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  • Christina Theodorakis

When an Innocent Message to Customers Looks Like a Shady Deal

Here’s a real sign found at a popular store in Japan. Lots of color, standard Japanese marketing text… The usual. They wanted to be thoughtful of non-Japanese speakers, so they translated the large line of Japanese text at the top into English.

One glance at the English, and you can spot two obvious mistakes: the lack of a space between “is” and “dealing,” and the capital M in “Medicine.”

First, let’s start with “isdealing” – if you look at the Japanese text, you’ll notice that Japanese is not a language that requires the use of spaces, so Japanese people who’ve only studied English in high school aren’t good at the spacing rules that English requires. This happens with punctuation, too – many Japanese people don’t know the rules of punctuation in English, so they use punctuation like they would in Japanese.

Next, let’s look at “Medicine.” No, it’s not a brand name for an item that they sell, as you may have thought. Japanese people learn upper-case letters and lower-case letters as separate alphabets in English, and when they want to emphasize a word, they’ll often use a capital letter, which ends up being a grammar mistake.

Of course, one of the major issues is with the meaning. If someone is "dealing with medicine," that sounds like an illegal act, doesn't it? Just what kind of "Medicine" is it? We thought Japan hasn't legalized cannabis, but if you read this, you would probably misunderstand it. The word that they actually use in Japanese (取り扱う) means "handling" in the sense that they're able to sell customers over-the-counter medicine, but they had directly translated it because that word in Japanese has many meanings in English. Whoever translated this used a dictionary term for a direct translation, but this shows why direct translation is usually confusing to the reader, especially because of cultural differences.

Finally, if you weren’t able to read/understand Japanese, wouldn’t you be curious what the rest of the Japanese says? This is where we at Globalize Consulting can come in to help. We’re not only professionals at Japanese->English and English->Japanese localization, we’re professional writers and experts in copywriting. If your company is trying to reach out to a Japanese audience, contact us.


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