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2019.09.23 Multilingual signs puzzle overseas tourists in Japan
As the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games fast approach, foreign tourists are rapidly increasing in Japan. Various efforts are implemented to attract travelers to tourist spots throughout the country. One significant change was the multilingual signs besides Japanese, the majority of which are in English, Chinese and Korean, posted at public transport and other locations. Unfortunately, however, the messages are sometimes poorly translated, causing not only some giggles but occasional outrage.

Osaka Metro, which operates a subway system in the western Japanese city, launched English, Chinese, Korean, and Thai versions of its website in September 2018. The company was soon forced to pull the foreign-language versions after it found a number of embarrassing mistranslations. In the English version, for example, the Sakaisuji Line was rendered "Sakai Muscle Line," briefly causing the phrase “Sakai Muscle” to be trending on Twitter. In China, a social media site that collects ‘funny Chinese translation’ is attracting netizens.

Relying on translation software to convert the original Japanese website into these languages is the main cause of this kind of mishap. Machine translations have improved but are not yet fully comparable to human professional translators. The translated sentences still need to be checked by specialists and native speakers. But many in the growing tourist industry of Japan are not familiar with foreign languages and are almost clueless about the inadequacy of machine translation.

The Japan Tourism Agency set a guideline in 2014 promoting multilingual signage in Japan with an aim to create a foreign-friendly environment. Still, a large number of foreign tourists seem to be struggling with language issues. Mistranslations can rub people the wrong way and could leave them with a bad image of Japan. The increased use of multilingual signs is a positive development. Still, improvements are needed to avoid offending foreign tourists, or even inadvertently misleading them into dangerous situations. best mechanical watches