Studying the English language used in Japanese advertisements

Yili Zhou


Yili Zhou majored in the study of Japanese as a foreign language at Dalian Foreign Language University in China, but is currently studying English Education at agraduate school in Japan. In this article for Outreach,Zhou shares her creative learning ideas and the reasons why she thinks learning English as a thirdlanguage will give her a competitive edge when looking for a jobin Japan.


Studying the English language used in Japanese advertisements

Yili Zhou

In China, the English language is the most common foreign language studied in junior and senior high schools. Majoring in English is also the number one choice of students entering university departments of foreign languages. Chinese students are eager to study English at universities in English-speaking countries. Studying abroad for four years can be expensive, however, so a popular alternative is to enroll in a Chinese university and apply tostudy abroad for one semester as an exchange student.In 1998, thenumber of Chinese students studying on exchange programs in the US wasequal to the number of Japanese students studying on exchange. The number of Chinese exchange students steadily increased until 2006 and then rapidly increased while the number of Japanese students seeking to study abroad decreased. In a report by theInstitute of International Education (2011) China isranked asthe leading place of origin for international students in the US,with 157,558studentsin 2010 (an increase of 23 percent from the previous year). There were only 21,290 Japanese students in America during the same academic year.

Despite the high interest in English among Chinese students, I opted to study the second-most popular foreign language in the area where I live: Japanese. In my hometown of Dalian there are many American, European, and Japanesecorporations.The Japanese IT companiesinclude:Panasonic, NEC, Sony, and Fidelity. Dalian housesthe Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi and Mizuho Corporate Bank.Japanese companies also operate telephone call-centers in Dalian because of the availability of office workers who can speak Japanese.Most foreign managersthat I have metspeak either English or Japanese, and young people aspiring to work in their companies need to be able to communicate in those languages. The language programs offered at Dalian University of Foreign Languages are geared to help students secure employment. Overseas internships and the opportunity to earn a joint degree with a university in another country are two strategies that have been helping studentslike me to find a job. In 2009, about 190,000 foreign students were at Japanese universities. About 60 percent, or 127,000, were from China according to a report by the Asahi Shimbun (“Chinese Students’ Enthusiasm,”2011).

Although I came to Japan seeking to perfect my Japanese language ability, I changed my research focus to learning English when I was accepted into a graduate school. My university thesis focused on the comparison of the grammar used when making commands in Chinese and Japanese. Though my chosenfield of study was Japanese, I started topayattention to the use of English inJapan as well asthe rest of the world. I thought about whatforeignlanguagesand what field of business would be most useful in my future. While I have the opportunity to study in Japan, I would like to perfect not only my Japanese communication abilities, but also my command of English.Studying marketing, and in particular, advertising, will give me an opportunity to use all three languages.My Master’s thesis focuses on the English language used by Japanese advertisers.

English is widely used as a global languagebecause of the current globalization trend. Globalization refers to the increasing standardization of the world's economic order through the reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import quotas. The marketing of products has had to change with globalization. Advertising, as an effective way to increase profits by promotional sales, has had to adapt new strategies to communicate with a large community of buyers. English is a second language for most of the world and it is the lingua franca of globalization. It is often used in advertising to encourage people to purchase. According to Torben and Kim (1991), the targets of commercial advertising include industrial and trade advertising as well as prestige or goodwill advertising that containselements of political propaganda. Advertisers use different media to present their message to consumers: press advertising, print advertising, radio advertising, television advertising, music in advertising, billboard advertising, online advertising, covert advertising, and celebrity branding(Manohar,2011).

Advertisers are adept at coining new words in English. Advertisers can create new language forms to try and alter the buyer’s concept. Popular advertisements can contribute new words to the lexis of modern English.Japan is increasingly coming under the influence of English. Native English speakers in Japan have studied the use of Japanese-made English. Some research has come close to mocking the English language used by some Japanese advertisers and product designers, yet Caires (2005) takes care to show fascination, not derision, in his explanation of why heisattracted to Japanese-created English phrases. And it seems that advertisers of non-Japanese products that are sold in Japan use more English in their commercial messages, referred to in Japanese as a “CM,” than do companies selling Japanese products.

In Japan, newspaper and print advertizing are giving way to online advertising. One of the largest advertising companies in the world, Dentsu, is a Japanese firm that relies on digital advertizing and cross-communication strategies to accommodate different languages and cultures. The company recently appointed their first non-Japanese Executive Officer to lead the changes (Sugiyama & Andree, 2010).

In Japan, television advertising continues to be an effective way to reach consumers. By watching television every day, I have noted that the majority of television commercials in Japan feature a song or melody. A majority ofthe Japanese advertisements I have analyzeduse songs composed in English to attract Japanese customers. Imported music gives an imported international image to theirproducts. For example, in 2011 the advertising by the Nivea Corporation in Japan used theEnglish song California King Bed sung by American singer Rihanna. The lyrics heard on television were simple to understand: “Chest to chest. Nose to nose. Palm to palm. We were always just that close. Wrist to wrist. Toe to toe …In this California king bed. We’re ten thousand miles apart.” To push their new shampoo, Kao featured It Doesn’t Stop, an easily understoodEnglish song: “This is a song / Song about us / I've never thought / I would sing something silly as this / Sometimes it's simple / Simpler than life / Simple when someone’sjust honest.”

Fieldwork supportsmy readingsand observations. I have attended seminars held by companies inKagoshimathat conduct business transactions in English. I participated in a seminar hosted by the NPO Naturing Projectthatallowedthe top management ofJapanese companies to interact withforeign students. Ihad the opportunityto discuss in English and Japanese with the Chief Executive Officerof Honda Kiko abouthow he requires the use ofEnglish in his companyheadquartered in Fukuoka and in the marketing that they do with customers. I am currentlyconductingtests and interviews to check whether thesethesisstatements are true or null:

  • H1.A majority of companiesin Kagoshimause English in advertising.
  • H2. Companies based in Kyushuuse English in advertising to not only native English speaking people but alsotonon-native English speaking people.
  • H3. Companiesin KyushuusemisspelledEnglish words andgrammatically incorrectphrases in advertising to consumers.
  • H4.Companiesin Kyushuuse Japanese-made English when advertising.
  • H5.Companies in Kyushuprovide English training course to sales employees.

I believe that learning English as a third language, and studying how advertisers use English in Japan,will give mea competitive edge whenI golookingfor a job.



Caires, S. (2005). The Joys of Engrish. Tokyo: Tarcher.

Gentry, A.(2011). Types of Advertising: 8 Different Ways to Advertise Products and Services. Retrieved from <>

Institute of International Education.(2011, Nov. 14). International Student Enrollment Increased by 5 percent in 2010/11, Led by Strong Increase in Students from China.Washington: Institute of International Education.

Manohar, U. (2011).Different Types of Advertising.Retrieved from <>

Radiation Fears Dampen Chinese Students’ Enthusiasm for Studying in Japan. (2011, May 21). Asahi Shimbun.Retrieved from <>

Sugiyama, K. & Andree, T. (2010). The Dentsu Way. Tokyo: McGraw-Hill.

Torben, V. & Kim, S. (1991). The Language of Advertising. London: Wiley-Blackwell.