Tokyo Damage Report

why Japanese can’t speak English.



"Idioms and phrases" is a textbook for Japanese people. It teaches them how to speak good, natural English. Let’s read some excerpts from their book.

The italics are in the orignal – they denote English idioms which Mr. Nukui and Kenzo are teaching.

As a studious scholar, I try to make up my own example sentences based on Nukui and Kenzo’s examples. What i discovered is that — Although these idioms are a waste of time for Japanese people — they sure are fun as hell for native English speakers.

On corporate dress codes: This trend towards “easy Fridays” is popular with employees who normally wear uniforms to work.


About Benjamin Franklin: he made an experiment of electricity by flying a kite in a storm. As a result, lightning proved to be electricity.

Haha! Your raps have proved to be wack once again!


About people yelling “hey look out!” to each other: indeed, we are dependent on the nervous systems of others to make up for what we have missed by ourselves without paying attention.

On stewardesses: But it is also true that they must be equal to a job requiring professional abilities. So you should not think little of their job.

ha! i think little of your beats and rhymes! So little!

On British people :

The British pride themselves on their sense of humour. As a matter of fact, they are gifted with it. If you suspected a British man of being without a sense of humour, he would protest strongly. Not by any means would he admit to not having a sense of humour, any more than he would ever admit to being a bad driver.

Not by any means would I be without my natural-sounding English!! At all times!!

On ecology: but for water, life on the earth would be impossible. We couldn’t do without water even a day!

The ladies at the beach are very fly, but for your mother! Haha! It is a joke becuase i think little of her by any means!!

On developing one’s mind: to be able to concentrate on the same thing for a long time is essential to difficult achievement. As long as the object is of great interest, this is brought about naturally.

Not only is this grammatically incorrect, but it doesn’t make any sense! This problem is not limited to textbooks. Even newspapers do this: instead of having something informative to say, they’ll take a meaningless statement and dress it up in very pompous abstract terms so it sounds profound.

On cultural differences, and proper use of quotation marks : The Japanese often say to me, “Do you have anything that bothers you here in Japan?” To be honest, “I have.”

More on cultural difference:

The question at issue as to whether to inform a patient of his having cancer shows and important cultural difference between Americans and Japanese.

Of course this bizzare, convoluted sentence is funny to an American, but think for a minute what it would be like if you were a Japanese who was studying English. This sentence would effing kill you! You’d be like, “Fuck English, I give up.” This is another point of Japanese textbooks — they take simple stuff and make it hard!

on greedy westerners: What Americans think much of is a man’s power to make money.

How do you like the weather today? I think much of it!!

Check both the unnatural idioms and the crazy pronoun action here:

Apart from a powerful capacity to draw attention to their helplessness by using sound, there is nothing the newborn child can do to ensure his own survival.

See, a real English speaker would simply say : babies can’t help themselves, so if they are in trouble they have to cry for help.

Actually, I am sure a Chinese speaker, a Spanish speaker and a finnish speaker would come up with a similar sentence. But Japanese textbooks tend towards a) a near-psychotic obsession with useless English idioms, b) crazy run-on sentences, and c) a love of pompous abstraction for its own sake. And foreigners wonder why Japanese kids, after 6 years of English classes, can’t speak English! Not only does this make English needlessly complex to learn, but it demonstrates the curious disconnect that Japanese teachers have.

They are really proud of their good English grammar, and very keen on East-vs.-West comparisons. . . and yet they have not the slightest knowlege or curiosity about how English speakers THINK ABOUT LANGUAGE. Namely, we like short direct sentences that are not so abstract. The idea that something can be grammatically correct and still profoundly unnatural is not even on their radar.

But frankly, even when saying something in the direct, western style, the textbook leaves something to be desired:

Although most of us complain of lack of time, the streets are crowded with people who stand in line to buy what are not necessarily in need.

How was class today? It was boring! I complain of it most necessairly!!

On the importance of planning ahead: when we have a holiday in prospect, we make plans in advance in order that we may know where to do and what to do.

Do you have some maruijuana in prospect? Yes, in order that I might get high, I have it very much in prospect!

On Japanese elaborate farewell parties: people go to seeing-offs as to a party or a show, where the person being seen off is subject to endless snap-shotting and present-giving.

And possibly the best essay:

The capacity to put up with a more or less monotonous life is one which sould be acquired in childhood. The pleasure of childhood should in the main be such as the children themselves think of and find out from their environment by virtue of some effort and inventiveness. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions do not do good to the houng. They grow up to be incapable of putting up with monotony.


This kicks ass on so many levels: the psychotic point of view, the bizarre convoluted sentences, the metastasis of awkward idioms.

But the award for most fucked up grammar definitely goes to this essay on arachnids:

We owe a lot to the birds and beasts that eat insects, but all of them put together kill a bit of the number destroyed by spiders. Moreover, unlike some of the other insect eaters, spiders do no harm whatever to us. Spiders are not insects or not even related to them. One can tell the difference almost at a glance, for a spider always has eight legs and an insect never more than six. How many spiders are keen on this work on our behalf?

I think this is the best one in the whole book, how they manage to combine the worst grammar of the book with the most factual errors.

However, the whole book is not this bad. In fact here is a sentence which is not only A+ grammar, but also a totally informative window on Japanese thinking:

If anyone ever asks me the way somewhere, I always tell them that I am not familiar with this are in order to avoid confusing them.

On being busy: often time problems come about in an external situation.


What the fuck does that even mean???? Jesus!!! He continues. ..


In our work there is nothing for it but to make appointments and fill in schedules.

Definitely the most depressing essay is this inexplicable rant on aging:

When we are old, we know more about life. (ok so far so good) however, we no longer have the energy to make use of that knowledge to the full, and can’t take a chance to do anything. . . .in old age, we have learnt by bitter experience that all our efforts, no matter how successful they may be, are in the end meaningless. Death is the only reality.


Holy fuck!!!

On social problems:

It is said that violence on television is probably a social issue which a good many Americans are as anxious about as any in terms of its influence on children. A study has pointed out of late that 80 percent of adults have the same opinion, in that television violence does harm to society.


An excerpt from a ghost story:

He rushed to the stairs in panic and cried for help beside himself with fear. But nobody answered. Atany moment, he felt, a ghost would jump at him. He treid to go downstairs in a hurry and fell off he stairs. When he came to himself, he lay surrounded by some maids.


On poverty:Most of the young people in the West are barely making both ends meet.


More cultural differences: the American business person is inclided to start talking business under way in no time.


And finally, some miscellaneous sentences, meant to illustrate various expressions:


Generally speaking, it is no easy matter to be a giant.


She had hardly participated in the project when she came up with new ideas one after another.


You had better stay away from those friends of your s until you get through hwit hthat important job. Otherwise, you’ll end up with failure again.


The prince would often have his own way even by resorting to violence.


He made believe to be in favor of my idea.


I am curious about the way he could make himself understood in his poor English.

read that last bit again: "in his poor English." c minus for grammar, a plus for irony.


We had to proceed at the cost of many things for the purpose of putting our plan into practice.


After I put an end to my homework, I was free to indulge in reading books.


I’m not going to go through with this job by halves on my part!


As bad as this book is for Japanese people, it is great for English people who want to spice up our conversations. My advice to you is, try saying any of the idioms in italics in casual conversation. “Oh no! I am not equal to this!” “I am bent on reading this book!” “what band are you listening to right now? I think much of them!” “OK, I will do this from A to Z now!”


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