I have an old t-shirt that at the time of purchase I thought was adorned with Japanese characters, which upon wearing instantly transformed my thirty year old self into a cool dude who was down with the kids. When I bought it I knew not of the Japanese alphabet and had no inkling that the written Japanese language consists of three alphabets; one borrowed from the Chinese [Kanji], a basic language that everybody learns when they start school [Hiragana] and the one used to translate foreign words and names [Katakana]. The t-shirt I bought had characters on it that I now realize looked like Katakana but weren’t. Katakana are the characters you see on those exotic looking OBI strips that Japanese import LP’s and CD’s have wrapped around them. I discovered my t-shirt wasn’t true Katakana when I wore it to the MOMA in New York one summer and the girl on the desk, who happened to be Japanese said to me ‘You do know that the writing on your t-shirt is meaningless don’t you?’ I admitted that I’d bought it because I thought it looked good and that it transformed my thirty year old self into a cool dude who was down with the kids and that no I didn’t know it was twaddle and thank you very much and excuse me while I adopt an expression that conveys bemusement, forced jollity and grateful thanks.
The reason I mention this is because the Japanese do the same with their clothing. Walking Japanese streets is made all the more enjoyable by reading what it says on peoples clothing.
And its not like these things just got lost in translation which is easy to do. With the Rugby Union World Cup and the Olympics arriving in Japan in the not too distant future the authorities are now realising that a lot of their English signs make no sense at all and are reassessing them - ‘lost and found box’ as The Forgotten Center anyone?
So people wear clothes that have things written on them that make little or no sense at all but which at the same time are slightly surreal and endearing. Things like;
Remember The Name
Happy Life With Little Pop
Hair Make Angelica
New Entries, Older Entries
The Opening of Course
And my favourite from this latest trip;
This jumbled English isn’t just the preserve of items of clothing though. The following are actual names of retail emporiums:
Episode of Custard Pudding
The View of Untitled
Patisserie Tooth Tooth
I’ll leave it to you to work out what they were selling and no Rope didn’t sell rope, it was a female clothing store.
This mistranslation and surreal juxtaposition of English words by Asian countries is well documented and shows the difficulties in translation and how easy it is to be misunderstood. If all you have to rely on is online translation software or people who think they’ve mastered a second language but have yet to grasp the finer nuances of it there's always going to be something not quite right. Still, until the software becomes more accurate or people do we still have the enjoyment of seeing some of the following:
[PS That top picture isn't mine I nicked it off the internet though it does give a good example of what you can expect to see]