This notice on the window of a shop selling a very special type of life-extending egg in Hakone, Japan vies for the worst signage translation we've ever seen.
I've had to patch the sign together from two sources on the Web, neither of which is complete in itself. The top part comes from a remarkable blog ("The Dynamic Duo") maintained by a pair of brothers, one of whom lives in Idaho and the other in Japan. The bottom portion comes from a Sina microblog.
The English, Chinese, and Korean translations are all close to being gibberish. To see what was intended, it is necessary first to provide an accurate English rendering of the original Japanese:
1. [We] do not sell [eggs] separately / individually.
2. [The eggs] will keep for two days.
3. They will quickly spoil if placed in a plastic bag, etc.
4. [Dispose of] the egg shells in a trash can. Let’s keep Hakone clean / beautiful!
The word itami いたみ (itamu いたむ) in the third line means “to go rotten / spoil.” The fact that its most common meaning is “pain” causes all three of the translations to grossly misinterpret this line.
Note the use of katakana カラ instead of kanji 殻 (perhaps the sign is written for children?). Google finds 277,000 phrase ghits for 玉子の殻, 225,000 for 卵殻, and 28,800 for 玉子のカラ.
Here's the English presented on the sign:
1. It is only combined sales
2. It will have it in two days on the day.
3. The pain becomes early if it puts it in the plastic bag etc.
4. Garbage of an egg to a trash box. Let's make Hakone beautiful.
The Chinese is likewise nearly unintelligible; rendered into English, it goes something like this:
1. Using one's number, can't be sold off.
2. Keepable for two days.
3. When packed into eth(yl)ene pocket pain will become early.
4. Arriving at the eggshell garbage box. Let's clean Hakone!
The Korean is a bit better, but still awkward and fraught with problems (even the last line, which is the only one that is really grammatical):
1. Within a round number of one, can't be sold.
2. Preservation is for two days time.
3. If [they] are put in a plastic bag, pain becomes quick–…..
4. Egg shells to the garbage can. Let's make Hakone clean.
One of the strangest parts of the Korean translation is that the third instruction is incomplete. Most unfortunately, moreover, the fourth instruction uses an inappropriate word for "egg." In Korean there are different words for “eggs” and the translation for #4 does not choose the correct one, kyeran ("chicken egg") but instead uses the generic word for "egg," al, which includes even the eggs of reptiles. The ellipsis of the verb in the first sentence of #4 is acceptable in Korean, as it is in Japanese, though it is ungrammatical in English to omit the verb in this sentence, as is done in the English translation on the sign.
For those who are interested, it may be useful to provide some background information about the life-extending eggs of Hakone. Eggs are boiled in the sulfurous springs at Ōwaku-dani, a process which makes their shells turn black. Here is a scene showing the vats where the eggs are boiled:
Local legend has it that one of these eggs can extend your life by seven years, and they're sold in various sets, the most popular apparently being sets of five.
Here are the benefits one allegedly reaps from eating these eggs:
There is a picture and a tiny bit of text in English about these eggs under the "Eat" section of the Wiki Travel page for Hakone.
From talking to friends who have actually been to the Hakone hot springs area and eaten these special eggs, they are absolutely delicious, some of the best boiled eggs my friends have ever had.
Incidentally, while you're in the area where they make these eggs, you've got to be careful not to breathe, since the sulfurous gases may be FATAL:
The translations on this sign are superior to those on the window of the shop that sells the eggs, but still unintentionally humorous for their overly earnest warnings.
[With a tip of the hat to Joel Martinsen, and many thanks to Bob Ramsey, Michael Carr, Kathryn Hemmann, Miki Morita, Daniel Sou, Nathan Hopson, Min-Hyung Yoo, and Minkyung Ji.]