Japanese to English Mistranslations

Japanese to English Mistranslations

In the world of translation, mistranslations are a common occurrence. It is often said that to err is human. However, when it comes to translations, these errors can sometimes have far-reaching and costly consequences. One such case is the recent Japanese to English mistranslation that resulted in an incorrect missile alert being sent to residents of Hawaii.

While the details of what exactly went wrong are still being sorted out, it seems as though the root of the problem was a misunderstanding caused by two separate mistranslations – one from Japanese to English and one from English to Hawaiian. This particular mistake serves as a cautionary tale for all those involved in translation work and underscores just how important it is to ensure accuracy above all else.

What are some of the most famous Japanese to English mistranslations?

One of the most famous Japanese to English mistranslations is “The Emperor is not wearing any clothes.” This translation was made famous by the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which a group of weavers convinces an emperor that they are making him a new suit of clothes that is invisible to anyone unfit for their job or stupid. The emperor then goes out in public wearing no clothes, and only a young child points out that he is naked.

Other famous Japanese to English mistranslations include “All your base are belong to us,” which was an infamously poor translation of the opening line of the video game Zero Wing, and “This is a sausage” which was mistranslated from the Japanese phrase “o-nigiri wa kusai desu ne” (おにぎりは臭いですね), meaning “rice balls smell bad, don’t they?”

Some of the most famous Japanese to English mistranslations occur because there are often multiple ways to say the same thing in Japanese, depending on the context. This can lead to confusion on the part of the translator, who may not be aware of the different nuances and connotations of certain words and phrases. Additionally, some Japanese words are simply untranslatable into English, which can also lead to errors in translation.

One of the most famous examples of a Japanese to English mistranslation occurred in the early 1980s, when Nintendo released its first home video game console, the Famicom. In Japan, the word “famicom” is a portmanteau of the Japanese words “families” and “computer,” indicating that the console was designed for home use. However, when the Famicom was released in North America as the Nintendo Entertainment System, the word “famicom” was mistranslated as “phantom,” leading to confusion among consumers.

Other examples of Japanese to English mistranslations include the translation of the Japanese word “arigato” as “thank you,” when in fact it can also mean “sorry” or “excuse me;” the translation of the Japanese phrase “benri na hito” as “convenient person,” when it means “dependable person;” and the translation of the Japanese word “desu” as “is,” when it can also mean “yes” or “to be.”

While these mistranslations can often lead to confusion, they can also be humorous, and sometimes even enlightening. In some cases, they can even help to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the complexities of the Japanese language.

How do these mistranslations occur?

There are a few possible explanations for why Japanese to English mistranslations might occur. First, it could be because Japanese is a highly contextual language, and so the translation might not take into account the context in which the original text was used. Second, it’s possible that the translator simply doesn’t have a good understanding of the Japanese language, and so is not able to accurately translate the text. Finally, it’s also possible that the translation software being used is not very accurate, and so is introducing errors into the translation.

How can we prevent these mistakes from happening in the future?

There are a few things translation services can do to help reduce the chances of errors when translating from Japanese to English.

First, they can use translation services Japanese that include a glossary of terms specific to the industry or field being translated. This will help ensure that technical terms are translated correctly.

Second, they can work with a native English speaker who is familiar with the industry or field being translated. This person can review the translation for accuracy.

Third, they can have the translation reviewed by someone bilingual in Japanese and English. This will help to catch any errors that may have been made.

By taking these steps, translation services can help to reduce the chances of Japanese to English translation mistakes.


It is important to be aware of potential translation mistakes when communicating in a foreign language, especially if the subject matter is sensitive. Hiring a professional translation service can help ensure accuracy and avoid misunderstandings.