The English language is a pastiche of words amassed from various countries and cultures over whole eras of history. “Assassin”, “envelope”, “amok”… “pastiche”; without loan words for these concepts, what would we have called them? The rampant use of loan words is no different in Japan, where many foreign words (and people) come to lose their function, purpose and all original meaning.
Some English words in Japan, maintain their literal meaning, but none of their nuance, like in the way that “crazy” 「クレイジー」 only has the meaning of “insane” in Japanese. Some words or phrases take on a completely different meaning from their origins altogether, like “high tension” 「ハイテンション」 meaning “energetic”. But, there are a handful of Japanese-English loan words that, once innocently uttered in their correct English context, can cause misunderstandings of a more perverse nature. Here are 7 examples.
For the seasoned perv or general internet low-life (surely no one who reads GJA), the alternative meaning of AV may already be apparent. But, for the less depraved reader, long gone are the days when AV meant Mr. Stringbean Nerdlinger daintily rolling the movie projector into 3rd period Chem lab. AV is no longer synonymous with the business of setting up films, but rather the biznasty shown in them.
Though the Japanese acronym AV does relate to movies, it is not “audio-visual” as in English, but rather “adult video”. That gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “AV equipment”, amirite?
Japan’s porn industry has had a long history spanning all the way back to things like graphic ukiyo-e woodblock prints, while today it is regarded as the largest producer of pornography in Asia. Soon after the advent of the video tape deck when porno flicks became more readily available to the average consumer, the phrase ‘adult video’ came into existence and made its way to Japan.
This short acronym was probably chosen as a euphemistic name for the product because plain English initials, being neutral and representative of no exact meaning inherently, easily masks the inherent filth associated with calling something “porn” or “adult video” outright. Using (made-up) English words or phrases to mask things that are uncomfortable to talk about outright is a common trend in Japan and is thought to be the only form of communication available to eikaiwa counselors.
Take AV for a spin in the old search engine. If you were to search for 「AV機器」the Japanese equivalent of AV equipment, you would get speakers, amps and the like, but typing the search terms “Japan” and “AV” in the same search box will result in nothing but tentacle-molested, bukkake-sprayed, school girl cosplay bondage. But then again, I’m guessing you knew as much. In such a search, the only AV Club Nerdlingers you will come across will be the patrons of such sites, not to mention the site developers themselves. I guess not much has changed after all.
In short, think twice before telling your Japanese pen pal that you were in the AV Club in school. Then again, you probably shouldn’t divulge that sparkling gem of your bygone nerd past to anyone anyway. Dork.
Obviously, we’ve sprung in to onomatopoeia territory with this one. The “boing-boing” sound effect is a cartoon staple that the likes of Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes, Walt Disney and countless other animators and cartoonists used to build the soundscape of our childhood imaginations. You can thank Japan for molesting your inner child and leaving you feeling appropriately dirty and used.
To demonstrate the innocence lost due to the misunderstanding of “boing-boing”, I present a true tale from the annals of gaijindom.
A good friend and, at the time, fellow newcomer to Japan – we’ll call him “Randy” to keep with our theme – was out in a shopping area in Osaka when a mother and her toddler came near. With the giggling child taking a liking to him, Randy’s lack of Japanese fluency left him unable to communicate with the little guy besides in gestures and funny sounds. Nonetheless, the mother was no doubt pleased that her young child had the chance to interact with a foreign person. That is, until Randy saw a manicured bush – again, we have a theme going – in the shape of a sphere and said “boing-boing” to the child while pretending to bounce it like a ball. The mother scooped up her child immediately and stormed off. What happened?
If only Randy had known that of the plethora of onomatopoeia words in Japanese, 「ボインボイン」 (pronounced “boin boin”) can be construed as the sound of bouncing boobs, and is in fact how it is often used in all types of manga and anime, from mainstream to hentai. Poor Randy was unwittingly fondling breasty foliage at that hapless child. I bet people in the vicinity were able to physically hear that mom’s brain switch gears from “lovely international exchange” to ‘save the child and GTFO’ mode. Intentional or not, we here at Gaijinass applaud such gaijin asses and the annals from which they spew.
