Aug 31, 2017

How to get the best (cheap) Engrish in Japan

    One of the more fun and silly things that I sometimes get asked for by my friends back home is Engrish, the weird almost-English you can find in Japan and many other countries. Some of the mistakes give us more insight into cultural and lingual differences while others may be just plain weird. Some are amusing. Some are insane. Some are actually kind of vulgar.

    If you're looking for some fun and weird Engrish to send home, where do you find it? There are a number of sources, but my favorites are as follows:

The 100 Yen Store

    Any 100 yen store (Seria, Daiso, Can Do, Etc) will carry items produced by companies at very low cost. That low cost precludes the use of Native Speaker correction, so Engrish is frequently easy to find. Stationary, bags and purses, even cups and plates may carry something just a little bit strange that may be quite amusing for you or your friends. At 100 yen a pop, the items are budget-friendly as well.

Discount Stores

    Shops like Don Quijote, or to a lesser extent Sanki, carry various odds and ends, usually at cheaper than regular retail cost. For much the same reason as the 100 yen stores, Engrish may about, particularly in the discounted t-shirt section. The difference here is selection and cost. Of course, most items cost more than 100 yen, but you may find any number of crazy things there. Especially at Sanki, it is important here to hit the discount rack, but remember that most of what you will find for less than 500 yen will be a simple T-shirt with a one ink color print, perhaps with something funny.

Second Hand Shops

    The best place to get good quality Engrish is the second hand shop, where items that were produced with higher quality wind up after a few usages by the Japanese consumer. Compared to American thrift shops, the Japanese counterparts are a goldmine. Many people resell their barely-used clothes for very little money, so most of what you find is in reasonable if not almost-new condition and fairly cheap. I stick to the cheapest sections to make sure that I can afford what I find. Below you'll see four Engrish shirts I have collected to send to others. The two on the right are from the second hand store. Colorful, funny, and terribly weird. The ones are the right are from Sanki. Funny? Yeah, but somewhat less colorful.

How to get the best (cheap) Engrish in Japan photo

Cultural Note

    Here, I use the term Engrish to apply specifically to mass-produced products sold to consumers by companies. These companies could hire a native English speaker to check the validity of their language usage, but choose not to. Some companies may lack the resources to do so. Others simply don't care. Some may even be purposefully putting weird language on products for fun. At the end of the day, if a company chooses to produce a product with strange language, I reserve the right as a native English speaker and teacher as well as a resident of Japan to enjoy their mistakes.

    I do not condone racism or the use of this term to describe how a person speaks or writes. To call Engrish a "translation error" is to assume there was translation occurring, which is not always the case. I have yet to meet a Japanese (or any other non-caucasian) person who takes issue with this term. That said, the explanation here is due to past conflict, to prevent more of the same. Thank you.



A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.


  • Lisagoestotokyo

    on Jun 25

    This is very funny - I'm also constantly on the lookout for bizarre English translations! I saw some fantastic ones in Harajuku in a, surprisingly, very expensive store. I would have thought they could get a native English speaker to check that their apparel made any sense! Some of my favourites are definitely at secondhand stores.

  • JTsuzuki

    on Jun 27

    @Lisagoestotokyo It is surprising which shops and brands cheap out on design and avoid using a native speaker. One of my favorites from college was from a major band, signed on a proper label and everything. The tour T-shirt stated proudly: "Ain't f***ing to die!" I'm still surprised to see some at the more expensive shops.