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A cartoon that says "How do you do! I'm Fukuppy."
Radioactive Branding
November 13, 2013 - By: - In: In the News / Awards, Interpretation, Language, Translation - Comments Off on Radioactive Branding

Here at TranslationGuy University, shadenfreude is a powerful motivator for our online students. Our Mistranslation Management Program for Young Translation Industry Executives uses the case study method to deepen understanding of industry practice while enjoying the misfortunes of others.

Here’s a sample of one of our case studies, Radioactive Branding, no tuition required.

      TranslationGuy, Chief Provost


Background: Island of Fortune

The Fukushima in (福島)   is written using the characters “Fortunate Island” (福島) in Japanese which makes it a pretty dang auspicious brand for the Osaka-based commercial refrigeration manufacturer. Well, at least it was auspicious until the tsunami-caused meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant resulted in the creation of the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, a radioactive wasteland too dangerous for human habitation. (Check out Damir Sagolij’s pics from inside the zone here.)

Question: What do you do when your brand goes into meltdown and goes radioactive as the global tagline for nuclear devastation?

Solution:  Get a cute mascot.

Last April, the PR team at Fukushima Industries launched a new mascot, フクッピー, pronounced foo-koo-pee. A cute winged egg with clown feet, the mascot symbolizes both rebirth and that Japanese obsession with cute little mascots. That “pee” ending is commonly used on Japanese words to make them sound cuter. (Check out this interesting analysis of made-up Japanese words by at Language Log by Victor Mair). But Japanese brands are often written using Roman script, so that the accent on the last kana in fuu-koo-pee is changed to accent on the first syllable when transcribed into Roman script as “Fukuppy.” As a result of this unfortunate English spelling and millions of dirty-minded English speakers, Fukuppy has gone global.

Cyber analysts claim that the company and its agency did not use a native speaker to vet the term before going live with it, since Japanese are so bad at speaking English that they wouldn’t notice the unfortunate association. I doubt it. I used to teach English in Japan, and even my worst students were familiar with the term. I would guess that “fuck” has got to be one of the most understood English words in Japan.

So I find it hard to believe that none of the Japanese speakers on the branding committee made the association. I bet there were guys sniggering at the table but afraid to say anything for fear of getting tagged as the local expert on dirty English words and a desk at the end of the row after sinking the boss’s big project.

So it is left to dirty-mined members of the public to point out the error.  Someone’s got to do it.  It is a burden I am willing to bear, so that in future branding meetings in Japan, some joker will always be able to write “No Fukuppy” on the white board and get a laugh.

Solution for the Solution:

Fukushima industries will keep “Foo-koo-pee, but only in kana. Roman script has been banned to reduce any misunderstanding. Click between English and Japanese on the site to see how they are handling it.  This is a tragedy, since this egg-y mascot is to be hidden from English speakers, we will all soon forget. That’s a shame, because “Fukuppy” is so fresh, so bad as a mascot name that it should become the mascot for same. I want to coin the term as industry jargon for  a big translation disaster. Probably not, since its kind of a dirty word. But at any rate I would love for “Fukuppy” to replace “No-va” as the star fail of translation disasters.

All in favor? Can anyone top Fukuppy in the egregious translation fail category?


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