Wednesday, August 29, 2007
If you spend a brief amount of time in Japan, you see people walking around in shirts with funny English on them. If you spend a brief amount of time looking at blogs written by people living in Japan, you see pictures of these sorts of shirts.
Foreign people aren't sure who thinks up the English for these shirts. Sometimes, they are random words and some seem to be long strings of ideas which don't quite come together. One thing is for sure, the Japanese don't care about what these things say in English. They know it's wrong but the lettering itself just looks cool to them.
One of my students wore such a shirt to a lesson last week which made me think that not all the designs are blithely tossed out there or random. Her shirt is not pictured because it would have been rather inappropriate (and rude) for me to ask her to let me snap a picture of her torso for my blog. The shirt she was wearing had the word "sagacious" written down along it in black dots about 8 times with the letters "TNFLTP" written in red about 6 times in front of the repeated"sagacious". If I had seen this as a random shirt on the street, I would have wondered what on earth it was on about and then forgotten it but the student asked me what it meant. I knew "sagacious" meant "shrewd" or "intelligent" but had no idea about TNFLTP.
I looked it up using Google and discovered these letters are part of a genetic sequence. Since I'm not an expert in genetics, I don't know if these letters were coincidentally part of a genetic sequence or if the entire shirt was a sly "in joke" about "intelligent" (sagacious) genes. Following my research a bit further, the sequence seemed to have been related to the DNA of Japanese rice but I'm afraid I was well in over my head at that stage in terms of understanding things. It did make me wonder though if there is hidden meaning or humor in a lot of the funny English shirts we see.
When my student and I discussed this issue, she mentioned that the Japanese don't think clothing with Japanese words is "cool" and they find it pretty unappealing by and large. She said that she noticed when she was in Hawaii that there were people with Japanese/Chinese characters as tattoos as well as on their clothes and that they were often as funny to her as English on shirts is to us.
She said that one of the funniest she saw was a man with a tattoo on his back of a character which meant "sheep". She found it particularly amusing because this was a pretty well-built, masculine fellow walking around with this absurd tattoo, possibly thinking it was really cool.