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Why are there so many English translation "fails” in detail-oriented Japan?

Updated: Feb 2, 2020

A recent Japan Times article asks a compelling question: If Japanese culture is known for its perfectionism, why are there so many “English fails” on signs, menus, t-shirts and other products?

Kitakyushu University’s Rochelle Kopp has several theories, all of which are seconded by Japan’s Society of Writers, Editors and Translators. Some of these are what you’d expect –for example, skimping on quality translators for budgetary reasons, or relying on machine translation.

But others are culturally specific and particularly interesting. For instance, Kopp writes about the fact that English words are often seen more as decoration than significant, eloquent writing. For Japanese audiences, what really matters with English phrases is getting the general gist of them, not grammatical correctness.

Read on to learn more about the often surprising world of English translation in Japan.

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