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Have you had an interesting experience based on kanji confusion? Kanji bloopers are always welcome, and will be posted on this page. Send them on in!
You drink WHAT back in England?!

There was a coffee shop near the school where I taught, which I used to visit quite regularly, so I got pretty friendly with the owner, and we used to chat about this and that. One day, I ordered cocoa for a change, and after it arrived, he asked me what cocoa was like in England (which is kind of a strange thing to ask, but we'll let that one go).

The kanji for powder, 粉, sprang into my head with all the force of my university Japanese education, and I immediately came up with:

日本と同じように粉ですよ。(It's powder, the same as in Japan.)

He looked rather startled and blinked a lot, after which the conversation moved on.

It was only after I got home that I suddenly realized that I had used the on reading, and not the kun reading, (on -- ふん, kun -- こな), so what I had actually said was:

It's manure, the same as in Japan. (ふん means "manure," too, the kanji being 糞).

Don't worry, I cleared things up when I went back!

Richard Halberstadt
Karate enthusiasts pose as future farmers

One of my past-times is studying Japanese Martial Arts. As a part of this I have been learning bits of Japanese here and there.

I was discussing Japanese Caligraphy with a Japanese friend of mine. He pulled out a martial arts magazine that had some stern looking Westerners in Karate uniforms sitting in seiza in front of a callligraphy print.

My friend informed me that the Kanji translated into "Welcome to the Japanese Agricultural Department." He thought this was the funniest thing he had ever seen.

A site visitor in Australia

How I learned the kanji for "flush"

I sat on the toilet and noticed the warmth. That was amusing, and also relaxing. I got done with business and turned around to flush. I did the motion but realized there was no handle. I searched around for something that would resemble a handle but all I saw was an area on the tank that looked like an airplane control panel. I figured a red button would do the trick, so I pushed it praying it would dispose the contents. The water didn't move, instead I heard a murmured buzz and I touched the seat, it was vibrating. Next, was a smaller yellow button with a complex kanji on it. Pushed it, and heard air being pumped, the seat was inflating. I quickly turned that off because I could think of how to say the toilet seat popped in Japanese. I then decided to use some sense and try deciphering the kanji and maybe getting it right. I saw a blue button that had a kanji on it with water marks on the side. I pushed it and the water painlessly flushed away from me, refreshed with a clean new bowl. The toilet quietly waited for its next victim.

Kelly Duncan

Why are you calling me a perverted vampire?!

More than two years ago, I made many Japanese friends when studying as an exchange student at a Japanese university. I'd meet them at the university campus, where all buildings have a number assigned to them. I was still very new to Japan and also quite excited about having a cell phone that could send and receive emails. So, my first email to one Japanese friend looked something like this: "今日の約束は忘れていませんね。10号棺で会いましょう。ちゃんと痴漢を守ってくださいね。(You haven't forgotten today's event, have you? Let's meet at Casket #10. Please, defend molesters of women, OK?") When we met, great was my surprise, laughter, and then embarrassment when she told me my mistakes! That's how I never forget the kanji for "building," 館, and how not to confuse "jikan (time)" with "chikan (molester)"...and also to be patient and pay closer attention to which kanji to choose when entering Japanese on my cell phone.


They don't serve THOSE at KFC!

Living in Japan for two years now (time elapses very fast...), I went once to a Chinese restaurant in Shinjuku, and tried to order by myself the dishes. My girlfriend would be so proud of me! I wanted some meat, some chicken, and therefore I asked for, ordering chicken legs. I forgot that this kanji means “leg”, but also “foot”. And the waiter came back with two juicy chicken feet. It was very impressive, and my girlfriend insisted on the fact that I would eat the WHOLE dish by myself. I think I will never forget these two meanings of this Kanji.

Alix Fachin

I didn't use a flash!

While on tour in Japan my girlfriend and I entered a beautiful temple with elaborately decorated fusuma screens and painted ceilings. I was so impressed with the room we were looking at. Truly beautiful. My girlfriend asked me what the kanji was on the wooden plaque. I could not tell, as it was handwritten, and I didn't know many kanji. I guessed it was something to do with the name of the room, so I thought I'd take a photo of the room and look up the kanji in a dictionary later. The meaning of the mysterious kanji on the plaque - NO PHOTOS ALLOWED! Uh oh. Sorry! I didn't use a flash -promise!

Mark Ivory

What is prohibited in this toilet?


Gary Harper

Left out in the cold

My kanji confusion, or better my kanji ignorance at that moment, was back in 1999, at the entrance to the Kabuki Museum in Tokyo. I was with a friend, who knew much more kanji than me by far, and we were about to enter the reception to ask for information. The door was one of those automatic glass-doors and had a kanji writen in a black square that we could not decipher. We stood in front of the door, waiting for the sensor to detect our presence and open the door automatically. We waited a few seconds, and as nothing happened, began to wave our arms up and down. We thought "Hey, maybe this is one of those doors with a weight sensor below the carpet", so we started to leap on the carpet, but the door kept closed. Outside, people passing by looked at us with curiosity. From inside, the receptionist was smiling and trying to tell us something with gestures. She was moving her hand to the front, as if she was... pushing something ?? Oh my God!! We finally recognised the kanji on the black square: 押 (osu). The door opened at once and we (including the receptionist) couldn't stop laughing for a few minutes.

Francisco Gutierrez

A "masculine-looking" kanji

Having taken up the study of kanji in earnest only after I left Japan, I haven't had the occasion to use it much in potentially embarassing situations. Probably the most interesting chance for a kanji blooper comes from a time before I had actually studied kanji. I was in a restaurant, or more of a bar, in Copenhagen, and had the occasion visit the restroom. Unfortunately, the two restroom doors stood side-by-side and were marked with Chinese symbols only - presumably the kanji for woman / male. There was no other hint as to which door was the correct one. Instead of doing the sensible thing and wait for someone else who knew which was which, or simply ask the bartender (who I imagined was watching out of the corner of his eye), I regarded the symbols and made my choice based on what looked to be the more masculine looking of the two. I opened the door, and, as luck would have it, there were in fact the proper facilities available for males. However, had I picked the wrong door, there would have been a great opportunity to be the contest winner.

Mark D.

She cut up her parents?!

ずっと前のことですが、私が漢字あまりできないころに、何かの勉強をしながら、次の文がありました。「彼女は親切。。。」それを見てビクッリしました。Lizzie Bordon のことを思い出して、親を切って殺してしまったかねとおもいました。それから「親切」を漢和辞典で検索して、「kind」の意味が出て、私はとても戸惑いました。

Gary Harper


Some of the funniest moments are in the classroom. When I had to think of words with the on-yomi to write かいしゃ, all I could think of was 海 for かい, and 車 and 者 for しゃ, and I chose 海車 (“sea vehicle”). It seemed more likely than 海者 (“sea person?”), right? As it turned out, it was 会社 - company. Of course, we never “officially” learned 社 in class... or the word itself, for that matter. No fair!

Justin Sison