Wednesday, 17 February 2010


We’re used to the Japanese habit of decorating t-shirts and the like with meaningless combinations of words of English. The purpose is evidently not so much to convey any overt slogan or message as rather to give a general impression of being fashionable, modern, international and in tune with the globalized times.
Now we may be seeing the same thing in reverse, and I keep noticing it on the streets in London. A British clothing company, Superdry, has devised a logo that contains what appears to be Japanese text above the company name. There are four kanji (Chinese characters) followed by four parenthesized hiragana (Japanese syllabic symbols). The hiragana read shinasai.
You see this logo in a prominent place on the clothes and accessories sold by this company.

Is it real Japanese, or is it fake?

I asked Masaki Taniguchi.
He tells me that 極度 kyokudo ˈkjokudo means ‘extremely’ and 乾燥 kansō ˈkansoː ‘dry’, so the kanji are meaningful and say the same as the English name. (He thinks, though, that 超 chō tɕoː would be a better translation for ‘super’ than 極度.)

But the hiragana bit, しなさい ɕinasai, seems pointless, because it is no more than the imperative ‘do!’.


  1. You probably know about it, but just in case: Hanzismatter has been documenting this kind of thing for years.

  2. In Italy, I have seen garments with nonsense in Japanese for *years*.

  3. The imperative 'do!' isn't all that pointless. The same strange use is do is found in, for example 'We do Snapfax'. It think it's meant to subtly imply that the product in question is a way of life.

  4. I'm late picking up on this, but I wouldn't have wasted any time mentioning Hanzismatters and Kanjismatters either.

    But someone should have said that 極度極度 'extreme desiccation' would be either too technical or otherwise too highly marked for whatever purpose this is, and 極度 kyokudo really needs to be 極度に 'kyokudo ni' to mean ‘extremely’.

    With that proviso, it's real Japanese all right, but乾燥に乾燥(しなさい) Kyokudoni kansō(shinasai) would mean '(Be) extremely desiccated'!

    So what does Superdry clothing DO?

    超乾燥 would indeed be a bit more plausible for Superdry, but it would probably need to mean something that _is_ super-dry or _dries_ super-dry, rather than something that keeps you super-dry or whatever Superdry is supposed to do.

  5. Sorry, I should have given the romanization chōkansō for the 超乾燥 that 'would indeed be a bit more plausible for Superdry'.

  6. I should also have explained that しなさい shinasai, is as JW says none other than the imperative ‘do!’.

    The reason 乾燥に乾燥(しなさい) Kyokudoni kansō(shinasai) would mean '(Be) extremely desiccated' is that it means '(Do) desiccation in the extreme'.

    There's a café near our house which puts out signs saying "Do lunch" etc. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas normal. Or do I need to get out more? Well, obviously, but you know what I mean...

  7. What about "Love Me Do" by the Beatles?

  8. I bought a nice shirt once with upside-down Chinese characters on it. Sure, I knew it was upside-down but I figured: What were the chances I'd walk through Chinatown with it on? LOL!

  9. If the company were trying to convey the meaning of the imperative "be ...", then the Japanese translation would not be "...shinasai" but " arinasai", or more bluntly, " are", which would indeed make some sense.

  10. Masaki,

    Obviously you are a native speaker, but I should be astonished if you had any intuition that kansō can be a keiyōdōshi (adjective in –na), which it would need to be for it to be followed by " arinasai" or " are". I am not a native speaker, but I certainly can't imagine that it could be, and no dictionary seems to support the idea that it can be anything but a noun, or a verb in –suru, of which –shinasai would be the imperative. So could you introspect for a moment as to whether it would be Japanese to say "Kansō de are" (as appropriate to an inanimate object), or "Kansō de arinasai" if you were being a bit less brusque to that object, let alone "Kansō de inasai" to a person, which is presumably what you mean when you talk about the imperative "be ..."? So what would make some sense, exactly, and what sense would it make?

    The verb kansō-suru is intransitive and inchoative in meaning and if something IS dry, it is therefore in the perfective form in –shita, or shite iru.

