Made In Japan English

Japanese home made Engrish

17 October, 2010 by

In my line of work, I occasionally receive documents and correspondence in Japanese. Even if my Japanese didn’t suck (it does), translating them can be quite the challenge. It doesn’t help that Japanese people often use words that they think are English but make no real sense to anyone else. This made up English is referred to as Wasei Eigo, which literally means “Made In Japan English”.

Most Japanese can’t tell the difference between real English words and their home made terms. Sometimes the words evolve out of ignorance, at other times convenience. While occasionally frustrating, there are some amusing words. And over time, I’ve come to find that Wasei Eigo has both a certain innocence and an endearing quality to it. Here’s a compilation of some common Japanese English.

Someone must had guessed that since T-shirts were named after their T shaped outlines, these shirts with Y shaped buttoned necks had to be called Y-shirts no? Now, pretty much all Japanese refer to shirts as Y-shirts. Other Another related oddity is that sleeveless tees are called “running shirts” and wearing anything sleeveless is described as “no sleeve”.

One Piece
Even though Japanese have adopted proper English terms with the word “dress” in it like “dress code”, an actual dress is called a “one piece”. It’s a cute little term that actually helps avoid confusion though (unlike most of the other terms here). Another Wasei Eigo term is “home dress”, which are clothes you wouldn’t be seen in anywhere else. There really is a “two piece” too, which is the Japanese name for women suits.

3 Size
Bust-Waist-Hip measurements is referred to Three Size. They fuss quite a bit about this, and “suriisaizu” is probably the most important statistic to a Japanese woman other than her blood type.

Considering that most air conditioners come from Japan you’d think they’d know better but no, they call it a cooler.

Soft Cream
A similar confusion to Y-shirts, Soft Serve is referred to as Soft Cream in Japan. Only natural if you consider that the harder one is called ice cream.

Soft Cream.

Manshon and Apato
What’s amusing about this two is not how similar they are to the English words (that would be too obvious). Instead, the two terms have been mixed up, as multi-story apartment is called a “Mansion”, while a house is an “Apato”.

Front / Desk
Receptions or front desks are simply called “front”, while newspaper and magazine editors are known as “desk”.

Pair Look
Couples who coordinate their outfits to match are known as having a “pair look”. As with many other things, Japanese place an unnecessary amount of importance in this.

My Pace
People who are lost in their own world or seem to do things at their own pace without regard for others are known as being “my pace”. It doesn’t mean that the person is an airhead but is still mostly a negative quality. It is sort of an endearing quality when used to describe Japanese idols though.

Skinship is the important (at least to Japanese) act of bonding through physical contact. It seems to be used most often as a Japanese alternative to camaraderie, except that it is earned by sharing a bath or sauna together. It is also an important part of couple relationship where it is used as an excuse for hugging or holding hands.

Skinship demonstration.

Delivery / Fashion Health
Escort services are disguised as “Delivery Health” while “Fashion Health” are actually brothels.

Pink Salon
Pink Salons are brothels too, just a different kind.

Pronounced as “aesthe” from aesthetic. This is what actual beauty salons are called.

Health Meter
Nope, not something dirty this time round. Just the Japanese word for bathroom scales.

“Cunning” is actually Japanese English for cheating. What? What were you thinking? Guess what they call a cheat though.

Markers are “sign pens” (because people sign autographs with it), permanent markers are known as “magic marker” and a mechanical pencils is called a “sharp pen”. Yet pens are still just pen.

Another kind of pen.

Guts Pose
Japanese bothered to make a noun to describe the state you are in while flexing your muscles.

In Key
Another completely arbitrary term, “in key” describes the act of locking your keys in your car.

Shutter Chance
And yet another, a “shutter chance” is the perfect moment to take a photograph.

Not exactly Wasei Eigo, but many long words have been abbreviated into unidentifiable terms, such as how convenience stores have become “Konbini” and super markets are simply just “suupaa”. Sometimes Japanese are just too efficient.

In Japan, soda, cola or pretty much any non-alcoholic beverage is called Juice, regardless of whether it actually contains any juice. This is bound to lead to lots of confusing situations.

Probably, juice.

Buffets are referred to as a “viking”, and all because the first restaurant in Japan to serve a buffet meal in 1953 was named Imperial Viking.

Virgin Road
A wedding aisle is called the Virgin Road in Japan, not just any aisle but the chapel kind popularized by romantic movies. It’s many little girls dream to walk down this “Virgin Road”, though the term itself hints at a rather cheeky origination.

In fact, some Japanese English terms turn out to be even more correct than their contemporary counterparts. Over time, many Japanese terms that cannot be described in any other way (e.g. otaku) or commonly used abbreviations (e.g. OL) have made their way into the English language.

It might come as a surprise though that some seemingly English words are actually derived from the Japanese. For example, tycoon and rickshaws were originally Japanese terms. The “Bokeh” which camera junkies love so much is also the Japanese word for blur, and is even used in a similar way describe and joke about a dull person.


Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.