5 Japanese Things We Screwed Up

There are many, many, many things that are only associated with Japan that are incredibly popular, for good reason and they need to be shared with the world. But there are some things, of which we completely missed the point.

Sushi

Sushi

One of the first things that come to mind when thinking of Japan, sushi. Words cannot describe just how badly we managed to screw up this. In Japan, sushi including, beef, chicken, vegetables, prawn, cheese, anything teriyaki and anything tempura, is considered a bit weird or wacky. The main thing you will find is raw fish. The idea of sushi is western eyes is great up to the point of eating raw fish, which is what basically sushi is!

Doraemon

Doraemon

“How did we screw up Doraemon” you may ask? We don’t know him! I beleive it’s a crime to keep something as good as him from the world! Most people in Western countries have never heard of him, he’s one of the biggest Asian icons of all time, he’s been named the only cartoon character as one of Asia’s heroes, he was at the forefront of manga! And I still get confused looks when talking about him. For some reason when deciding on something to pick up and give to the rest of the world, Hello Kitty was picked.

Evil Hello Kitty

Godzilla

Godzilla

This is another classic example of American remake for the sake of money. Just to give you an idea let me show you a couple of videos.

Japanese Original

1998 American Remake

Even though they seem pretty similar in their own ways, the 1998 remake was hit with a ton of negative reviews from poor acting, bad research and the actual fact that Godzilla was a pretty bad monster in the remake, he was taken out by a couple of missiles but in the original he was basically invincible to everything.

Words

Words

This is another cringe-worthy mistake that us English speakers make, we ruin Japanese words forever. If you have been studying Japanese for a bit you start to notice that you get annoyed when people mispronounce Japanese words and if you try to correct them you end up looking weird.  Some words like these are

Karate is pronounced “Kerati”

Karaoke is pronounced “Kehriokey”

Manga is pronounced “Mehnga”

Anime is pronounced “Ehnimey”

Sake is pronounced “Saki”

Samuari is pronounced “Sehmoorai”

And this list goes on and on. I know that we also mispronounce other foreign words and obviously other languages mispronounce English, but this is just a pet hate of mine.

Anime

James with Breasts

What’s one of the main things that we watch anime for? Fighting, vulgarity and Japanese culture, and what do we do before broadcasting anime? Get rid of all of it! Most of this editing is done in America because of much harder censorship laws or in an attempt to make the anime more friendly to the local viewer.

Fighting

Fighting

Left - Edited | Right - Original

Animes before broadcast in the US will have removed blood, death, guns, destruction and even speech about those topics.

Vulgarity

Top - Original | Bottom - Edited

Top - Original | Bottom - Edited

Obviously there are obscene anime’s out there that are entitled for a specific audiences, but before broadcasting vulgarity that even isn’t there. Normally airbrushing or adding  clothing to characters that are already pretty G rated. The idea of homosexuality is also completely removed even if the original has no signs of intimate moments between same sex characters, they usually do this by making the characters siblings or cousins, to explain their close relationship.

Japanese Culture

Left - Edited | Right - Edited

Left - Edited | Right - Edited

We make anime more appealing to Western audiences by removing Japanese culture and substituting American culture. This normally doesn’t affect the plot in anyway, they normally change the currency or food, but I’d rather learn a little bit about Japan while watching my anime on TV.

You can keep reading and find more specific examples on censorship in this wikipedia entry that’s eye-opening to the all the changes we have made to the great anime that come to our shores.

If you know of any more Japanese things we screwed up please leave it as a comment, I’d love to hear some more.

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38 Comments

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38 responses to “5 Japanese Things We Screwed Up

  1. LOL all so tru.
    I remember watching Pokemon in America, and they translated a Onigiri(おにぎり- Rice ball) as a Popcorn ball. XD

  2. I have nothing against the reinterpretation of something, but you’re right, ‘Godzilla’ was an absolutely ridiculous remake. Other examples include ‘The Ring’, another inherently Japanese work that was very badly remade.

    Anime is nearly always redubbed very badly, the most recent example of which has to be the absolutely devastating redub of the theme tune for Miyazaki’s ‘Ponyo’. You just cannot watch anime without watching it in its original form, without corny American actor/actress dubs and without subtitles that never convoy the original integrity of the work. Whoever thought Cameron Diaz could dub anime needs a serious look in the mirror.