    So to use this intransitive inchoative in the imperative (kansō sinasai), you have to use a bit of imagination and think of a situation in which your drip-dry shirt won't dry, and you say to it "Kansō sinasai!", or "Dry, you bugger!"

    Of course the creators of this logo may have been under the impression that kansō-suru is transitive, and intended to say "dry whatever it is extremely", but that would be kansō-sasenai, in the causative.

    When I say "it's real Japanese all right, but would mean '(Be) extremely desiccated'", I mean that is nonsense, and it's not really real Japanese. I explained in a later post why it could be made to mean that, which makes a bit clearer how absurd it is. It would have been impossible to imagine that 'the company were trying to convey the meaning of the imperative "be ...".'

    I hoped I had made it clear that they were not succeeding in conveying anything!

  11. Masaki,

    A good job I came back to this. I now see I miscopied some of the Kanji. I have got 極度極度 for 極度乾燥 and 乾燥に乾燥(しなさい) for 極度に乾燥(しなさい). My eyesight really is not wonderful. I can only see that now that I have copied it into Word because it was getting to be too much of a rigmarole to be able to see what I was doing in the textbox. Kind of you to overlook that mistake, but I suppose the meaning of that at least was obvious.

    However I'm still not satisfied that all the rest of my explanation is, so bear with me a bit longer.

    I am also vexed to see that I have been mixing romanization systems, but do you not find this happens because one gets so used to typing either Hebonshiki or Kunreishiki in Japanese WP, whichever has the fewer keystrokes? Here of course JW is right to stick to Hebonshiki, and I have been trying to do the same, but forgetting.

    I do realize that it wasn't entirely reasonable to expect the exclamation mark at the end of it's real Japanese all right, but … would mean '(Be) extremely desiccated'! to carry the entire burden of reductio ad absurdum, and the explanation in my later post of 21.21 last night obviously hasn't done the trick either.

    In that I of course meant to say The reason 極度に乾燥(しなさい) Kyokudoni kansō(shinasai) would mean '(Be) extremely desiccated' is that it means '(Do) desiccation in the extreme'.

    Try taking that together with the drip-dry shirt. Perhaps from that point of view it would have been better if I had said "(Become) extremely desiccated", but in English we say 'be' as in "Be quiet!" rather than "Become quiet!"

    And in Japanese you say 'do' rather than 'be'! Shizuka-na (quiet) IS an adjective in –na, but you say "Shizuka-ni shinasai!" for "Be quiet!", rather than "shizuka de arinasai" or "shizuka de are", do you not? And you use shinasai or some other form of it for any sort of adjective, as with "Hayaku shinasai!" for "Be quick!" (You can't use any form of 'aru' at all with that kind of adjective in modern Japanese, unless you count its so-called conjugation, which of course is defective precisely in the respect that it does not provide an imperative.) So even "kyokudo-ni shinasai!" could mean "Be extreme!" as well as "Do something to the extreme" or "Do something extremely".

    And 安心 (anshin, peace of mind) certainly _can_ be an adjective in –na, in addition to behaving like 'kansō', but even then you say "anshin-shinasai" ("Do peace of mind", parallel to "kansō-shinasai", "Do desiccation") for "Be reassured", for you use the imperative of the intransitive inchoative verb anshin-suru, parallel to kansō-suru.

    So if you're not talking about the adjectives and verbs I was talking about, are you talking about the noun phrase I was first talking about, which although I somehow miscopied it, I translated as "extreme desiccation", meaning of course 極度乾燥 (Kyokudokansō)? Would the sense you say "Kyokudokansō de arinasai" etc would make be "Be extreme desiccation", perhaps? It doesn't really seem to be very likely the company were trying to convey that meaning either, does it?

  12. Dear Mallamb, Thank you very much for your very elaborate messages. I admire your knowledge of Japanese.

    Re: "no dictionary seems to support the idea that it can be anything but a noun, or a verb in –suru,..."

