It's no ordinary sale. It's a FUCKIN' SALE!

FUCKIN' SALE. In flashy Osaka the use of English for decorative purposes in Japanese advertising reaches a new peak of perfection.

There are some stories that explain themselves pretty f*ckin’ eloquently.

God knows what the people in this Department Store in Osaka were thinking when they came up with this advertising slogan but Zarina Yamaguchi, a friend of a friend, was thinking “pretty damn funny” when she snapped this picture on January 4th. Zarina explains:

Well, a childhood friend of mine and I were strolling along the local street in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. Being around the extra-genki Osaka-jins and salesladies screaming ‘Irashaimasse’ from every direction for the ongoing New Year Sales has never made us feel more at home. On our way to catch up over coffee, I walked into this store to check some things. Truth is, I didn’t even notice the posters. When I looked around, each corner had posters that printed ‘fucking sale’. I didn’t know how to react but what caught me by surprise was that none of the people around me seem to understand the profanity. My friend Sarah and I, both of mixed Japanese descent, both bilingual in Japanese and English, were struck with the comical twist. Pretty sure I would have never seen this elsewhere, I had to snap a shot. 

The store is located in Shinsaibashi right next to Hearton Hotel Shinsaibashi and Planet 3rd cafe, she adds.

I should note that Zarina’s childhood friend is Sarah Kashani, my friend and one of the most knowledgable scholars on Koreans in Japan. Sarah verified the authenticity of the signage and the sale, although neither side has disclosed whether they actually bought anything at the sale.

2012 is going to be a fuckin’ awesome year in Japan. You can’t help but feel that way. Our thanks to Ms. Yamaguchi-sama for her contribution. We’re f*ckin’ grateful. 超感謝ですよ。

These cats are all dressed up for the fuckin' sale, dude.

Comments
117 Responses to “It's no ordinary sale. It's a FUCKIN' SALE!”
  1. Baptiste says:

    My friend Sarah and I, both of mixed Japanese descent, both bilingual in Japanese and English, were struck with the comical twist.

    Sarah verified the authenticity of the signage and the sale.

    Yeah, cause you really need to be fluent in english (and Japanese!) to understand “Fuckin”…
    And you have to a phd candidate to verify a sale at the Parco….
    Get a personality.

  2. Mumon says:

    Jake,
    That’s pretty amusing – I remember seeing a store name with the F-word in it a while back on 三条道 in Nara…I walked down the street to a pharmacy to get some medicine, and playing on the store’s audio system was some rather rude American gangsta rap. I asked the girl at the counter if she understood what the words meant…and of course she had no idea …

  3. jon says:

    lmao! the funniest thing i’ve seen all week. @jake is this a common thing? i always thought english swear words were univerally understood

  4. Bill says:

    Years ago, I came into Paris when the whole city was plastered with huge posters for a movie called “Fucking Fernand.” I kept thinking of a scenario about some exchange student from Wisconsin being visited by her prudish aunt just at that time…

  5. Mumon says:

    BTW, I like your use of the term “decorative” to describe English (and other European-based) signage in Japan – that was the conclusion I’d come to in the mid-90s, when I first visited Japan for about two weeks without being able to read any かな or 漢字 and eventually realized that it was nearly useless to try to impute “meaning” to anything written in any other language than Japanese.

    Like the store “Beaux Arts” – they sell a tasty life you know.

  6. Andrea C. says:

    Bill: Years ago, I was studying French at college, and the textbook we used supplemented dry grammar lessons with photographs illustrateing various aspects of French culture and society. In one of the photos, a cinema marquee loudly proclaimed “Fucking Amal”. I’m not joking. A college-level textbook.

    As for Japan, a Japanese-born and Canadian-raised friend explained, with a roll of the eyes, that “fuck” or some variation thereof is the first English word that most Japanese learn. So, it’s widely-known to be a “bad word”. That doesn’t mean folks in Japan are indifferent to causing offence – there really isn’t an analogue in their language to the f-word, so as Jake put it, there is no “gut level” reaction. Personally, I find this freakin’ hilarious. Stay weird, Nippon!

  7. Tunafish says:

    This reminds me of a reference in Jack Seward’s book “Japanese in Action” to a banner across the main Ginza street in Tokyo back in 1948. It supposedly read: “We Play for Your Erection.” Yes, you guessed it. It should have read “We Pray for Your Election” and was meant to support General Douglas MacArthur’s presidential election campaign that year. Well, the general failed to win Republican Party nomination. Perhaps the banner failed to convey its intended message. haha By the way, the book “Japanese in Action: An Unorthodox Approach to the Spoken Language and the People Who Speak It” is full of hilarious linguistic and cultural quips you would enjoy.

