Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Toilet Paper From Sulfur Island

I find this poster for Clint Eastwood's latest film "Letters from Iwo Jima" very amusing. Obviously the title is written in Japanese given the hiragana in the middle, however...

Poster - Letters From Iwo Jima

, or Iwo Jima, means "Sulfur Island".
means "mail/letter" in Japanese. However, it means "toilet paper" in Chinese.

I sincerely hope the marketing people for this film would take this tip into consideration.

Related: Wrong Anthem, By Gum


  1. Well, Cantonese speaking people (like myself) call toilet paper 廁紙. So, I guess the poster is safe from the Hong Kong based people.

    Another "strange" translation.

  2. What do Chinese people call 硫黄島 then? Seems like kind of a silly criticism to make when we're talking about a place name. (And of course I imagine they'll replace 手紙 with the appropriate Chinese word if the movie gets released on the mainland.)

  3. The toilet paper - letter thing is pretty well known... I don't think any body who reads Chinese would fail to notice the word "karano" (from) written in Japanese phonetic script between Iwo Jima and Letter... if they didn't, wouldn't the presence of a uniformed Japanese WWII officer carrying a Japanese sword on the poster sort of clue them in to the fact that it's Japanese writing?

  4. I agree with 'anonymous' :
    It's clearly Japanese because it contains the hiragana characters 'kara no' which do not exist in Chinese.

    - "硫黃島kara no" means "From Iwo Jima".
    - 手紙 means letter or letters (in japanese there's no distinction between singular or plural, unless you add a counting word).

    Apart from this, it's still quite funny that it means "toilet paper" in Chinese.


  5. I'd say the important thing to remember is that Japanese is not Chinese, and Chinese is not Japanese, despite the fact that they share a lot of the same writing.

  6. "Iwo" is an obsolete Japanese pronounciation - nowadays it's pronounced I-oh and written more commonly with the hiragana いおう, although 硫黄 can still be used.

  7. "... if they didn't, wouldn't the presence of a uniformed Japanese WWII officer carrying a Japanese sword on the poster sort of clue them in to the fact that it's Japanese writing?"

    No. It's almost impossible to tell whether he is Japanese or an officer with the lighting. And did the Japanese writing clue you in that he was carrying a Japanese sword?! Because he's holding a stick.

  8. Tian: I saw this on boingboing and was going to write to you but did not have a chance. I think it is too broad of a generalization describe 手紙 as toilet paper. In Taiwan, toilet paper is 衛生紙. For the HK area, toilet paper is 廁紙. And as others have mentioned, most, if not all, Chinese reading this would have gotten the context of it being Japanese.


  9. 手紙 is a perfectly ordinary way to say "letters" in Japanese, so the title of the movie is just fine the way it is. There is no reason to change it.

    I know that Chinese people find it funny that 手紙 is used to mean "letters" in Japanese, but Japanese people also find it funny that 手紙 means "toilet paper" in Chinese and most Japanese people do realize this.

    It is just as funny as when Americans or Englishmen find the town of Fucking, Austria.

    I don't think that the Japanese will change their language just because Chinese people find that word funny. And conversely, it seems unlikely that the Chinese will stop using 手紙 for toilet paper just because the Japanese find it funny.

    But languages change for various reasons, so who knows?