    As for sushi however, I don’t know about Australia, but here in the UK we have some amazing examples of what I consider to be ‘pure sushi’; this definitely is a better reinterpretation, here at least, anyway.

    With words, also, I really can’t agree. Being a linguist, and an interpreter, I naturally feel passionate about words, and the one thing that gets me more than anything is when people pronounce loan words as they would be pronounced in the source language. Example: would you pronounce ‘Paris’ without the ‘s’, like the French, as in ‘Paree’? Or would you pronounce ‘que sera’ with short ‘e’ and ‘a’ sounds like the Spanish, as in ‘keh se-ra’ or more like ‘kay su-raah’? Similarly with Japanese words, I pronounce them as Japanese words when speaking Japanese, and as English words when speaking English, otherwise there’s the danger that you sound totally pretentious. Hmm, only my opinion, obviously!

    • headingforjapan

      Thanks for another amazing comment. Now to the reply.

      Yes, what they do to anime to be more appealing is just masking an obvious foreign object, I say celebrate it’s differences!

      I know that you can find “pure sushi” really anywhere but I know many people who beleive they sell teriyaki chicken in Japan.

      Actually, studying Spanish (and loving it) for half an year and also having a dad who can speak French. I always find myself (embarrasingly) pronouncing foreign words the correct way, for example i always pronounce croissant as “cwassont” and in spanish I’m always making my r’s harder and my v’s to b’s and vice-versa. It’s a curse from the language enthusiast. Just my opinion 😀

      • In my opinion it sounds ridiculous to mix languages, if you’re speaking English, speak English. It’s one thing if you’re naming things, like dropping a list of French foods, but to say something like “I had a “cwassont” for dinner.” sounds bad to me. It’s even worse if you’re talking with someone about J-pop and pronounce artists in the Japanese way… But that’s just me.

      • hoolan

        About the words.

        I always pronounce them the English way just so I don’t confuse people and also don’t come across as pretentious.

        I’ve always called and have always heard a croissant pronounced cwassont though.

  3. I have to say I kind of agree with all of it except the language. problem is they are spelled exactly how they sound. Manga is phonetically correct. It is how it sounds. Problem is you can’t substitute more letters in there to try to get the right sound it doesn’t work you are doing exactly what you are describing as a problem. Americanizing it to explain it.

    For example:
    ma – its ma as in mama. then n as in man ending. In n then ga as in Galapagos. so ma-n-ga. not meh-n-ga like meh i didn’t like that.

    Might seem a bit harsh in wording, but can’t think to well how to word it better after being up for 36 hours.

    • headingforjapan

      Good arguement. Though personally living in Australia I always hear even more twisted pronounciations of the word, I always hear the word “manga” like I spelt it before. It’s sounds like “me-nga” or something similiar. But also I found this video which is where I got my inspiration for that section. http://www.viddler.com/explore/speekit/videos/24/

      • I can understand that. I just remember first day of my first Japanese class within minutes my teacher, whom is Japanese, gave a list of words and pronounced them. Anime and Manga she was particularly stingy with. heh.

        We were all like, wow what kind of teacher did we get, luckily that is really the only time she was been like rawr over words.

        heh funny video.

  4. I disagree with some of your points.

    Sushi: You’ve clearly never been to kaiten-zushi in Japan. They have “Hamburg” sushi, egg sushi, tempura shrimp rolls, and other zany creations. And then there is “Italian” food in Japan – Tarako spaghetti, corn on just about anything, and I’ve even seen a natto spaghetti creation. This is called “regionalization”, and it happens all over the world.

    Words: While it annoys people who study the languages themselves, it’s a universal characteristic for languages to adopt foreign loanwords and fit them into the target language. If you think we butcher Japanese words in English, what do you think about English (and other European words) in Japanese?

    • headingforjapan

      Another great disagreement. First all of I’ve never had first hand experience in Japan but I do have Japanese friends who were quite perplexed when arriving in Australia to find all these “weird” kinds of sushi.

      Secondly, yes I do admit that its natural to adopt foreign words. My annoyance with this is the fact that people beleive their version is the proper pronounciation, or at least it’s ok to say it, which is incorrect. This is contrasting the Japanese, who must know what their adoption of foreign language does to words.

      • Ok, I gotta disagree with you on the last part –
        “Japanese…must know what their adoption of foreign language does to words.”