Delving into the true nightlife of Japan requires navigating the often crusty back alleys of entertainment districts, complete with their pestering touts, FUBAR salary men, gangsters accompanied by their lackeys and various other stock characters of sleaze. If you enter an establishment in this playground asking for a hostess to seat you, you may find one – just not the type you would’ve expected. Sure, the hostess will be a young, desirable female eager to seat you at a table, but this one will join your party too.
For those interested in the ins and outs of the world of hosts and hostesses (also referred to as “kyabajo”) in Japan, there are plenty of resources around. Check out (http://neojaponisme.com/2009/08/11/kyabajo-japan/) or even (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Happiness_Space:_Tale_of_an_Osaka_Love_Thief) and surely you’ve read GJS’s own pieces on this topic
But, allow me to give just a short summary. Hostess clubs (and host clubs staffed by males) are like a classier “Coyote Ugly”, where instead of bar-top dance routines, the female staff join customers at their private tables to pour drinks and entertain them and pander to their bullshit. In other words, they are like modern-day geishas.
Though very many types of hostess clubs (or “kyabakura” as they are sometimes called) exist with varying rules of conduct (no touching; formal dates with the girls allowed, etc), hostesses are by no means thought of as sex workers, despite a prevailing and inaccurate belief amongst gaijin that generally aren’t admitted to must hostess clubs. Even so, it would still be quite an insult if you told a Japanese friend that his wife had been a gracious hostess. To be sure, some of the regular usages of ‘host’ and ‘hostess’ are known in Japan, but these words have become so attached to those night-time establishments that uttering them will bring to mind those bleach-haired, perfume-doused party kids well before a Trebek or Sajak type. Though Vanna is not too far off the mark.
4. “Dutch Wife”
In a place like Japan, with its bevy of discreet perversions and alternative sexual preferences, it would be a shame to unknowingly share a name with something vile or dirty. For instance, the name “Gary” sounds very similar to 「下痢」 “geh-ri”, the Japanese word for “diarrhea”. Tough break, for that guy. Also, “panko” a type of bread crumbs exported and used by chefs worldwide, also means “slut” in Japanese slang. Though the alternate meaning of those two are pretty bad, what might be infinitely worse than sharing a name with something sketchy, would be sharing holy matrimony with an unavoidable sex joke. No offense to the great Dutch people, but there wives are the Japanese cum-catchers of yesteryear.
“Dutch wife” on these shores means blow up dolls, “real dolls” or any other makeshift female body that a samurai might use for sheathing his Hanzo. The origin here seems to be Dutch-controlled Indonesia where, having to leave their wives back in their homeland, Dutch traders opted to sleep with what is called a “bamboo wife” or 「竹婦人」 in the original Japanese. A “bamboo wife”, was a name for a human-sized length of woven bamboo made in Indonesia which the lonely, newly single Dutch traders would snuggle with in place of their wives. After being made fun of by the “men’s men” of the Tokugawan Era for being nutless simps, these Dutch suckers-for-love were immortalized in Japanese through this derogatory insult. Nearly 150 years later the Japanese are still using this phrase to stick it to the Dutch. Well, mostly just to their wives.
Shorter than even the acronym “AV” above, the letter H may seem ominous here. Being a standard letter of the English alphabet, any of us have a one in twenty-six chance of saying this letter with total ignorance to its Japanese meaning. So, what in the H does H mean?
Now, despite being a slang word for heroin in English, “H” – pronounced “etchi” – is the most common word for “sex” in Japanese besides, well, “sex” 「セックス」. But, why “H”?
Think about it, folks – What’s an infamous Japanese word which starts with “H” and relates to sex?
If you guessed “hentai”, give yourself a pat on the back. You might also want to go ahead and erase your browser history while you’re at it, Bubba.
I can’t imagine a scenario in which you might offend someone by saying “H” at an inopportune moment, but how about the opposite scenario? How about if you missed out on some hot H because you didn’t know what the letter stood for? Japanese or not, a woman is not just going to spell it out for you. Of all the possible misunderstandings on this list, one resulting in missing the chance for some unsolicited poon-sampling seems like the most embarrassing of all.
