Japan’s Love Affair with Filler English Text

47 Comments

Years ago, while translating a Japanese movie about an ancient document with clues to a secret treasure, I noticed something odd: when the document finally appeared on the screen, it was written in English… and it was actually an end user agreement for Mac software!

After that, I encountered similar “filler English” during other translation projects. I never thought much about it until a few weeks ago when I saw this Sailor Moon image being passed around online:

On a lark, I asked Twitter users if they knew of other examples of this phenomenon. I expected only a handful of answers, but there were so many reactions that my phone battery died. A few days later, the Twitter thread was translated for a Japanese site, and the comments there featured even more examples – including the opposite in which English-language stuff uses random Japanese quotes as filler!

So, because there’s so much enthusiasm around the topic, I decided to compile all the answers I got and share them here. Many thanks to everyone who contributed!

I’m guessing there are many more examples out there, new and old. So if you know of anything not included here, let me know on Twitter or in the comments and I can add it to this page!

If you liked this, check out press start to translate, my book about the time I Google-translated Final Fantasy IV. It includes the worst/most hilarious translation mistakes, all while explaining why Google's A.I. made such terrible choices. (free preview PDF)
47 Comments
  1. I’ve wondered if dialogue spoken at the beginning of Darius II was meant to be understood. It sounds like something that fits into this phenomenon and wasn’t changed for the English localization.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1t2YC5CRtE&t=17s

    OST without the shooting, but no subtitles:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj2ANS0DkBs&t=9s

    Reply
    1. Haha, so that’s where that “I ALWAYS WANTED TUNA SASHIMI” quote comes from!

      Reply
  2. I saw you posting about this on Twitter, glad to see a compilation! This is all very fascinating. If you have the time to do a compilation on the opposite (Japanese text in English) I’d love to see it! Thanks for taking the time to write this out, it was quite a read.

    Reply
    1. I know a rather amusing one. In the Italian Mickey Mouse story “The honor of the shogun”, Mickey, Minnie and Goofy travel to Japan and end up stumbling over an old note with a message that a local tells them is “written in Japanese, but unintelligible – some kind of code”. After a lot of hijinx involving protecting the note from a pair of thieves, Mickey eventually gets an idea – maybe the Japanese text is simply mirrored. So they get out a mirror, look at the note in it, and learn that it’s a set of directions to a hidden cave.
      At this point you’ve probably picked up on the fact that the author didn’t know a whole lot more about the Japanese language beyond “they use symbols instead of letters” since none of this makes any sense whatsoever, but apparently the artist WAS familiar with the language.

      So the “unintelligible Japanese that was actually just a set of directions written in mirrored Japanese” was actually “トポリノ”, Mickey’s Italian name Topolino written in katakana.

      Reply
  3. Wild ARMs 3:

    This is a newspaper in the English language versions: https://imgur.com/a/eV0Sy0V
    Note that it’s just the same text about the Call Whistle regardless of headline. But what does it say in the Japanese version?

    https://imgur.com/IFVTSrT

    It’s blurry, but it seems to be talking about Mario 64. In a PS2 game.

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    1. Somebody doesn’t understand what “trademarks” are, especially those owned by a direct rival. 😛

      Reply
  4. Corya sugoy… This explains why I’m so impressed when the onscreen English text is right!

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  5. The Klonoa game on GBA is called Empire of Dreams.

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  6. I noticed that on the Japanese site, it translates Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) as “鋼の錬金術師のアニメ第1作”, which I assume means “first Fullmetal Alchemist anime” (the only parts I’m not sure about are the kanji surrounding the 1). Interesting.

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    1. Also, the Google translation of the comments is certainly something.

      “Hagaren is a magical book”

      Reply
  7. Haha, this reminds me of when we were watching CSI cyber and they showed what was, if I recall, supposed to be like a firmware patch or something, which if you looked at the actual code on the screen, was written in html…which was interesting…

    Turned out it was like the HTML from the Wiki article for firmware.