    I agree. "Kansō" is not a keiyōdōshi but a noun, and "kansō suru" is a verb. We do not say "kansō da" or "kansō na". So "de" in "de arinasai" and "de are" in my posting is not part of a keiyōdōshi but a particle that follows the noun, "kansō". As you indicate, the expression sounds a little formal.

    Re: "Would the sense you say "Kyokudokansō de arinasai" etc would make be "Be extreme desiccation", perhaps?"


    Re: "It doesn't really seem to be very likely the company were trying to convey that meaning either, does it?"

    I think you are right. Taht's why I wrote, "If..."

    I have come up with two other ways to make the logo more understandable.

    (1) To add に "ni" before しなさい "shinasai".
    By interpreting "Superdry" as "Superdry products" or "Superdry brand", "Superdry ni shinasai" would certainly make a lot of sense, wouldn't it? It would mean "Choose (among a variety of choices) Superdry products/brand". This may be the meaning they wish to convey.

    (2) It would even be better to change しなさい "shinasai" to しよう "shiyō" and add に "ni" before it, wouldn't it? "Superdry ni shiyō" would literally be translated as "Let's choose Superdry." In English logos and commercial messages, you would not normally add "Let's" before "Choose..." or "Win a trip to...", etc. In Japanese, however, we normally say, ...しよう "...shiyō" ("Let's do..."), ...を当てよう "...o ateyō" ("Let's win...") etc rather than ...しなさい "...shinasai" or ...を当てなさい "...o atenasai", don't we?

    Thank you for helping me come up with these ideas.

  13. Masaki, thank you very much for your conscientious reply to what is so obviously a case of logomania. And although Superdry's attempt at logo-mania is not the total gibberish of exotica on T-shirts the world over, we are of course going to absurd lengths to try to make some sense of it. But linguistics is like particle physics: it's an illusion to think there can ever be any end to the analytical process, but the fun is in the analysis itself.

    You seem to have appreciated my bit of fun with this topic, and I hope you had a bit more fun coming up with these two other ways to make the logo more understandable (though I would prefer to say less nonsensical).

    Taking your translation "extremely" too literally and putting the に "ni" after 極度 "kyokudo" certainly didn't help with the nonsensicality. So (1) works because it sticks with 極度乾燥 kyokudokansō "extreme desiccation", and interprets it as an (incompetent) attempt to translate Superdry. We can only hope that it is not a serious one. Of course whizz-kid admen will adopt anything, but surely to God in Japan they only transliterate it into katakana rather than attempt to translate it? So with "-ni shinasai" it would be スーパードライにしなさい, and that may as you say be the meaning they wish to convey, but it's too weird to use the imperative like that in Japanese advertising.

    So (2) スーパードライにしよう it is. Much less uncouth. I'm reminded of the health warning on cigarettes タバコの吸いすぎに気をつけましょう. Not quite as pussyfooting as that!

    But I wouldn’t put it past them to have the logo "Let's Superdry!" (レッツスーパードライ!"Rettsu Sūpādrai!") in Japan. And it wouldn’t be because they thought they could make Superdry into an imperative!

    My conclusion is that last time you were making a purely lexical point about 'be', and 'If the company were trying to convey the meaning of the imperative "be ..."' was even more purely hypothetical, and that when you said the forms you suggested would indeed make some sense, you didn't mean they would make any sensible sense, just as when I said the logo can with a bit of imagination be interpreted as real Japanese, I didn't mean it was really real Japanese!

  14. The point of that is to make it look international, and we all know that Japanese have a feel of high-tech to them so it would imply that it is a high-tech type of fabric... seems more a sales type of campaign to me.

  15. you guys don't get it and have gotten way too serious...

    I'm quite sure they first got しなさい when trying to google translate "Just do it" as a joke.

  16. hi im a 12 year old boy who is currently studding Japanese (nihongo) and the hiragana actually said shinachi the last character is pronounced ii (as in insect) and the on before that is chi (as in chick)
    i hope this helps :)