Sunday, July 01, 2007

Japanese food product packaging

My seminar, a group of 11 students in the Faculty of Foreign Languages has been looking at the way English is used on food products in Japan. The students brought in samples of various kinds of products and searched the various manufacturer's websites for illustrations of their packaging.
We found that there was considerable consistency in the way English was used, but that the degreee to which English was incorporated in the product depended on the product line. It appears that products aimed at younger audiences and those for snack foods tend to sport more English than other products. We made the following observations:
  • The name of the product was often in English only. Sometimes it was accompanied by smaller katakana that clued people in who couldn't read the English, but in virtually every case, the illustration clearly depicted the product so that consumers could identify it even if they couldn't read the product name!
  • The same principle of English-larger-than-Japanese also applied to other elements such as the flavor and the various special features of the product. The Almond Chocolate illustrated above says "CRISP" in English, but it says "Sakku" twice in various locations.
  • "Catch phrases" that are basically decorative but somehow vaguely describe the product or simply its "feeling" are common.
  • The illustrated example is notable because it uses the English letter "W" in a uniquely Japanese way. This means "double", here stating that the product is both "crisp" and "crunchy". ("Double" is one of the rare English words that has come into Japanese as a verb. "Daburu" conjugates regularly.)
  • The one place that we discovered that Japanese might have true difficulty with the English was with mentioning of flavors. We found many cases where we doubted whether children and early teens or oldsters would be able to understand the meaning of the flavor, and perhaps even the katakana equivalent. For example, there is a good word for "Strawberry" in Japanese, ichigo, but some packages listed the flavor in both English spelling and then this same word in katakana -- sutoroberi- without using the native Japanese word at all. We are now researching "flavors" more deeply. Stand by for a report once the results are in!

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