        1. A lot of the time they don’t even know where the word comes from – most of the time they think that if it’s katakana it must’ve come from English.

        2. There are countless of examples of people mixing English into things just because it looks/sounds cool to them, like with shirts, song lyrics, radio/tv personalities, etc.

        And on the sushi tip, first off ditto to Alex on the kaiten sushi thing, and second, look into sashimi sometime. Sashimi basically just refers to raw anything, cut up into small, sushi-like pieces. Sashimi + rice = sushi. You can also see various kinds of non-fish sashimi, my personal favorite being raw horse (basashi + garlic = mmm!!).

  5. – “In Japan you will not find sushi including, beef, chicken, vegetables, prawn, cheese, anything teriyaki and anything tempura, the only thing you will find is raw fish.”

    Not 100% correct. Rice and raw fish are the _main_ ingredients in traditional Japanese Sushi, but both vegetables and prawn are used in it. One of my favorite toppings is tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette).

    Sushi is generally really good here in Sweden btw! 🙂

    • headingforjapan

      ahaha, like Alex said you can find other variations and I know that egg is also a highly used ingrediant, but in my rave I decided to exclude it because it sounded a bit off saying “you will find only raw fish (and egg)”. Good work on picking that up. 😛

      • Hehe okay, well in my opinion it doesn’t sound better to say that you’ll only find raw fish in Japanese Sushi, since that’s completely wrong^^

        I’ve never heard of any kind of meat or cheese being used in Sushi though, must be something American/British ’cause it’s definitely not something you’ll find in my neck of the woods!

  6. Karaoke might be pronounced differently in US, Europe, Australia etc from Japan, but its hard to say the West destroyed the original Japanese word when Karaoke came from Kara (empty) 空 and oke (orchestra).

    So did the Japanese language destroy the word orchestra by making it oke or did the West destroy the Japanese word karaoke by mispronouncing it?

    • With the same reasoning, every Japanese word based on Chinese onyomi would be words that “Japan screwed up”.

      • The Japanese had the words first, but did not have a way to write them, so they borrowed the Chinese script. The pronunciation of the words and the words themselves didn’t suddenly change.

        For good or for bad, Americans have done more to change the way the English language is used than anyone else.

      • Actually, onyomi words were imported from China. It sort of happened like this (I’m paraphrasing this from 日本人の知らない日本語)

        Japanese Man: Look over there. That’s what we call “yama”. How do you write that in Chinese?
        Chinese Man: We write it like this – 山.
        Japanese: Wow, interesting. How do you read that in Chinese?
        Chinese Man: We say “shan”.
        Japanese Man: Interesting. From now on we will write ‘yama’ like 山, and also pronounce it ‘san’ (whoops!) when needed.

        That’s why 山 can be read “san” in Japanese, “san” in Korean, and “shan” in Chinese.

  7. headingforjapan

    Ok everyone! Sorry for the confusion. I have edited the post in both “Sushi” and “Words”.

    I now know that raw fish is not the only sushi in Japan but it is definitely the “norm”.

    Also that we do not ruin Japanese words but mispronounciation is just something that annoys me.

  8. Nice post Will, you’ll always have people willing to chip in their 2c on controversy. I don’t know how much has changed since the edit you flagged on FB but I have this to say most attempts at cultural appropriation by definition can only be derivative. I’m apologise for the verbosity, but I went to an impromptu art class yesterday and a couple of things the artists said really resonated with me.

    Having an appreciation for a culture is not like À la carte dining, excuse my French. You can’t walk into a culture and say “I’ll take some of this, and a little bit of that but not too well done”, it doesn’t work that way. Things get lost in… eh heh, invariably you ending quoting movie titles.

    Fun post!

    • headingforjapan

      Thanks for the comment and I also found it impressive the amount of your extended vocabulary you used.

      But originally I did get alot of complaints so back to the drawing board I went.

      I’m glad people are willing to completely obliderate me with their knowledge, because once the opponent is gone I can pick up all leftovers. 😀

  9. Here’s my 2 yen worth… the first lot are more things that Japan screwed up intentionally to suit the West.

    California Rolls – a Japanese innovation with a North American name. Take out the raw tuna and replace it with imitation crab meat and avocado.

    Inside-Outside Rolls – Apparently Westerners don’t like seaweed on the outside.

    Mazda – Matsuda just doesn’t sound as slick in the West.

