanese and English speaking foreigners alike, so I say, keep it coming! As long as my students stop using it in their exams…

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