Japanese Shirts and Nonsensical English
“A camera is a device used to capture images” as still photographs -- Hinocho, Shiga, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70 mm — 1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
A camera is a device used to capture images”
as still photographs

For reasons that I don't fully understand, shirts with English on them are extremely common in Japan. I think it's considered “cool”. It's been this way since before I first came 20 years ago.

Sometimes what is written is a bit odd or silly, like the shirt above, on a lady watching a magic show (at Blume no Oka).

Most often, though, what is written makes absolutely no sense.   At all.   But that's okay, because most of the population doesn't have the ability to realize that it makes no sense, so everyone remains stylish and happy.

Here's a representative one I recently came across at Kyoto Station:

10 Every day starts I AM GENTLE AND ONLY THE MOST PAINFUL TIME IS GENTLE TO THE PERSON -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70 mm — 1/125 sec, f/5.6, ISO 6400 — map & image datanearby photos
10
Every day starts
I AM GENTLE AND ONLY THE MOST
PAINFUL TIME IS GENTLE
TO THE PERSON

Really, that's very typical.

I have to believe that it's done on purpose, because it's rarely “Japlish”, the kind of mistaken English that a Japanese speaker is likely to produce when they attempt English. I think the more likely explanation here is a large quantity of psychedelic drugs at the nations clothiers.

This is common in Japan, but not limited to Japan: my wife has some shirts with nonsensical English on them, but she got them all in The States, at American Eagle Outfitters. She didn't know/care what they said... only that they were stylish.

Here's one sported by a guy sitting in front of us at an outdoor free concert in May:

FUTURISTIC ENGLISHNESS -- Kobe, Hyogo, Japan -- Copyright 2008 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR @ 31 mm — 1/1500 sec, f/4, ISO 160 — map & image datanearby photos
FUTURISTIC ENGLISHNESS

I asked him (in Japanese) whether he knew what it meant, and it turns out that he hadn't even really ever looked at the text or even noticed that there was text. He bought the shirt, he said, because he liked the color and style.

Since he couldn't tell me what it meant, I remain unenlightened, but perhaps it's somehow a presage for how future generations will speak...


All 8 comments so far, oldest first...

My gf is always pointing out to me Westerners wearing clothes with nonsensical Japanese, especially when we visited Australia. It cuts both ways.

FWIW, I can recall seeing Japanese text on a garment in The States just once, on a T-Shirt that I got at my first concert (Michael Stanley Band, circa 1985). The Japanese text said simply “えむ•えす•びい” (“M.S.B.”). Maybe I just don’t visit the right areas to see silly Japanese on outerwear. —Jeffrey

— comment by Alan on December 14th, 2008 at 1:15am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Heh… I noticed the same thing when I was in Tokyo. I mentioned it to my friend, and his response was roughly the same as Alan’s: “Imagine what it’s like for someone from Tokyo, walking down Sunset, seeing the various Japanese writing people not only get on shirts, but tattooed.”

— comment by Bill on December 14th, 2008 at 3:41am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

These sorts of shirts were popular in Paris, when I lived there in the late ’80s. Two I remember: “Camping in the Interstate”, and “University High School”

— comment by ron in seattle on December 14th, 2008 at 2:22pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

Hey Ron, I went to a high school called “University High School” in San Francisco, so I hope that’s not too odd of a name….

— comment by Zak on December 14th, 2008 at 11:41pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink
— comment by Julia on December 15th, 2008 at 6:36am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

This used to drive me crazy when I first got here, now I rarely notice those shirts anymore. Only official, mistranslated signs make me smack my forehead these days… Why won’t they ask a proof-reader?

I’d venture the guess that the making of these slogans involves a dictionary and a handful of dice.

— comment by Dav on December 15th, 2008 at 2:31pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink
— comment by vcx on December 15th, 2008 at 11:07pm JST (9 years ago) comment permalink

I love this stuff.

When I saw the large 10 I thought I was in for a countdown of your top 10 curious clothing communiqué.

Have to say I was disappointed that it ended with Futuristic Englishness.

— comment by Dunxd on December 16th, 2008 at 8:12am JST (9 years ago) comment permalink
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