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Classic Funny: “Engrish” Signs in Japan

posted in: Asia  |  posted by: Ian Harrison on January 3, 2009  |  6 Comments

Our recent exploration of hilarious “English” signs in China, photographed by tourists around the world, was a natural continuation of our popular “Weird and Wacky Signs” series. A friend who once taught English in Japan and China however, told us after a read of the two-part article that while signs in China are indeed funny, they can’t hold a candle to what you find in Japan.

According to this well-travelled individual, Japanese translations are at once direct, harsh, dictatorial and ironically enough, rather sweet and na?ve. Our curiosity aroused, we delved deeper into the world of “Engrish” signs than ever before. Certainly, in our “Weird and Wacky” series we had come across some gems, but this time around, we stumbled upon a treasure trove. Here are some of the best.

1. Tokyo restaurant sign

We think this sign is trying to tell us something. Something about how good the beef is at this random restaurant. But man, could they make it more indecipherable? And why on Earth would they want to “shut up the taste of beef”?

Tokyo restaurant sign

2. Random No Smoking sign

This coffeeshop has gone creative in an attempt to dissuade smokers from lighting up. We just can’t figure out why. If there is a law against indoor smoking, isn’t this a case of excessive and wasteful politeness?

Random No Smoking sign

3. Kyoto public restroom sign

If you want to exhort people not to smoke, does it make sense to confuse them? “Do not drain it besides paper of equipment”? What?

Kyoto public restroom sign

4. Dessert restaurant sign in Nagasaki

Here’s where the sweet politeness comes into English translations in Japan. This pastry shop, not content to advertise their wares in a traditional way, added a tender by-line. Unfortunately, it reads as if your slice of pie will come pre-chewed.

Dessert restaurant sign in Nagasaki

5. Shop sign in Tachikawa

There are a few ways to interpret this sign, none of them very reassuring. For one, as a potential customer, we’d fear policemen view the place as a public toilet. Or maybe they’re just dropping by to drop their pants. Whatever the case, we’ll spend our money elsewhere.

Shop sign in Tachikawa

6. Sign at Matsumoto Castle

When safety counts most, signs in Japan seem to fall flat. “Don’t appear to a verandah”? Come on, make an effort people!

Sign at Matsumoto Castle

7. Tokyo dairy bar sign

Ah, is there any taste sweeter than milk “nursed in the northern country”? We think not. And are we ever glad a dairy bar finally spelled it out in bold.

Tokyo dairy bar sign

8. Sign at a macaque preserve north of Nagano

One way to ruin a vacation fast is to fall into a pit of rabid, testy macaques. The snow monkeys would smell your fear and presumably, have their way with you. With that in mind, just how effective is this sign?

Sign at a macaque preserve north of Nagano

9. Tokyo nightclub sign

“Club I Love You”? “Are you free this evening”? Is this what passes for nightlife in Tokyo these days? Question: do the velvet ropes assault you when you enter?

Tokyo nightclub sign

10. Sign outside of Osaka at Mount Koya

It makes sense to take care of natural treasures, like Mount Fuji and in this case, Mount Koya outside of Osaka. But man, how opiniated can a sign get? Whatever happened to, don’t litter or smoke, subject to a fine, blah, blah, blah. This sign in effect, is equating cigarette-butt-tossing to shoplifting. Hilarious!

Sign outside of Osaka at Mount Koya

11. Zoo sign in the island of Miyajima

Someone went to great lengths to depict these adorable, yet incredibly frightening, monkeys on a zoo sign. We’re sure to have nightmares about them mooning us for weeks to come. The weirdest part about this sign though, is the line: “We do not hope to be such a monkey.” Why the heck not?

Zoo sign in the island of Miyajima

12. Osaka restaurant sign

The food at this Korean BBQ restaurant must be so good, so tasty and delectable, that the owners gave the task of naming the place to a couple of snow monkeys. Clearly, while no thought went into it, we’re relatively certain the food is stellar. Hey mates, let’s head on down to the Sex Machine tonight! I hear they have killer kimchi!

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Osaka restaurant sign

Photo: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12


Responses to this Article


6 Responses to “Classic Funny: “Engrish” Signs in Japan”

  1. Richard@Littman Bros. says on

    I understand that they are making an effort to help us understand signs in a foreign place but come on. i wonder if that is what signs look like here in foreign languages.

  2. Franklin says on

    Found your site very interesting, full of informative articles, will add this blog to my favourites.

  3. Shuri says on

    This makes me think I need to be an english consultant in Japan, LOL. Funny stuff!

  4. Utkarsh Sunil says on

    i am very disppointed there are no indian signs around…..please show sum respeckt

  5. Ali Chaudry says on

    I see this again and ill bomb ur houses with my speciallymade a-bomb!!!

    call me on +61435355932

  6. Drew says on

    Richard, some do, yes.. I’m French-Canadian. I’ve seen a sign that instead of “STOP” in French it said “Please to stop”. I thought it was rather funny :)

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