Japanese and English translate each other very strangely sometimes, and it can make for some funny sayings. English speakers know this as Engrish, and I’m not sure what Japanese speakers refer to it as but I’m sure I’ve said my fair share of ridiculous things in Japanese.
Here are just a few I’m aware of:
In an effort to socialize in a sometimes socially rigid Japanese office place I tried to start a conversation with the highest ranking boss in my vicinity. I started off with
“_____ Shukan, do you regularly get on top of the bath?”
He turned to stare at me for a bout three seconds then nodded his head in approval and went back to work.
Another time one of my teachers told me that some of our old, graduated, students had punched each other in the face.
I wanted to clarify so I said what translates to “They are married?”
The japanese word for quarrel is けんか (kenka), but I went with 結婚 (kekkon) the word for marriage.
It’s difficult for me to really be aware of the ridiculous things I say in Japanese because I’m not a native speaker. My students say some more interesting stuff though.
While teaching a lesson on directions I pointed at the flash card for “Down,” and asked my students to say the word. Nobody knew the word, so I stood there for a good half a minute in silence until one of the children jumped up in excitement and yelled “DOWN JACKETO,” clapped his hands and gave me a thumbs up.
That happens quite frequently actually, when the word is on the tip of a student’s tongue they will blurt out just about anything in excitement. Just yesterday my JTE (Japanese teacher of english) was holding up a pencil sharpener and immediately a girl yelled “SHARPEN PENCILLER!” which was pretty impressive for a 10-year old.
My favorite utterance was during lunch one day. I eat lunch with a different grade every day, in their classroom. This time I was eating with the 1st graders. Talking to 1st-graders is always a joy because they are always so interested in you and tell you things of great importance like what kind of toy they are planning to have their parent’s buy for them on the weekend, all with a very serious face and hardly a breath between words.
I made the glorious mistake of asking one boy who is really interested in bugs how many bugs he has caught. He looked at me and in between a mouthful of soup said something along the lines of “九千百ひき”
I took a moment to look inside myself and translate his answer into English, and slowly it dawned on me…
That’s over nine-thousand.