    Now for some Western corruptions:

    The Grudge – Another crap Hollywood remake of a perfectly good Japanese movie. (I agree with Ryan about The Ring!)

    ‘Hurry Curry’ or harakiri or seppuku.

    Karaoke – can live with the differing pronunciations but there is a massive gap in the approach to karaoke between Japanese and Westerners. Japanese tend sit and listen politely to the singer regardless of the quality of the performance whilst Westerners will ‘generally’ turn the evening into a group sing-a-long rock performance with a ‘who can yell into the mic the loudest’ approach. (or maybe that is just me!) 🙂

    Instant Ramen – need I say more? Cup of noodles in the West just don’t compare!

  10. As a Japanese, I always feel proud when non-Japanese speak Japan origin words like Sake, Karaoke etc., even when their pronunciations are not like ours.
    I think we just need to know the meaning of words and the difference in pronunciations. There is no need to understand the very origin of every words.

    Cultural differences are very interesting indeed, and your efforts to understand Japanese and Japanese culture are truly great I think!

  11. Josh

    I’m gonna agree with everyone else about sushi. Of course you’re gonna adapt it to local pallets and make what the customers want to eat. Every country does it. Heck, you’ll even find different recipes for the same food in different regions of the same country or even between restaurants/families. There is no standard on what food “should” be. And at most sushi places in the US you’ll find all your favorite “traditional” sushi along with the American weird stuff.

    The words section is what I take offense to (besides your “authentic” pronunciations being completely wrong. “Karate is pronounced ‘Kerati'” Ka is a short ‘a’ sound and the Te is a short ‘e’ sound. Tell me which ‘i’ sound in English sounds like ‘e’ from Edward, the ‘i’ in ‘like’ or the one in ‘it’).

    It’s all complete elitist bullshit. When you write a word from another language in the local language it is almost NEVER pronounced “correctly.” Why you may ask? Because rules of pronunciation are different. In English of course they’re going to pronounce ‘Manga’ as Man + ga and use the long a for ‘Man’. That’s the rules they learned growing up say your supposed to do when you see a new word spelled that way. How are they supposed to know every ‘a’ sound in Japanese is short? Do you really expect everyone to learn the rules of pronunciation for every foreign word they come across? Do you think the Japanese say all their English word “correctly” when they use them as a part of Japanese? Heck, most of the time when Japanese people are speaking English still use the Japanese rules or pronunciation (it’s a national problem, look it up).

    If you wanna pronounce a word “right” in your sentences with your friends that are Japanese or friends interested in saying it properly then feel free (even then a lot of times it just sounds out of place and breaks the flow of your sentences, I’ve tried.), but think through what you’re implying before you post something ridiculous like this.

    As far as Anime is concerned I think most of the changes they make are bullshit too. Some I can understand because they want to pass certain censors, but most of them are just about America’s other culture-phobia (4kids is the biggest offender). There has been a lot of progress on this in recent years though. You’ll even see some shows with the original Japanese theme songs on cable.

    • Josh

      I take back what I was saying about your pronunciations. I couldn’t figure them out. They’re not how I would say them in English or Japanese, but I think I managed to sound them out and I guess it’s just a different dialect of English.

      So, I guess that’s how people say them where you are?

  12. Jon

    You need to go to Japan before making all these bold accusations of destruction. You seem very young and very condescending.

    1) California rolls confuse Japanese people (as they should), but sushi can have just about anything in it. Kappa and kanpyo maki (which are vegetables) are both staples of kaiten sushi places for instance.

    2) Not knowing about something doesn’t ruin it.

    3) Fair enough.

    4) Ask someone about McDonalds in Japan. There’s a 90% the person won’t understand unless you twist the pronunciation into Japanese. Look at any of the thousands of English loan words in Japanese and tell me they are the same. The pronunciation of loan words are usually changed. English is no different.

    5) OK. But at the same time let’s look at the demographic here. Pokemon is aimed at little kids. Not only is it unlikely a 6 year old western kid will know what onigiri is, but he is also unlikely to care about Japanese culture. It isn’t about suppression, it is about business, which is what anime is.

  13. Moogiechan

    What we did to sushi is fair trade for what they did to pizza.

    Actually, it’s a very Japanese thing to do — take something from somewhere else and tweak it suit us. And there are cheap, low-brow sushi places and very high end ones.

