I do not think it means…

…what you think it means. The Japanese love to decorate things with words from foreign languages. They also like to combine foreign words to create new vocabulary. A case in point is the wanpeesu (one piece)—a dress. Many of the shops, buildings, and products here are labelled in a way that makes me wonder if they have any understanding of the chosen language. Here’s a selection of decorative English (and a bit of French) at its best.

In Japan, lots of consonants get truncated if they’re at the end of words. I think it’s because there is only one consonant ending in Japanese—the letter N. Getting my students to pronounce English without trailing vowels is a big challenge. Dipthongs are also a challenge. Truck becomes tor-AHK-ku. red becomes RED-o and so on. But sign is pronounced properly. In any case, in Japan the word “Goo” seems to mean “Good.” There’s a chain of do-it-yourself stores called GooDay. And this magazine:

Goo Bike magazine

Feeling a little fatigue? You need this:

Refreshing Delivery Service

It makes me wonder which is refreshing: the service, or the product. Or, since using a verb as a noun is not unheard of here, maybe they deliver a product called “Refreshing.” Perhaps the company name has no function other than sounding fast and stylishly foreign.

Continuing with the transportation theme, here’s something you don’t see very often. At least it’s something I didn’t see very often before coming to Japan. Folding bikes are very common here. Erotic ones? This is the only one I’ve seen. But I’ve seen it often enough to guess that it belongs to one of the stockboys at our local supermarket. I’ve also seen a bicycle made by Mercedes though I wouldn’t call it erotic.

Erotic bicycle

Here’s a detail of the logo:

Detail of erotic bicycle

How can we have design without music? Here’s a guitar and instrument repair shop in Kokura. This is the big sign that sticks out in front of the building. The small sign, which hangs above the entranceway, announces that, among other things, “Newguiters” are part of their trade. Perhaps they treat some sort of thyroid condition induced by playing excessive amounts of power chords and speed metal.

Crew Slut guitar shop

After you’ve been to Crew Slut, you might feel a little depressed. Maybe by their prices. Maybe because giving business to a working girl makes you feel worthless. Here’s the solution:

Better Rice Life

Rice is such an important part of the fabric of Japanese culture that they have stores dedicated to it. This isn’t the store I buy my rice at. My rice store is pretty nondescript. It doesn’t make vague promises. Just various grades of rice in various sized bags at various prices. And the shop girl would be terrified to even consider using any English even though (or because) the shop is next door to an English conversation school.

In any case, I passed the cheerfully lit store in the above photo on the bus one evening about fifteen minutes from home. That’s too far to go for rice, judging by how many places there are to buy rice in my neighbourhood. My aforementioned local rice store is about two blocks away. And there are at least two more within easy walking distance. Plus the two supermarkets and Alpha all sell rice. What’s Alpha? It’s sort of like a small WalMart. At Alpha they sell household goods, pet food, appliances, stationery, tools & home repair stuff. And rice. And motorcycle helmets, but more on that later.

Another musical interlude: The Beatles are really popular here. We have a large concept store from the Tokyo-based Comme Ça Store, famous for being the originators of comme ça ism. I believe that comme ça ism is their design aesthetic. It’s also a marketing slogan.

The company is mostly a clothing store but they sell housewares, luggage and have an “art cake” café. They also have the Fab Four’s music on infinite repeat in their stores. Except at Christmas. At Christmas shoppers are blasted with a mix of carols played by people who sound a lot like the Beatles, but aren’t. The carols even have sampled licks from some of the Beatles’ greatest hits. Alpha also plays the Beatles but you’re just as likely to hear Steppenwolf, The Sex Pistols (God Save the Queen) or The Cure while you’re trying to find a sponge mop. But I digress. No photos comme ça today, but you do get an apology for the multilingual pun. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Regardless, I think the owner of this apartment block must be a Beatles fan. Yes, the point of all that digression was just to talk about the Beatles.


A detail of the Fabflat, since the text isn’t clear in the full building shot. That Ludwig logo looks awfully familiar. I wonder whether the building is owned by or affiliated with the Ludwig Drum Company. (Local copy of the image here.)


I lied, I do have a comme ça photo. This one is from our spring vacation, taken at Kyoto Station. The child’s gender isn’t clear in the photo but from the front he definitely looked like a boy. For those of you unfamiliar with the language of France, fille is French for girl. Even if my Japanese had been up to it, I wouldn’t have had the heart to tell the boy’s mom.

Fille boy

But when the boy grows up and buys his first motorcycle, maybe he’ll go to Alpha and buy a helmet like the ones below, and then join the Pansy Division thinking it’s a tank battalion. Of course, once he realizes his mistake, he can pick up some gear at Crew Slut.

Pansy helmet

Or he could grow up to be a urologist. This sign was at one of the temples in Nara. The English on it obviously contains a spelling mistake—the Japanese have almost as much trouble with B and V as they do with L and R—and the Japanese characters mean “toilet.” I’d like to believe that rather than being a mistake, it’s a new service. Since it was at a temple I think you’d probably pray, then follow this sign to relieve yourself and get tested for bladder bugs at the same time. Then perhaps pray again for good health depending on the lab results. One-stop shopping, Japanese-style. Of course, to be truly Japanese it would have to include a restaurant and a souvenir shop. Gotta love the efficiency in this country. If only you knew…


With that thought, I’m going to stop now, even though I have more photos. This entry is getting excessively long and I’ll be a wreck if I skip lunch yet again.

In defense of the Japanese, I have to say that they aren’t the only ones using other languages for decorative purposes. I’ve got two examples, but no pictures. Last year when I was in Brazil, word got around that we would be coming to Japan. It was only a matter of time before someone asked me to tell them the meaning of the Japanese on his clothes. At that point I could only read about 10 words of Japanese so all I could tell the guy was that the writing was backwards. The second example is a Canadian clothing company that Lia really likes. They have backwards Japanese characters on one of their feature designs. Even so, the Japanese seem to have perfected the art. I can sum it up in one word: inconceivable!*


*For those of you unfamiliar with the 1987 movie The Princess Bride, click the link for a synopsis and review. Here’s some further explanation: Vizzini is a genius and the leader of a strange trio who have kidnapped the Princess. He is apparently so incredibly smart that he has considered his plan from every angle. As such it is infallible. But the Man in Black frequently upsets the plan. Each time this happens, Vizzini exclaims “inconceivable!” until Inigo Montoya, the swordsman of the trio, comments “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Here’s a link to the complete script.

2 thoughts on “I do not think it means…

  1. not only is “crew slut” a song from Frank Zappa’s “Joe’s Garage”, the owner of the shop is a musician and a huge Zappa fan. I’m friends with one of the guys that works there, and not only does he speak good English, everyone there knows that the name is offensive in English, and named it that on purpose. and as far as picking up a good guitar at a good price, i think there isn’t any other place west of Osaka that compares…

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