    Reply
  8. Okay but the thing I get most from this article is that there was a novel adaptation of The Muppet Movie.

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  9. Offtopic, but I wonder why one of the Dirty Pair pictures shows Chizuru from Combattler V.

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    1. Im not the only one who noticed! Thank god!

      Reply
  10. Great idea for an article. I do recall something like this in a Japanese movie called Fugitive Alien(which Mystery Science Theater riffed on). At one point they show a spaceship’s computer screen and the English text happens to be shipping instructions to Salt Lake City, Utah.

    https://orig00.deviantart.net/547f/f/2018/115/7/1/utah_by_cowboycrocket-dc9tt7y.png

    Reply
    1. Don’t forget such helpful gauges as “Tenperature”, “Cabin Air Presser”, “Sunny Side” and “Other Side”

      Reply
  11. Phantom Dusclops'92

    I remember that Transformers Headmasters used a synopsis of Akira as filler text in at least two episodes.

    Reply
    1. They also had several instances where BASIC code was shown onscreen. Not sure what if anything specific the programs were that it was from, though it could likely be from examples in programming textbooks or some similar source.

      Reply
  12. Thunderforce 4 has some weird text on the readout for your ship

    http://www.zanyvideogamequotes.com/thunderforce4/readout.png

    And of course,the king of all filler English text

    https://i.stack.imgur.com/WNodh.png

    L is Real 2401\Eternal Star

    Reply
  13. There’s a scene early in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor where the game rapidly scrolls by some text that’s supposed to be the code of a demon-summoning program embedded in the game systems the protagonists are carrying. Slowing it down and examining the code frame-by-frame reveals that it might well be a snippet of the source code of the game itself.

    There’s also a passage from the Bible, but that actually makes sense given the game’s plot.

    Reply
    1. I didn’t have time to grab a screenshot yesterday, but here’s a shot of the code scroll:

      http://lpix.org/3104630/Shin Megami Tensei – Devil Survivor (US)__19372.png

      Reply
      1. It’s neat because in the OVA it’s all in FORTRAN 77

        Reply
  14. Gundam Battle Universe boots up with text about buying “Braves season tickets” and the ebay motors description of different types of car.

    https://i.imgur.com/tirC8hL.png

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    1. Oh, and Episode 3 of the first Full Metal Alchemist anime also has a book that contains someone’s review for the D&D book “Alchemy and Herbalists”. This one is actually relatively infamous in the fandom.

      Reply
  15. The film “Dirty Pair: Flight 005 Conspiracy” has two examples of German filler text:

    https://i.imgur.com/CK8Xl2N.png
    https://i.imgur.com/fBOeUhp.png
    https://i.imgur.com/iHsIbAi.png

    The first one reads, “…I haven’t been in touch for so long. I’ve been so busy with my term paper these last few weeks that I didn’t have time to write. I handed the paper over to my teacher Professor Schultz today. I’m pretty exhausted now, but before I go to bed, I’d like to quickly tell you how I’m doing. I have settled into Freiburg rather well by now. I have a quiet room, and the landlady is quite friendly. I also have found a circle of nice colleagues.” (It then deteriorates into nonsense.)

    The second one reads, “It was with great joy that I learned of the birth of your first son. I wish with all my heart that the new arrival will have a life full of health and success bestowed upon him, and that he will grow up to be his dear parents’ pride. Please send the young mother my regards, and best wishes to you, too.”

    Reply
  16. I’m not sure if it counts since the text was actually relevant, but in episode 3 of the D.Gray-man anime when the characters are looking at a brief about the town of Mater, Italy, the text was a direct copy of the English Wikipedia page on Mater at the time the episode was produced.