  8. Jan says:

    Besides this I think that apparently the fast food restaurant First Kitchken gets shortened as fuakin in common speech. So when you hear Japanese people talk about “going to fuakin” it might not mean what you first think it does.

  9. Marilyn says:

    I had to wonder if we English speakers really over use the work F*@%. When I read that this was used for decorative purposes, I, at first laughed and then I thought of the western world’s chief export…our movies from Hollywood and then there is Hell’s Kitchen, Chef Ramsay from the UK.

    As an expletive, F-word is an attention getter. In some cases, it is a life saver. In others, it’s just funny. It is a mantra for many. It is the source of life. It’s an act that is good or bad. It is Karma. It is better to give than receive. It is also a life lesson on how we all can be f-ed up or on, one time or another in our lives. It can be rude, crude and eloquent at the same time.

    Now, for this to be a F-ing sale, the percentages are too low of a discount, so they are correct, it is just another f-ing sale.

  10. Sophie says:

    Andrea C: The movie in your french textbook could have been “Fucking Åmål”, a Swedish movie about two teens living in a small Swedish town, Åmål. I think the title is ment to illustrate the main character’s feelings about their hometown.

    Some stores here in Sweden use english quite a lot, and sometimes badly, but I doubt you would see any sales like the one in this story =)

  11. Tommy says:

    When I lived in Japan in the early 90’s my friends and I used to wander through yoyogi park on the weekends when Japanese punk bands would come out and play all at once. my favorite band was KFC King Fucker Chicken. best part was they just ripped off the Kentucky fried Chicken logo at the time.

  12. David says:

    Andrea: I’m probably missing the point so I’m not sure if you are aware or not, but “Fucking Åmål” is the original title of a Swedish movie from 1998 (English title is Show Me Love). I think the title is chosen with a pretty good understanding of what it means (“fuck this god damn place!”), but it guess perhaps that any offence might be more gut-felt when its your native language. Or maybe there’s just more sensitivity to issues like this in certain cultures? :-p

  13. GES says:

    @andreac the ‘French’ movie you are referring to is actually Swedish. The second word is Åmål which is a small town in Sweden. The first word is, well, the epithet one might use to describe it if one were a teenager growing up there. The English title is ‘Show me love’. While most Swedes understand what it means, it does not provoke the level if reaction that it might to a native speaker.

  14. Gag Halfrunt says:

    Another blog says that it’s “a promotion related to their New Year’s Fukubukuro, or Lucky Bags. Get it? Fuku…fuckin’…”

  15. Alan Abu Bakr says:

    Andrea C, I’d like to point out that the “Fucking Amal” that was loudly proclaimed by the French cinema marquee, was most probably referring to the Swedish movie “Fucking Åmål”.
    It should be noted that Swedish people are very much familiar with the meaning and impact, of the word “fuck” and that the word was used in the movie and it’s title, specifically because of it.

    I.e. it’s NOT an example of non-English, using English swearwords, in an ignorant manner.

  16. Ire says:

    @Andrea ‘Fucking Åmål’ is a Swedish film that had some international success in the late 90s – again, the F-word is not as offensive in Sweden (it’s known to be a swear-word but this was an acceptable movie title) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0150662/combined (Åmål is a town)

  17. Jamaipanese says:

    now thats what I call a sale!

  18. Binson Boy says:

    I remember wearing a T-Shirt with the legend “Cool As Fuck” around Tokyo around 1990 or 91. The stares that it got from Tokyo-ites made me feel that they really did have a visceral understanding of the shock value of the word “Fuck”.

    http://www.townsend-records.co.uk/product.php?pId=7473&pType=5

    On the other hand, perhaps this kind of language is acceptable in Osaka. After all, it is Kinki…

  19. Petri Aukia says:

    Fucking Åmal is a relatively famous art-house picture from the Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. The point of the title is to combine a shocking word and a lame place. The movie got a different name for the American audiences. The title was intentional and well-understood by the viewers.

    See: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0150662/

  20. jim says:

    Years ago, I was at a Tokyo branch of the Baskin-Robins ice cream chain, then mostly patronized in Japan (and maybe still today) by young women. Certainly, the clientele that particular day was predominantly female, and they were being serenaded over the store’s sound system by the Rolling Stones’ “Starfucker.” With the exception of yours truly, no one blinked an eye, not even when Jagger observed that “tricks with fruit/are kind of cute/bet they keep your pussy clean.”

