Japanese Company’s Translation Fail Goes Viral

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A Japanese company’s new mascot gained them a boatload of Internet attention last month- but probably not the kind they were aiming for.

In October, Fukushima Industries introduced a new mascot in the form of a cutesy flying egg with an indeterminate gender identity and an eerily chipper demeanor. The mascot’s name? Fukuppy, which was apparently an attempt to meld the company name with the last 3 letters of the English word “happy.”

If they’d written the mascot’s name in Japanese characters on their website, this might not have been a problem. In Japanese,the mascot’s name is pronounced “foo-koo-pee.” But they used Roman letters, and as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, using standard English pronunciation rules, that poor little egg’s name sounds like an English obscenity; one that accurately describes the situation at the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, at that.

Once an English-speaking reader found the mascot, it quickly went viral because let’s face it, that’s just too good not to share.

Somewhat understandably, most English speakers assumed that there was some sort of connection between Fukushima Industries and the Fukushima nuclear plant, but that’s actually not the case. Fukushima Industries makes refrigerators, not nuclear energy. It’s not even located anywhere near the damaged nuclear plant; instead, the company is based in Osaka, hundreds of miles away.

All the commotion caused Fukushima Industries to start using Japanese characters to write their mascot’s name, according to the Guardian. In a press release, the company commented:

“This time, the name of our corporate character, because of the way it’s written, has been regarded as inappropriate, or has been misunderstood among English-speaking people. We sincerely apologize for the fact that we have caused misunderstandings and concerns among many people.”

On one hand, at least Fukushima Industries got some free publicity out of the brouhaha. On the other hand, is this the type of publicity you would want for your company? Probably not…which is why it’s always a good idea to seek help from an experienced translator when your rebranding strategy includes another language!