    Soda is a good example of this. It’s a western-invented beverage, available in flavors in Japan we never even dream of in the US. Grape flavored Calpis is an outstanding, and delicious, example.

    Then look at what’s been done with mayonnaise: it goes on okonomiyaki and inside onigiri!

    Regarding mispronunciation of words imported from Japanese, I give you makudonarudo, manshon, wansaizu, shaapupenshiru, etc…

    Your points on manga, though are well taken. It’s why American otaku flock to Akihabara.

  14. I can agree with everybody on the difficulties of pronouncing “translated” words, but I can’t for the life of me understand how “karaoke” could or should possibly be pronounced “kary-o.k.” I mean, it’s *spelled* ka-RA-oke. I could even understand if someone tried to pronounce it “ka-roak” or “ka-row-key” but how did it become “care-EE-okie”?

  15. Tempura

    First at all: no one makes failures on purpose. People just do their things the way they know it. Which makes them speak the way they learned, and eat things they’ve come to like.

    No one has ever made an campaign ‘How to speak $JAPANESE_WORD’, so people *can’t* speak them ‘correct’.

    Second: Sushi isn’t all about raw fish (or traditional sashimi+rice). It’s just the rice! That’s all. There are several different ways of sushi in japan, and nigiri, the ‘traditional way’ is just one of the more popular.

    Also, every cooking is always evolving, there is always someone who makes things different to find new customers. So, trying out new ways doesn’t shame a recipe, it indeed even enrich it.

    And finally: Yes, on the other side, us-people and especially hollywood has a long tradition of ‘integrate’ other cultures by transform them to their own way of doings things. Which means: rip of all good and unknown parts and replace them only if necessary 😦 Well, it’s a big great hive of dicks 😉

  16. I remember watching DragonBall Z with English subtitles on, as well as English voices. To my surprise, the English script and subtitles were significantly different. I am inclined to believe that the subtitles were a better representation of the original Japanese script. It was confusing how they would change some seemingly insignificant detail between the two translations.
    For example, there was a part where the characters Krillin, Gohan, and Bulma were on a spaceship full of kids. The kids assumed that the aforementioned characters intended them harm (though they had no such intentions). In the English subtitles, the kids accused Krillin and Gohan of being “barbarians”. Krillin and Gohan, reacting with surprise, said to each other “They think we’re barbarians?!”. In the English dub, the kids accused Krillin and Gohan of being… brothers. And they responded with surprise, saying, “They think we’re brothers?!”.
    Why??? Why would they change something like that, so that it makes less sense than before?
    Also, if you’re familiar with the internet meme involving Vegeta of the DragonBall Z series saying, “It’s over 9000!!!”, and crushing his scouter, the original Japanese audio actually has him saying it’s over 8000. Another detail inexplicably changed.
    I don’t even know if you’d consider these examples as censorship, just… hmm… weird.

    • headingforjapan

      maybe they didn’t think little kids would understand barbarians were. But I still beleive that would be confusing to people.

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  18. Superfarce

    I’m confused as to why the only anime that you choose to mention in this post are long running shounen (Naruto, Pokemon, etc). They air these programs in the US for children, 6- 11 year old boys. Of course they are going to censor and alter them, they’re intended for western CHILDREN; not western Adults that are interested in Japanese culture. If you’re old enough to be worriyng about that’ you wouldn’t be watching anime on Cartoon Network, heck, you wouldn’t be watching Cartoon Network in the first place. Kids couldn’t give two shits about what country Pokemon is from, as far as they’re concerned it’s just another saturday morning cartoon.

    You also have to remember how vastly different Western beliefs are to that of the Japanese. In Japan they have a different view on what is Vulgar and what is just “plain fun”.

    What I’m saying is that if you’re the kind of person who criticises a kids show for being edited to suit it’s audience, then you should man the fuck up and watch some real anime. Heck, you might aswell not watch it with subtitles either, because they aren’t always 100% accurate.

    I must admit, however, 4kids does take their editing and censorship too far. (Classic example is the “Jelly filled donut” scene in Pokemon season 1, and the Entire One Piece dub)

  19. I’ve written a couple similar posts…
    http://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/japanese-words-in-english/

    and

    http://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2009/08/07/hollywood-tokyo/

    Interesting site.
    What part of Australia are you from?
    When do you plan to come to Japan?

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