  21. blauereiter says:

    LOL ! In all my years living in Japan I’ve never seen something like this.

  22. Bill says:

    Andrea C: Of course “Fucking Åmål” is a quite famous Swedish film directed by Lukas Moodysson. The name got dumbed down in most places: “Show Me Love” in English, “Raus aus Amal” in German. I guess the French took it as it was, but I don’t recall any big posters all over town advertizing it. Some picture editor had some fun slipping it into that textbook I would say.

  23. orionsbow says:

    Baptiste: You’re a dick. How’s that translate? It’s a funny story. Screw the personality, which you don’t have, get a life. Dick.

  24. Fucku says:

    You are all idiots

  25. Man, 20% off is not a fuckin’ sale. You have to have at least 30% minimum for it to qualify as a fuckin’ sale.

  26. Dylan Bragers aka Coolio da Fabio says:

    It’s a funny sign and all, but do we really need to hear so much about how awesome the photographer and her friend are? Anyway, congratulations on knowing such amazingly amazing people.

    • No, you don’t really need to hear about it but I wrote it anyway. Because I like them and they contributed to the blog. It’s not like we have a real budget here. In the Japansubculture Universe contributors are gods. Readers are demigods. Commentators are angels. (Usually).

  27. Nanami Seven says:

    I have seen a lot of weird English in Japan and thought I could no longer be amused. But this takes it to a new level.

    Moral: never use slang unless you are a native speaker.

  28. Larry S says:

    We’re all having a great time laughing about how funny this is. Imagine what would happen if Japanese became the new fashion in the US. People would be greeting each other using fun words like “temei” or “kisama” and rolling their rs in the yakuza style you see in the movies without having a clue about what they sounded like.

    • Good god, I’d kind of love to see people walking around in t-shirts that said 貴様!俺をなめるんじゃねえ or something to that effect. Maybe in an alternative universe. I did see a guy once with a tattoo that read, “肉欲” “meat lover.”

  29. Ben says:

    I remember a few years back i saw a little cafe type thing in a Shopping Center/Mall. It was called ‘Fukumama’. I know it isn’t the right spelling but still, this is in Australia, an English speaking country. Wouldn’t they realize it isn’t the best choice of words. If anyone is from Melbourne, Australia, it was at Knox.

  30. Glenn says:

    A normal sale would be 20% off, I would expect a “FUCKIN’ SALE!” to be at least 40% off.

  31. Tetsuo says:

    As many of japanese cannot speak English, it is easy to explain. There are lots of cheap American films with f-word in almoat every sentence are available there and they believe the word is commonly used.
    They just don’t know how to use the word properly.

  32. Joe says:

    It’s all wrong… should be at least 50% off

  33. @mattwnorman says:

    I love a f***in’ sale!

  34. Johnno says:

    And when the sale finishes do you get “F*ck off”?

  35. Mimi says:

    This kind of thing happens in North America every weekend at youth hockey games throughout Quebec, Canada. You should hear what they regularly played for the puck-drop at my 5 – to -12 -year-old’s hockey games. The 14-year-old French-speaking kids who run the scoreboard choose this stuff and nobody understands enough to complain.

  36. David says:

    agree with Glenn, 20% doesnt qualify as a f%^&*’ sale. That would be like 80%

  37. Paul says:

    It looks like not all the posters are alike. In the main picture, at the top, from the left, there is a star, then nothing, and the last two on the right have the word “I’m” scrawled in black, above the word.

  38. Collecting Japlish howlers is a popular pastime, but this one takes the cake! What WERE they thinking? Living a dozen years in Japan, I came to the conclusion people took a certain pleasure from using English (or any foreign language) THEIR way. But what about places that should know better, and have no reason to be making a joke (except of themselves)? Every time I get on the limousine bus from the airport, I wait to hear why I must not use a mobile phone aboard: ‘As it disturbs the neighbours’. I must be shouting!!