Snacks can cost a pretty penny in Japan. If you don’t watch your p’s and q’s, you can run up quite a tab or, even worse, get caught having an affair as well.
Don’t get it twisted: Snacks – the type of food – are also called snacks in Japanese, especially when referring to salty ones, like peanuts and pretzels. However, “snack” is also the term for a common type of watering hole in Japan’s major cities which function as a more low-key version of the hostess clubs mentioned previously. These establishments are run by a madam-like older woman, who makes sure the business runs smoothly and that everyone has a good time by pairing up female staff and lonely male customers. By sharing chats at the bar and singing karaoke altogether, there is a down-home type of atmosphere, complete with the eponymous bowls of snacks offered to customers.
Most of these places have menus with no prices listed, so the final tabs can be decided at will by the house. They also tag on a pretty hefty “seating charge”. This isn’t a code word for “extra services” either; the only wad being blown is when you pay exorbitantly for good ole wholesome companionship. To be fair, some patrons do eventually get to bed the staff, but this all happens outside the snack and according to the staff members prerogative. Being Sugardaddy Longpockets seems to help sway their minds, though.
Getting to the point, I would just like our readers to be aware that, when looking for a bite to eat in Japan, a “snack” bar is not the best place to grab a Snickers, and certainly not the place to get your hotdog relished. (boom-tish, ay!)
Thanks to the limitless reach (read: stranglehold) that Hollywood has on the planet, our curse words are everywhere. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person in Europe who doesn’t know the words “fuck” , “shit” or even the phrase “Oh my god”. The case is no different in the land of the rising radioactive levels. But, as was the case with our other points on this list, some words that are already inappropriate can become even worse when picked up by the Japanese. Even a word as commonly accepted as “bitch”. Call a woman a bitch in the West and get your face clawed off. Call a woman one in Japan and lose the respect of everyone around you.
“Bitch” in Japanese does not actually carry any of the meanings that we English speakers know and love the word for: 1) a female dog 2) a rude, crab-assed woman 3) a verb, meaning to complain or nag (usually incessantly)
Here, it has one meaning and one meaning alone, and that is “slutbag”, a word so near yet so far from the original it is severely off-putting. With this new meaning, an offhanded comment about your female boss being a bitch could be seen as borderline sexual harassment. Japanese people, who tend to avoid voicing their complaints aggressively and still show subservience to work superiors, would definitely see calling the boss a dirty tramp as pretty foul slander. Think now, could you even back up such a claim? Would you want to?
How did this fetal mutation of the word bitch become a thing? Most likely rap music – paternity test pending. Don’t forget that it was through the lyrics of rappers like Snoop Dogg and Too $hort that “bitch” became a term of endearment for referring to ladies in the first place. If we consider how hard it is for even most native speakers of English to understand rap lyrics, we can see how the word “bitch” could easily be misconstrued for Japanese hip-hoppers, who have almost no idea what the rappers are saying.
When it’s all said and done, it aint no thang whether non-English-speaking people can understand the sophisticated intricacies of “Jenny From the Block” or the riveting tapestry of sound that is Silkk Da Shocker’s “Charge it 2 da Game.” However, more than any other word on this list, “bitch” is the one that I cannot bear to have stripped from my lexicon in order to be more P.C. What can I say; a little bitch lives inside of me. And, in my humblest of opinions, any supposed language that is without the full capacity of the usage of this word, might as well be Elvish, whatever the hell Balky spoke or recordings of penguin orgies spliced and played in reverse.
Well, what have we gleaned from these rantings? Well, for one, English speakers in Japan, and anywhere abroad really, should watch out for the completely unpredictable clusterfunks that their everyday English can cause. Also, we can see that people of non-English-speaking countries should be careful in the way that they manhandle English before stuffing it in to their language boxes. But, most importantly, I think we can all agree that language is quite the shifty strumpet: She will lay down with anyone, let people have their way with her and is completely unfaithful to whatever men call her their own. Adulterous, incestuous, promiscuous; here’s to “mother tongue” always leaving a bad taste in your mouth.
More of Nanya’s writing and original art can be found at his site ‘PointXPoint’: www.pointxpoint.blogspot.jp
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