Japenglish Lesson

Every community eventually develops a language of its own in order to communicate the unique situations that arise out of its particular culture. The expat community in Japan is no different, so to begin, I’m going to give you a brief lexicon to familiarize you with the vocabulary of Japenglish.

Japenglish: a composite language made when English and Japanese are fused.

Think Spanglish or Franglais. There is no set ratio of one language to the other. Both my students and I regularly speak Japenglish, but theirs is primarily Japanese, while mine relies heavily on my own native tongue. Japenglish is not to be confused with…

Engrish: English badly translated from Japanese.

In my experience, Engrish normally falls into one of three categories: poor spelling, poor grammar/phrasing, and WTF?!. Here are some examples of each:

Poor spelling:

JD, another English teacher in my city, plays in a local band. We went to see him last weekend, at a venue whose Japanese name means “Rhyme” in English. However, the L/R sounds present a tricky dichotomy for the Japanese, so a translated sign greeted us upon entry with “Welcome to Lime”.

Poor grammar/phrasing: 

P1000351 P1000352 

WTF?!: P1000392P1000336

Is hamburger really your life? What exactly is a company called Our Need Life Yes all about? What image are they trying to project with such a name? In the WTF?! category, sometimes it’s the words themselves that make absolutely no sense, and sometimes the wording is perfect, but the idea still doesn’t exactly translate into an Anglo-Saxon mindset. I bought a sandwich at the combini (see combini below) today, and the packaging said, “We send to you the lovely flavour of the wind in the meadows.” I am okay with my laundry smelling like a lovely meadow breeze, but I’m not so sure about my sandwiches tasting like one. Also, there is a show on MTV Japan late at night called “Titty & Co.” It is NOT porn.

The idea of “Engrish” also exists in type of poorly translated French, but we haven’t come up with a catchy word for it yet.
gaijin: anyone not Japanese, i.e. me.

Rorando Makkenji Ri: my name here in Japanland. (See Engrish above.)

combini: a convenience store on steroids, ubiquitous throughout Japan.

In addition to your typical convenience store snacks and soda, combini also have sushi, boxed lunches, ice cream, pastries, sandwiches, corndogs, et cetera; you can even pay your bills there. I visit the one across the street from my apartment almost every day.

-san: a suffix added to names both when addressing and referring to someone.

Just about anytime you use someone’s name, you attach –san to the end. Think Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi calls his protégé “Daniel-san”, not “Daniel Son” like a lot of people think. I, however, am not Makkenji-san, I am Makkenji…

-sensei: a suffix added to the names of doctors, lawyers, elected officials and teachers (like me).

Med school? A law degree? A seat in Congress? Who needs them!? I get to be a sensei for playing tag and singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. This is one of many reasons I love Japan.


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