Funny and Interesting Japanese Phrases

The Japanese language is full of interesting and funny phrases. These often help to illustrate the similarities and differences between the Japanese culture and the cultures of the west. While you may not have genuine use for these phrases during your travels in Japan, they may help you to better understand the Japanese people and their thought processes.

NOTE: This page is in it's infancy now, but I hope to soon expand it to many pages including one for Japan's modified versions of English language (a.k.a "Engrish")

Bar Code
Term used to describe the look of a bald man's comb-over hair style.

"Back Ground Music", A term that refers to the practice of turning on a radio or TV just to have some noise happening in the background. This activity is common in many cultures, but I am not aware of any other that has given it a name (or rather an acronym, the Japanese are keen on shortening words whenever possible).

Chicken Skin
Where we say goose bumps in the West, the Japanese say chicken skin in the East. As in "The bill from the ryokan was so scary it gave me chicken skin."

Fox Color
English cook books often use the term brown, as in "brown the duck in a skillet, skin side down" or "don't flip the pork chops until they are browned on one side". While Japanese cuisine doesn't utilize the Maillard reaction (fancy term for browning) as much as Western cooking, it definitely does have its place in the Japanese kitchen. In lieu of the term brown, the Japanese will say fox colored as in "Cook the chicken until it's fox colored." Incidentally, the foxes native to Japan are for the most part, brown.

Even Monkeys Fall from Trees
This is used anytime an expert makes a mistake while performing in their field of expertise. For instance, if an ice skater were to fall during a casual practice session, someone witnessing the mistake may use this expression.

The Nail that Sticks Up Gets Hammered Back Down
This is the opposite of the common Western phrase "The squeaky wheel gets the grease". In Japan, making yourself stand out from the pack, no matter the reason, is not considered a good thing. Anyone who makes themselves stick out may well be "hammered" back into conformity.

T.P.O (Time Place Object)
The Japanese will often use this term when answering a question where the answer depends on the time, place and/or object. Such as “what is your favorite drink?”. The answer will likely depend on where the drinker finds themselves, when the situations arises and what they are eating (or doing) at that time. As such, their answer may well be a simple “T.P.O” followed by a list of situations and their preferred beverages to go along with them.

Turtle and the Moon
Roughly equivalent to America's Apples and Oranges. Used when examining two items that are completely dissimilar, thus not easily lending themselves to comparison.

Japanese Engrish

Any Westerner who has ever vacationed in Japan knows that the Japanese have a funny way with the English language. We have come to call this funny way, Engrish.

Before you laugh too hard, keep in mind that it's not at all difficult to find Japanese kanji emblazoned across all manner of crap in the West with little or no thought to their real meanings. A fair amount of these "slogans" would be just as confusing and/or funny to the Japanese.

Taking it a step even further, some people even have kanji tattoos. Think back to whom they might have trusted for the meanings of these kanji? The Hells Angel look-a-like tattoo artist? The waiter at their favorite sushi restaurant (who in all likelihood is either Thai or Philippine)? That anime loving dork at the local comic book shop? No matter the source, you can see where I am going with this. Just be sure to keep it all in perspective.

Below you will find photos of various Japanese merchandise or signage featuring their own brand of Japanese Engrish (sorry, only one for now, more coming soon).

"Here We Go Again..." wrecking the English language. This is a small padded bag I bought at the Japanese ¥100 store, Daiso (Daiso is like a Japanese "Dollar Store"). I use it for storing a 35mm camera lens. I'm not sure how "wise" the lens is, but I suppose it is fun to use.

funny Japanese English on a small padded bag