Is that Finnish that I am seeing in Japan?!

In many countries, it is common to use foreign words or phrases in advertising, to create an interesting, quirky or trendy image for your product. Japan is no different. Over here, a Westerner can recognise familiar Western words that are used as shop/restaurant names. This is the case especially in trendy parts of the city, and the language predominantly used is of course English.

However, as a native to Finland, I’ve been over the moon to notice that several shops/restaurants in Osaka also have Finnish names! This, as silly as it might sound to a native English speaker, makes a Finn exclaim with delight. After all, Finnish is by no definition a world language spoken by the masses as a native language or taught as a popular choice as a second language. In fact, it is only spoken by about 5 million people native to Finland and is taught as a second language only in its neighbouring countries (if even there), and thus, we practically never see Finnish words used outside Finland (other than maybe in places like Rhodes or Fuengirola i.e. particularly popular destinations amongst Finnish holiday makers).

Intriguingly, I don’t think there is any obvious Finnish connection when Japanese shops choose their Finnish name. I mean, the reason why they have Finnish names is not because the owner or their spouse is Finnish or because the bulk of their customers are Finnish (given that the Finnish community in Osaka is miniscule and only a handful of Finnish tourists visit Osaka). I think these shops have Finnish names just because it is trendy to use Finnish!

Here are some names that I’ve come across in Osaka:


A bakery/clothes shop: Pesä (‘Den/Nest/Burrow’)





A café that specialises in pancakes: Pöllö (‘Owl’)





A restaurant: Keitto Ruokala (‘Soup Canteen’), It might be worth pointing out that even though the name might suggest otherwise, this restaurant didn’t serve soup, nor did it look like a canteen.




Hairdressers: Alkaa Täältä (‘Begins from here’)




Clothes shop: Olohuone (‘Living room’)




Before I finish this Finnish post, I might just need to add that even though it is wonderful to see Finnish in Japan, the Japanese do not always get their use of Finnish right. Here’s an example of something on the wall of a stationery and life-style shop in Shinjuku in Tokyo. A cardinal mistake in my opinion!


To lie or not to lie

Girl with a choice near the forked road

I’ve noticed that my husband, who is British, and I, a native to Finland, have somewhat different ideas about saying how things are, talking about things with their real names, or lying in the name of politeness.

To give you an example:

My husband and I were having a date night and headed to a newly opened restaurant in Brighton in which we hadn’t been before. We walked in, sat down and the waitress brought us a jug of water and the menus. We looked through the menu which (a) listed items that were more expensive that we expected and (b) listed nothing that we wanted to eat (it was all bit too trendy in a bad way for us, for example ‘cod cheeks’ and ‘blood and egg’). My husband and I were discussing our options when the waitress returned to take our order. After a few seconds of silence, I plucked up some courage and while visibly squirming in my seat said in an extremely apologetic tone: Erm…I’m so sorry but we are not impressed with your menu. And we stood up and walked out.

Once outside, my husband turns to me and expressed his embarrassment in relation to the extreme level of rudeness that I had displayed in the restaurant. I was gobsmacked. To me, my approach had been polite, we didn’t want to eat in that place and we had to get out of there. What should we have done?

His view was that it was impolite to say that we didn’t like the choice in their menu. He thought our options were (a) just to order something and spend our evening there (regardless of the fact that that cheeky and/or bloody experience would have set us back by about £100) or if we absolutely could not force down the gory-sounding food (b) under no circumstances should I have said anything about the appeal of the food but lied along the lines of:

Hmm, you know we’ve just remembered that we’re actually meeting some people somewhere else. So, sorry, but we have to leave.

To him, the latter of these would have been the polite way to get out of the situation, but to me this feels extremely impolite because it is an obvious lie. A lie that we know and the waitress knows and we know that the waitress knows and the waitress knows that we know that she knows. Thus, that statement in my opinion would imply that the waitress is stupid enough to think that a (sober) adult couple had forgotten a prior engagement whose existence they recall the minute they’ve read through the menu. When I questioned the politeness of this practice, my husband told me that he thinks that that is how the world works. But I think that is just how England works.

I think it is interesting to think that different cultures might view this in such different ways. What do you think? What would you have done? Would you have (a) given honest feedback in a polite or impolite way, (b) given dishonest feedback (friends waiting in a different restaurant), (c) done something else or (d) you don’t give a shit about cultural differences maybe because you voted for Brexit and/or Trump.

Learn 10 words in Japanese/Finnish in less than a minute


My acquisition of Japanese over the past year and a half that we’ve lived in Osaka has been painfully slow, which is rather embarrassing given that I am a university professor whose expertise lies in first and second language acquisition. I keep on telling my Japanese students of English the old phrase that is used predominantly by inactive, overweight, chain-smoking, recreational drug using, alcoholic doctors (and in this case also struggling psycholinguists):

‘Do as I say, not as I do.’

My poor attainment of Japanese is a result of

  1. me having been extremely busy with work, being a single parent 6 months of the year, and spending my free time trying to hunt for fabric toothbrush bags for the kids’ post school lunch oral hygiene sessions or trying to establish in the local supermarket where the hell they keep their hummus, halloumi and quark (I’ve finally discovered that apparently nowhere)
  1. me finding many Japanese words quite difficult to remember, due to the fact that they resemble none of the languages that I know at least the rudiments of (Finnish, English, Swedish, German, Spanish, Russian).

You see, one thing that seems to help second language learners to learn new words is if they can associate the new word with a word that they already know, for instance, if the new word sounds like another word in their vocabulary.