    Reply
  17. Another is in “Star Wolf/Fugitive Alien” when a screen briefly flashes up a shipping manifest from an American trucking company: “Hey, that truck’s headed for Utah!”

    https://youtu.be/9-CV1Raacs4?t=20m20s

    Reply
  18. Don’t know if anyone’s pointed this out yet, but the Fullmetal Alchemeist text about animal colors is actually a direct quotation from the closing chapter an ancient book on alchemy called Ripley’s Twelve Gates: http://www.levity.com/alchemy/recapit.html

    Reply
    1. Aha! I was going to say, it ending by talking about how “after these shall appear the substance invariable” sounded like an excerpt from an actual alchemy text.

      It seems like all of the FMA filler text is related to alchemy in some way or another.

      Reply
  19. I saw quite a few example myself over the years; Sailor Mercury actually had something like that on her mini computer in a much earlier season (I think the very first one). It does puzzle me as to why they can’t just bother with putting something actually legible instead of stealing or mentioning copyrighted info and thinking no one will notice. Japan sure is weird.

    Reply
  20. Hey Clyde, I know this this is off-topic, but in Sonic Forces Classic Sonic is constantly referred to as being from “another dimension”. Is this a mistranslation or is this intentional?

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    1. Are you referring to the original English script or the Japanese translation? Modern Sonic games are written in English first, then translated to Japanese for their release in Japan.

      Reply
    2. I don’t know enough about the Sonic series to know off the top of my head., but if you can get me screenshots of the Japanese and English scene in question (or YouTube videos) I can look for you.

      Reply
  21. Here’s a non Japanese example. Oh My Disney, one of the Disney websites I go on just posted this

    https://ohmy.disney.com/news/2018/05/02/lilo-stitch-easter-egg/

    It’s an Easter egg for Lilo and Stitch where what appears to be an adoption paper for Stitch, is when zoomed in on actually a thank you for the creation of the film!

    Reply
  22. I tried to find actual photo evidence of this, but it seems to have been erased from the internet sometime over the last eleven years… There was a gothic lolita dress that had text from an English language erotic novel as the fabric’s print. When overseas fans discovered it, the dress maker actually stopped production! So I guess it wasn’t intentional, lol!

    Reply
  23. So here’s an odd example, from the PC/PS1 game Gundam 0079: The War for Earth.

    https://twitter.com/LanceBoyle94/status/995866481459105793

    One part during the opening sequence, showing footage from a security camera, has all that flavor text on the side appear rather quickly. I say odd ’cause, unlike all other examples shown here, The War for Earth was developed by an American company (Presto Studios). Amusingly it’s still kept in the Japanese-only PS1 version.

    Reply
    1. “I hope nobody is readind this crap, here are some numbers”
      That’s fantastic.

      Reply
  24. Just noting that Godzilla 2000 appears twice in the examples. And is “Power of Stone” actually “Power Stone”?

    Reply
  25. Torchickens (Evie)

    I had a closer look and I found some of the text verbatim here! https://www.fourmilab.ch/solar/details.html But Mercury and Neptune appear to be replaced with “Yellow” and “Blue” (planets in the Rainbow System, a fictional setting in the game)

    Reply
    1. Whoa, thanks for sharing this AND looking into it!

      Reply
  26. You’re welcome :). Glad you liked this.

    Reply
  27. Torchickens (Evie)

    Update: My scanner is working now. ^^ So here is a clearer image which shows the whole page (and the page before it) in case you or anyone else wants it. The guidebook is called the Space-Net Official Perfect Guide, スペースネット 公式パーフェクトガイド
    Page with the modified text, where the original seems to be from John Walker’s website Solar System Live https://imgur.com/a/d8gco9w
    Front cover of guidebook: https://i.imgur.com/h3ABItf.jpg

    Reply
  28. I saw something like the opposite(?) of this about a decade ago when I was watching the anime Code Geass R2.
    The main character was going through his school psychology department’s records; when I paused, I was surprised to find that the filler information for the students he was flipping through was not only written in perfect English, but the studio had apparently gone to the trouble of writing actual in-universe interview samples for each student.

    Reply
  29. The Godzilla 2000 one is on here twice.

    Reply

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