Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

Lost in Translation: Engrish in Japan

Being lost in translation is always an amusing circumstance, at least after the fact. I can’t help but laugh when recalling stories about translations gone wrong, and I always love reading posts that showcase poorly translated signs–they are just too funny!

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

But, bad translations aren’t the only troublesome scenarios for getting lost in translation; some words simply can’t be translated without a longer explanation of what the word means. This article about how translation has changed the world shares a variety of words that don’t have an English translation. One of my favorite examples is the German word “fernweh” meaning to be homesick for a place you’ve never been–we definitely experience that emotion quite often, and I’m sure many of you can relate, as well!  And, after too much fernweh for Japan, we had to plan a trip and check it out for ourselves.

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

In Tokyo at the New York Bar, which was featured in the movie “Lost in Translation”…see what I did there!

While in Japan, we spotted a magnitude of signs that left us chuckling. The Engrish displayed on signs, menus and guides was very entertaining to say the least.  By the way, “Engrish” is the commonly used term for misspelled English words or phrases that are grammatically incorrect, as seen in Asian countries, and due to the differences in our languages, it totally makes sense. Native Japanese speakers often have a difficult time distinguishing between the letters “L” and “R”, and the languages are just so different that it’s hard to translate between the two easily and effectively.

And, as they so often do, bad translations go both ways–trying to translate from English to Japanese can cause some hilarious nuances, as well! I learned that something in the following sign means dog, but I’m sure that even my attempt at trying to recall the entire translation would be worthy of a chuckle to some.

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

Also, when you add in that most English displayed on signs in Japan is more for stylistic purposes than for function, it makes sense. Most native Japanese don’t even attempt to read the English words on a sign, so there isn’t much concern for getting it perfect.

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

Engrish references have found a home in mass culture–there is even an entire website dedicated to the amusing translations. I enjoy reading the various translations gone wrong, but it was even more fun to see them in person when we were in Japan.

Although we didn’t snap photos of even a fraction of the funny Engrish signs we came across, we did manage to capture a few. Here are some of our favorites:

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what they mean by “Tears Lash”

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

Push button for Ploblem

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

Push leber for water

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

Say what? “It is off-limits of the graveyard this ahead excluding parties concerned.”

Lost in Translation, Engrish in Japan

A bit hard to see, but “Only one person may be seated at a time” and “Apart from the seat, no other parts of the robot may be touched.” So, we can only touch the robot’s behind and will likely have to remain standing? Sounds like a great night…

Learning a second language is hard, as everyone well knows, so the best thing you can do is give it a try and have a sense of humor when you fail.  If nothing else, try to learn at least a few key phrases of the local language when traveling. A smile and an attempt at the language always helps break the ice, and you never know, you might just have your own hilarious lost in translation moment!

Have you had any lost in translation moments? Share your favorites in the comments below!


  • Karianne
    Posted at 11:18h, 22 April Reply

    We love Japan and Engrish always makes us chuckle! I’m sure we had quite a few laughs when we tried to speak Japanese too!

    I love seeing the random slogans and phrases on Japanese clothing – Never a dull moment in a shopping centre!

  • Tim
    Posted at 17:29h, 24 April Reply

    These signs can’t help but make you chuckle even though you have to admire the effort.
    Tim recently posted…Kalahari’s New DayMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:41h, 27 April Reply

      Yeah, definitely have to admire the effort! I can’t even begin to imagine how many similar mistakes I’ve made in other languages!!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Ice climbing in Boulder, COMy Profile

  • antonette - we12travel
    Posted at 05:54h, 25 April Reply

    Wow – great story! Japan was on our wishlist for this year but eventually we can’t make it. I’m sure it would be great for the language being one thing. It’s never really happened to us, however we usually travel to fairly western countries or Latin America where we can speak Spanish …

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:38h, 27 April Reply

      Thanks! Knowing Spanish would be so useful–we’ve been wanting to study it for quite some time now and should really get on it! Hope you get to visit Japan soon–it’s such a great country!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Ice climbing in Boulder, COMy Profile

  • Hannah
    Posted at 07:24h, 25 April Reply

    Hahahahaa these are so funny! I’ve come across a couple small mistakes in Europe but nothing as funny as these!
    Hannah recently posted…Hipmunk City Love: 5 of New Orleans’s Spookiest Haunted HotelsMy Profile

  • kami
    Posted at 02:54h, 27 April Reply

    I often find some words in English better reflecting the issue than in Polish (for example we don’t have a word for “jetlag” which would be sooo useful!) And even if I’m not a native speaker I always find the Engrish so hillarious! My favourite one was actually in Poland (I’ve seen that one online though): “Dania” could mean either dishes or Denmark and so in the menu there was “Denmark from chicken” 😉
    kami recently posted…Bitter-sweet Old TbilisiMy Profile

  • Escape Hunter
    Posted at 06:57h, 27 April Reply

    Yes, it can be totally hilarious. I can recall there were so many funny signs, inscriptions and… pronunciations – like for instance, Japanese people have a difficulty pronouncing “si” and they end up saying “shi”… so many funny words can then be created… Some rather vulgar.

  • Sammi Wanderlustin
    Posted at 15:00h, 28 April Reply

    There are so many in Spanish as well, common ones are mispronouncing pollo, the word for chicken and that comes back as the word for d*ck. Embarazado, the word most commonly used by foreigners thinking it means embarrassed, in fact means pregnant! And my favourite the Mitsibushi Pajero is laughed at regularly as Pajero means w*nker!!!
    Sammi Wanderlustin recently posted…Traveller Tuesday with Stephanie of The World As I See ItMy Profile

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