English Atrocities: The “Family Restaurant”

They’ve, like most countries and people with money, committed numerous atrocities, but if you don’t count murder, rape, torture, or all-encompassing oppression, then the worst one would have to be their rampant abuse of English. English is to Japan something like what curse words are to children. They’re trigger words people use either to sound funny or sound cool, but rarely understood by those who use them. Certainly there are Japanese people who speak English quite well; it’s just that they’re not the ones in charge of deciding what English will enter the collective psyche of the Japanese. This is why most people will scratch their heads and furrow their brows if you say “Good afternoon” but they can go to a Japanese Denny’s, pick up a bottle from the table reading “Restaurant Sauce,” and give a convinced nod, saying “Oh. That’s what kind of sauce this is.”

And speaking of Denny’s, Denny’s in Japan is just one of a small handful of restaurants in Japan to earn the prestigious distinction of “family restaurant” (or famiresu if you’re feeling particularly blasphemous). As far as I can tell, a “family restaurant” in Japan is not just a restaurant which caters to families, as there are many of those here that apparently don’t qualify. It evidently has a much more specific meaning in Japanese English than it does in real English, where a family restaurant is simply any place that serves food and where the manager comes out and says “Sir, this is a family restaurant” when you start singing songs about your ding-a-ling. I think to be a family restaurant in Japan means having poster-sized menus and at least three varieties of Western favorites “gratin” and “doria”. The major players in this industry are Denny’s, a place called Gusto, a vaguely Italian-themed (in that you can get squid-ink spaghetti) place called Saizeriya, and an inexplicably expensive place called Royal Host. All of them besides Saizeriya seem to be slowly, painfully dying. Maybe is because they’re probably the last kind of place people would ever think to take their families.

There are also other, lesser-known family restaurants peppered here and there, including one I saw whose name actually appeared to be “Family Restaurant”. More shocking, however, was that below the words “Family Restaurant” on the sign was a boldly printed subname, if you will: “Cock-Boy”. Yes, Cock-Boy, as in Penis, and then, Male Child. And I know, you’re thinking “Those Japanese with their small serving sizes,” but that’s not even the point. The explanation here, if you can even call it an explanation, is that they use the English word “cook” in Japanese sometimes, which comes out sounding like “kokku”, which is the same way they say the English word “cock,” which they also occasionally use. Thus the two words become interchangeable, not unlike how an American may be prone to calling bonsai trees Banzai!! trees. The difference here is that while the image of a “banzai tree” is merely something laughable, that of a “child cock” is pretty much the most financially devastating thing one could ever hope to post on the thirty-foot sign of a chain restaurant. Why they would be advertising the presence of child laborers to begin with is beyond me, but they could’ve at least done it right. Large businesses frequently plaster English all over everything without bothering to have it checked for accuracy or, more importantly, atrocity. Another large family restaurant chain has the name “Joyfull”, spelled with an extra l on the end. The Japanese Wiki claims the name is an amalgam of the words “joy” and “full” which could arguably be some kind of attempt at a clever hook, like, “After coming here, our customers will experience the two emotions joy and full.” But that’s both lame and too subtle for anybody to notice around here. I’m pretty sure a guy just decided to make that the name “Joyful” and mucked it up, then made up a crappy alibi.

Guess you can’t let those Arigato Sushis back home off the hook either. But that’s a post for another time.

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