When All Else Fails, Write in Fucking English

Illustration for article titled When All Else Fails, Write in Fucking English

My native language is English. Yours might be. It might be another language, I don't know. Chances are, if you are reading Kotaku, you understand English—which is why you don't hesitate to use the #corrections tag when we seemingly don't.

Advertisement

Not everyone understands English, and that's fine. Millions of Japanese people live productive and happy lives without knowing a lick of English. That's also why it's not unheard of to see children wearing shirts that read, for example, "fuck".

The English word "Fuck" exists in Japanese as a loan word: ファック or "fakku". Many people are familiar with the term, and would certainly not dress their children in it.

Advertisement

Not everybody knows the word. In that way, it's like the word "hikikomori", which was added to the Oxford Dictionary of English. Not all English speakers know the term; ditto for "fakku" in Japanese.

A few weeks ago, I was outside when a neighbor's kid whizzed by with a hat that read: "Fuck The Police" in English. The kid had no idea, I'm positive, and knowing his parents, they were equally clueless.

This is why the English "fuck" has been known to pop up on clothing. Since it's written in English, even those who know the Japanese equivalent might overlook it and write it off as white noise. There's written English all over Japan—on clothes, in shops, on billboards—you name it. One of the unrealistic things about Cars 2 (ha! one) was the lack of English on Japan's urban street signs.

Illustration for article titled When All Else Fails, Write in Fucking English
Advertisement

The other side of this coin is the fascination Westerners have with Japanese kanji characters, which can result in hilariously wrong tattoos.

Advertisement

Due to the lack of Japanese awareness, it sometimes feels like t-shirt designers knowingly drop f-bombs on t-shirts to troll the entire nation for their own amusement. If so, it's immature. And, yes, seeing an old lady on the subway with a "Fucking" sweater is funny.

It's not only bad words, but slogans that are simply not acceptable in Japanese that can slip under the radar in English.

Advertisement

Japanese light novel Ro-Kyu-Bu!, which spun off a manga, an anime, and a PSP title, follows the adventures of a high school student named Subaru Hasegawa, who becomes the coach of a sixth grade basketball team after it's previous coach came on to one of the team members.

Japanese cosplay company Cospa planned to launch a Ro-Kyu-Bu! t-shirtin black with the following slogan written in white: まったく、小学生は最高だぜ!長谷川昴

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled When All Else Fails, Write in Fucking English

(Cospa)

That's a line from the show's third episode, and you could probably wear that shirt most places in the U.S. without raising an eye, but not in Japan. Wear something like that, and many people would think you're creep or a child molester—or a creepy child molester. Then, they'd wonder who the hell Subaru Hasegawa was.

Advertisement

In English, the slogan まったく、小学生は最高だぜ!長谷川昴 translates to "Indeed, primary school students are great!"

With increased pressure on how underage characters are depicted, shirts like this could make retailers political targets. One Japanese chain that specializes in anime goods, Animate, cancelled all its orders for this shirt. Cospa ultimately decided to yank the shirt and not release it.

Advertisement

Instead, Cospa released another Ro-Kyu-Bu! shirt, which reads, "Primary school girls are great!!" in English, even adding "girls" to be extra clear. The shirt is now on sale via Cospa's site and is priced at ¥2,900 or US$38. It comes in one size: XL.

This is a break from English-looks-cool motivation that inspires businesses and clothing makers to compose odd, yet often interesting, sentences. Cospa obviously knows what this means, and is releasing the slogan shirt in English to ruffle fewer feathers.

Advertisement

Here, English is subterfuge and pulling a fast one. The meaning might not be great, but hey, it's pretty fucking clever.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome—game related and beyond.

Advertisement

(Top photo: Cospa)


You can contact Brian Ashcraft, the author of this post, at bashcraft@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

A former classmate of mine in a senior seminar class presented as part of a colloquium series a paper titled something like "Tabako to Chokoreto Miruku", about the use of loanwords and English words, and why companies or organizations would use one or the other over Japanese in various contexts. A lot of it (he asserted) boils down to exoticism, and the interesting dual-relationship with foreign or exotic other-ness: that Japan frequently will simultaneously focus on the exotic as interesting, and easily tune it out in daily life as far as actual meaning (that is, in translating the other-ness into something that can't be diminutized) is concerned. This could then be exploited in interesting ways; for example, around construction sites, signs will frequently say "hazaado" instead of "abunai" (or whatever would be culturally appropriate, my Japanese is bad). If they say "hazaado," they will be paid attention to, being exotic. The meaning is unimportant, because it's not meaning that the sign is ultimately trying to impart—rather, it's just important to pay attention to the sign itself or the fact that there is a sign, and recognize that whatever area is cordoned off for a reason.

I don't know how well it holds up, my research was in a completely different area. I just thought it was an interesting idea. And then I wrote a paragraph about it and put it on the internet in the comment section of a blog. So, that's something.