The fact that some languages are historically related means that those languages share many same or similar words. For instance, the word for a very young child in English, German and Dutch is baby and thus, learning the English word baby is easy for a German/Dutch speaker. Finnish and Japanese are not amongst the languages that are historically related to English (although some English loan words do exist both in Finnish and Japanese).

Finnish and Japanese are not related to each other either and thus Finnish and Japanese do not share many (if any) words that have the same/similar pronunciation and meaning, like baby does in English, German and Dutch.

However, in terms of the syllable structure, i.e. how the language breaks words into smaller units (syl-la-ble), Japanese and Finnish happen to be similar. A typical syllable in Japanese and Finnish consists of one consonant (e.g. k, p, s, t) followed by one vowel (a, e, i, o, u). This means that there are quite a few words in Finnish and Japanese that are pronounced (if not completely identically due to different word stress patters or slightly different articulation) in a very similar way. In the midst of my busy schedule, thanks to these cross-linguistic coincidences, I have managed to pick up quite a few words in Japanese, namely the ones that are pronounced more or less identically to Finnish words, as I’ve only had to associate the Japanese meaning to, essentially, a Finnish word.

So, if

  1. you are a Finnish speaker and want to learn some Japanese with minimal effort or
  2. you are a Japanese speaker and want to learn some Finnish with minimal effort

it shouldn’t take you more than a minute to learn the list of words (and their meanings) in Finnish/Japanese below, given that you don’t have to learn the word itself, e.g. KITA, you just need to memorize the meaning of KITA that you didn’t already know (NORTH if you are a Finnish speaker, and JAWS if you are a Japanese speaker).

If you are an English speaker, unfortunately you’ll have to do the work of actually learning the words below and the two meanings associated with those words (one in Finnish, one in Japanese). Maybe this is only fair, given that you have the advantage of learning hundreds of words in a numerous language easily (because many languages have adopted words from English into their vocabulary, or English has adopted words from those languages). However, the list below will give you a great opportunity to do ‘multitasked’ language learning and learn two new words (one in Finnish and one in Japanese) by just memorizing one lexical item. Since it is not obvious to a non-Japanese or non-Finnish speaker how to pronounce the words below, English spelling (hopefully resulting in near enough correct pronunciation) is given in brackets next to the target word where needed.

I know there might not be any English speakers out there who would be tempted to learn Finnish and/or Japanese (as these aren’t exactly the most useful languages on the planet). But if you are a fan of order, raw seafood, long awkward silences, relatively introverted people (at least in comparison to your typical American) and/or drinking sessions that end up in pretty much everyone in the group comatose, you would probably love it in Finland and Japan and should you choose to relocate to these lovely places, the words below might come of use.



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Photo credits: – Shoes – umbrella, invitation – tap – market place – pile, sweeties – barrel, bird, squirrel, twig, sky, jaws – Myth

11 examples of ‘English’ you might find in Japan

IMG_4428The standard of English-language in Japan is generally extremely poor (like most people from the North of England that I know). Most people do not speak English at all and those who do speak English and are brave enough to try to use it in communicative contexts often make many errors.

This post is a little collection of ‘English’ I’ve seen in Japan – and this collection does not consist of just some random (drunken) text messages that I have witnessed but public and/or commercial signs or products which someone must have approved.

(1) The bag at the top of this page. I don’t need to explain what is wrong with this wording, right? I don’t know what the message is the writer is trying to convey, who should buy the bag or for what purpose.

(2) Burglar alarm (below). Yes there’s nothing inherently wrong with the phrase ‘Burglar Alarm Button’, until you realise that you are staring at it while you sit on a public toilet. I’ve never heard of a burglar trying to break into a cubicle in a shopping centre and trying to do a runner with your… erm… pants.




(3)  I assume the definition of the word ‘stylish’ was not totally clear to the person who named this food establishment.



(4) The quality of this toilet paper wrapping was not satisfying.



(5) I had a wonderful time eating these crisps made from carefully selected methods.



(6) By ‘Special “kids'” lunch for adults’ they mean what people from Northern England would eat for  breakfast, lunch and dinner (or if you are Northern, breakfast, dinner and tea) which Japanese people, with slightly more sophisticated taste buds, fail to acknowledge as something an adult would choose to eat.



(7) Basic proof reading of this menu may have been useful. We were nearly put off from eating their delicious pancakes by the expectation of being fed bubble wrap.  Although I was encouraged by the fact they don’t use antiseptics in their pancakes.



(8) Can anyone tell me what the hell these people are trying to say? -I’m lost with this one.



(9) Am I the only one here who initially reads the first word of this brand to consist of six letters?



(10) V-for-B or B-for-V errors (and R-for-L and L-for-R errors, below) are probably the most common spelling error you’ll see in Japan. I’ve become so accustomed to these types of errors that I no longer bat an eye lid when someone produces a ban-for-van or erection-for-election error.

This elebator that apparently ‘does not stop’ is located in one of the poshest department stores in Osaka.



(11) I am not sure whether this hoodie should actually say ‘Crimb’ or whether it should say ‘Climb’ (R-for-L error) or ‘Crimp’ (B-for-P error).


These examples of grammar, spelling and ways to convey meaning are not isolated incidents – you see them everywhere in Japan.  As a non-native English speaker and as a linguist whose research focuses on language acquisition, I know language learning is difficult and that errors can be expected but I feel that before your crisp bag, toilet paper wrapping, menu, elevator or shop sign, emergency button, item of clothing or brand name goes into print, it might be useful to flash it at a native speaker for a thumbs up.