It is almost too easy making fun of the fractured English that can be found everywhere in Japan, particularly when you consider just how monolingual most Americans are. However bad the Japanese may be at English, it must be said that we are decidedly worse at their language, our Japanese vocabulary being limited to a handful of cross-cultural words: sushi, tsunami, teriyaki…um, Toyota, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Pokemon, (okay, I’m back on track here) sudoku, anime, banzai (and its pseudo-homonym, bonsai), kabuki, manga, futon, geisha, haiku, ikebana, Godzilla, karate (and jujitsu), sumo, judo, jinrikisha, kamikaze…
There must be more, but those are all I can think of at the moment.
The Japanese, however, use English in all walks of life with gay abandon, and in ways that make a native English speaker sit up and take notice, albeit perhaps not in the way the writers had in mind. The result is known colloquially as “Engrish”, so named for the perceived Asian transposition of “R”s and “L”s. There is, in fact, a website dedicated to the funnier examples; not surprisingly, it can be found at http://www.engrish.com.
I amuse myself hugely by taking pictures of things that are largely invisible to the legions of Japanese photographers, namely, the unintentionally hilarious signs, product labels, t-shirts, etc., featuring hopelessly mangled English. At a park in Kyoto, for instance, a sign instructed me to “Be Careful of the Bee”. I guess it was not bee season, as I neither saw nor heard any evidence of said bee, but I can only imagine that he (or she) is truly fearsome, if someone felt it necessary to erect a sign about it. Another one I quite liked hung from a museum doorway: “KEEP OFF The Concerned Person Only”. I paid no attention, as I was not on the concerned person, as far as I could tell. In the hallway of my hotel was a map delineating the fire escape route, with the helpful advice: “Take the low posture with muffled breathing”. Probably my favorite, although such a choice is extremely difficult, is a t-shirt with some pointed commentary about romance novels, made all the funnier (to me, at least) by the fact that my sister-in-law is a published romance novelist. On the front it said: “GOTHIC A Little Bit And Avoided The Romance Books”. On the back, well, you will have to have a look at the attached picture, which is worth the proverbial 10-cubed words. Note: apologies for the sometimes blurry pics, several of which were snapped on the fly, and without flash, so as not to alert the subject.