  39. tunimaal says:

    I definitly wanna go to this fuckin sale…. I need them, they must be Awesome….We can see that only i Japan I think

  40. Andrea C. says:

    Thank you to all of the experts who have kindly explained to me that “Fucking Amal” is a movie. A famous, Swedish one at that. Set in a town called Amal. In Sweden. What was the director’s name, again? I mean, before this internet intervention, I used to believe that cinema marquees were a premier venue for “non-English, using English swearwords, in an ignorant manner”. I had no idea! Marquees are for legitimate movie names (faints).
    I think Bill is the only one who got my post, which was about this particular picture making it into a French-language schoolbook. Yes, someone in the photo editor’s department put one over on the client. ;)

  41. Andrea C. says:

    Once upon a time, a wise man who tried to inculcate in me the craft of directing for television said:
    “When (making choices in) directing, there is no right or wrong. There is only appropriate or inappropriate.”
    I took those words to heart 20 years ago, and I believe they can be applied to many different situations in life.
    Well, these Osaka sales signs can be viewed as the epitome of “inappropriate” to English speakers, but I can only imagine they must provoke something of satisfying emotional response in a certain segment of the native Japanese consumer. I don’t understand the appeal, but then again, I ain’t Japanese. If this campaign can successfully move the units on these lacklustre fasions, then more power to ‘em.

    P.S. Still laughing :))))

  42. hyper says:

    Whoever Sale is, she must be really tired behind the glass wall.

  43. Bernie M-D says:

    Hi all
    many of you have commented on Andrea C’s reference to the movie “Fucking Amal”.
    I am from South Africa, and A(L)MAL is an Afrikaans word meaning EVERYBODY, so South Africans will find this especially hilarious. I have to admit, sometimes I enjoy the comments more than the article

  44. And then there’s “¡Ñoooo Que Barato!” in Hialeah, Florida (Miami-Dade County). The last two words mean “What a bargain!” and the first word is an intensifier that literally is short for coño, cognate to “cunt” (but in this context is more like “Shiiit, What a Bargain” or “Daaaamn, What a Bargain”).

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sandrino/485495254/

  45. Eliot says:

    Cultural differences are so much fun. I wonder what the former ad manager of this company is doing now?

  46. csrster says:

    For anyone thinking of going to see it, it should be pointed out that “Fucking Åmal” is a film about Swedish Lesbian Teenage Schoolgirls. Just sayin.

  47. Squidgoggle says:

    About the Swedish film “Fucking Åmål”

    The title “Fucking Åmål” is derived from a line in the film:

    “Varför måste vi bo i fucking jävla kuk-Åmål”

    Which basically means: “Why do we have to live in such a dump of a town?”, although less eloquently put. The English title of the film I might add is the much less exciting “Show my love”. Interestingly enough in Japan the move was called: “Shô mî lavu” (source imdb.com) A throw back to the English title?

  48. Rico says:

    This sale is not held at the department. Japanese departments are above such a stupid behavior. Some Japanese doesn’t understand f-word. They think using it is cool because some famous punk or pop singers like P!nk use it.

  49. Charlie says:

    Another comment about Fucking Åmål/Show me Love: I recall an interview with the director Lukas Moodysson from back when the movie caught on. He apparently received a call from a distributor in the U.S who – clearly- had misunderstood the Åmål part and asked if he could be sent the movie “Fucking a Male”. Oops! Also, while we’re on the topic of Swedish movies, the Swedish word for “The End” is “Slut”. It is usually displayed in large caps at the end of all movies and has caused more than one of my English speaking friends to choke on their popcorn.

  50. Beth says:

    OMG, that’s hilarious! Poor people didn’t realize what they were saying. I sort of think the whole thing is cute!

    //Beth @ the Chicago Singer

  51. Kimjongil2000 says:

    This is really not a fuckin’ sale, it’s more of a darn sale. 20% is really lame.

  52. anon says:

    Hey Jake,
    When you bought Baptise a sense of irony or satire was it a two for one sale? You literally risked life and limb to report about organized crime and a little post about a swear word probably garnered you the most responses
    Oh and late Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. This must be a great time for your kids. 8 days of gifts (even though the first seven suck), Christmas presents and New Years money.

    • LOL! Thank you and happy holidays–even though we’re all back to work. Yes, there is something f*cking ironic that a a little post about a swear word garners more response than most of what I’ve written but hey, if it gets people to read the blog–okay!

  53. pnyorker says:

    …the end….means.. you reached …the bottom.

