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Kanji Clinic #74, The Japan Times, October 25, 2005
"Kanji typos: Is there a frog in your stomach?"

People who input Japanese on personal computers or cell phones do not enjoy the luxury of a spell checker. While inputting text in hiragana characters, typists of homonym-heavy Japanese are frequently required to confirm which conversion into kanji communicates their intended message. The user does this by choosing from two or more possible kanji manifestations of the hiragana version.

Inputting いなかにかえる (Inaka ni kaeru), and then not checking the conversion carefully, could result in informing a friend, 胃中に蛙 (“There’s a frog in my stomach”), when what you really meant to say was, 田舎に帰る (“I’m going home to the countryside”). Both sentences are pronounced “Inaka ni kaeru.”

This mistaken phrase is just one of the nearly 6,000 real-life examples submitted to the first annual Kanji Typo Contest, sponsored by the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation on its website at Beginning in September 2004 and continuing into this year, monthly winners were announced on the site. The foundation then whittled monthly winners down to the 22 entries it judged to be the most entertaining, and invited site visitors to select from among these the biggest kanji blooper of them all.

The grand-prize winner, announced last month, was in fact a real doozy: A young woman, pregnant at the time, had moved abroad. Intending to announce her relocation with 今年から海外に住み始めました (Kotoshi kara kaigai ni sumihajimemashita, “This year I began living abroad”), she inadvertently informed a friend that 今年から貝が胃に棲み始めました (Kotoshi kara kai ga i ni sumihajimemashita, “This year shellfish have taken up residence in my stomach”). The surprised recipient who submitted the entry said the message concerned her because expectant mothers carry enough weight in their bellies without the added burden of shellfish.

One young man realized, too late, that he had expressed gratitude in an unintended manner in a large group mailing to friends who had attended his rugby match earlier in the day. 今日はミニ着てくれてありがとう (Kyou wa mini kite arigatou, “Thanks for wearing a miniskirt today”), he wrote, instead of 今日は見に来てありがとう (Kyou wa mi ni kite arigatou, “Thanks for coming to watch today”).

Similarly mortified was a mother who sent the following text message to her son’s elementary school teacher: うちの子は時価千円でした (Uchi no ko wa jika senen deshita, “The going rate for my child was one thousand yen”). The hapless mom had meant to explain the reason for junior’s absence from school the day before: うちの子は耳下腺炎 (Uchi no ko wa jikasenen deshita, “My child had the mumps). And then there was the father who advised neighborhood children on how to improve their performance in the broad jump: 女装はできるだけ早く (Josou wa dekiru dake hayaku, “Dress up like a woman as soon as you can”), instead of the more appropriate directive, 助走はできるだけ速く (Josou wa dekiru dake hayaku, “Run as fast as you can in the approach”).

Example entries like the above are wacky enough to send up a red flag in the mind of the text recipient, but sometimes the meanings conveyed in kanji-conversion typos can appear reasonable, and thus have the potential to cause real misunderstandings. Imagine the shock the parents of a young woman must have felt upon receiving the following message on their cell phone from her fiance: 式は止めにする (Shiki ha yame ni suru, “The ceremony is off”). It seems the eager groom had actually meant to say, 式早めにする (Shiki hayame ni suru, “We will hold the ceremony earlier than planned”).

The lesson? Take the time to be certain you’ve selected the kanji message you intended to deliver before pushing the send button; but if you do make a kanji blunder, keep a sense of humor about it.

If you enjoyed reading this column you might also like to read kanji bloopers submitted by site visitors.

QUIZ (Challenging)
Can you guess what kanji/hiragana each contest entrant intended to input? Answers are at the bottom of the page.

1. 一人酔うロッカー(Hitori you rokkaa, “Lockers for solitary drunks”): 一人( )ロッカー

2. 車にアルミ缶を投げてちょうだい (Kuruma ni arumikan o nagete choudai, “Please throw aluminum cans at the car”: 車に( )を投げてちょうだい

3. 洗濯物と離婚できました (Sentakumono to rikon dekimashita, “I got a divorce from clothes washing”: 洗濯物( )きました。

4. 政界はお金です (Seikai was okane desu, “The political world is all about money”): ( )はお金です

5. 選手生み忘れた (Senshu umiwasureta, “I forgot to give birth to an athlete”): ( )忘れた

6. 明日、私は野蛮なので(Ashita, watashi ha yaban na no de, “Because I am going to be uncivilized tomorrow”): 明日、私 ( )なので

7. 電車マニア移送 (Densha mania isou, “Train mania transport”): 電車 ( )

8. 不覚お詫び申し上げます (Fukaku owabi moushiagemasu, “We inadvertantly and humbly offer our apologies to you): ( ) お詫び申し上げます

1. 用 (Hitori you rokkaa, “Lockers for individual use”)
2. あるみかん (Kuruma ni aru mikan o nagete choudai, “Please throw me the tangerines in the car”)
3. 取り込んで (Sentakumono torikonde kimashita, “I brought the washing in”)
4. 正解 (Seikai wa okane desu, “The correct answer is ‘money’”)
5. 先週見 (Senshuu miwasureta, “I forgot to watch it last week”)
6. 早番 (Ashita, watashi hayaban na no de, “Because I have to work the first shift tomorrow”)
7. 間に合いそう (Densha ma ni aisou, “It looks like I am going to make it on time for the train) 
8. 深く (Fukaku owabi moushiagemasu, “We deeply and humbly offer our apologies to you”

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