  54. Lafcadio Hernia says:

    KUSO JAPAN

    In a new example of “kuso” words and signs springing up in Japan and
    Taiwan and China and Vietnam, an posh department store in Osaka south of Tokyo recently
    displayed
    a “on sale” sign for some products that read in English letters:
    “Fuckin’ Sale.” Don’t bother looking for it, as the sign has been
    removed after the brouhaha hit
    the internet and went viral. A reader of longtime American expat and
    yakuza expert Jake Adelstein’s ”Japan Subculture” blog spotted the
    sign and sent it in to Jake.
    He posted it. It went viral. All hell broke loose.

    But the department store didn’t mean to be rude or crude. In Japan,
    English words are just for decoration, like icing on a cake, and most
    people there have no idea
    what the effing word meant. It’s just way to be cool using English
    words, in much the same way that Americans like to say “ciao” or
    “c’est la vie” when they
    really cannot speak Italian or French very well.

    Zarina Yamaguchi, a friend of a friend of Mr Adelstein who is himself
    married to a Japanese woman and has lived there for ages after working
    as a crime reporter to the Yomiuri Shimbun, told Jake that the sign
    was “pretty damn funny” when she took the snap on January 4. She told
    Jake in an email:

    “[A ]friend of mine and I were strolling along a street in
    Shinsaibashi, Osaka. …..On our way to [have ]coffee, I walked into a
    store to check some things. Truth is, I didn’t even notice the
    posters. When I looked around, each corner had posters with the words
    ‘fucking sale’ on therm. I didn’t know how to react but what caught me
    by surprise was that none of the people around me seemed to understand
    the profanity of it all. My friend Sarah and I, both of mixed Japanese
    heritage, both bilingual in Japanese and English, were struck with the
    comical twist. Pretty sure I would have never seen this elsewhere, I
    had to snap a shot.”

    But Zarina might want to know that similar signs pop up in English in
    Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and China. It’s not just a Japanese thing.
    In Asia, English words are used on
    advertisement and store signs are mere decoration, and nobody has any
    what they mean. Nor are they supposed to. It’s just “kuso,” Zarina.
    And you know what kuso means, right?

  55. Andrea C. says:

    Lafcadio Hernia – bwah hah hah hah!! Best name ever.
    This website really has gone viral – HuffPo, Gawker, leMonde, deStandaard + France, Norway, Romania, etc.
    I’m surprised that Sweden is not represented – it seems like half of Sweden has come by to comment. Come on, you guys!
    Google has a “news for fuckin’ sale” category on this story, and you can even sign up for “fuckin’ sale news alerts”.
    Also, original contributor Zarina Yamaguchi’s FB page has 10,000+ shares on this subject.
    I’d personally like to say, “Thank you, Japan.” I mean this sincerely. Such warm belly-laughs are all too rare in this vale of tears we call life.

    • Are you serious? “news for fuckin’ sale category’? Wow.
      Well, I love that Japan is capable of generating little stories like this. What’s amazing to me is that this story garners more attention than about anything else I’ve ever written.
      I think Zarina must be floored as well. Thanks for writing in.

  56. tex says:

    I like the idea of a fuckin’ sale. Much better than coupons, but quite tiring.

  57. Judy Epstein says:

    Hysterical!!! I hope the person or people who thought of this don’t lose their jobs!

  58. Micha says:

    Uh, coño doesn’t mean cunt. It means something like DAMN!
    Coño! Que barato! means DAMN! HOW CHEAP!
    It is my first language.

  59. some guy from NYC says:

    This is hysterical. I love it. If I were a teen living in Japan and my mother asked me “Where are you going?” I could reply “To the Fucking sale!”

  60. selina says:

    I like your website template, I have a similar one. Welcome to check my blog. Anyway, nice post. :)

  61. subcultureist says:

    Hi! I’m Jake’s daughter, Beni!!!!!!!!!!! One day, you will forget reading this article and the author’s name because by then, I will be the most famous person alive!!!!!! :)

  62. Marcus says:

    I’m surprised that nobody mentioned the European (English, French?) clothing firm called FCUK.

  63. Jerh says:

    From reading some of the comments above some people seem to be amazed that Japanese people might not know that the word Fuck is considered a curse word in English. The question I have for them is do you know any Japanese curse words?
    Cultures are always using other languages and writing to decorate things. Just look at all the t shirts and sweatshirts with Japanese or Chinese or any other Oriental writing on them (not to mention the tattoos people get). My friend who is fluent in Japanese often delights in telling people what their t shirts or tattoos really say. Its usually something like “Sweet and Sour Chicken” or something similar.

  64. 401k to IRA says:

    That is a pretty good sale IMO. Seems like great marketing.

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