A "Japanese" supermarket at Peking University

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Gianni Wan sent in this photograph of a sign on the front of a popular convenience store at Peking University:

The Chinese reads:

bóshí xīqū chāoshì 博实西区超市

The second set of two characters refers to the western district of the Peking University campus, not to "Western" style food, and the last set of two characters does indeed mean "supermarket", but the first set of two characters causes problems.

Given the present political climate of heightened patriotism and anti-Japanese feelings, which we have mentioned in earlier Language Log posts (and it is worse now, what with Chinese ships colliding with Japanese vessels, Chinese pilots shadowing Japanese planes, and China just generally poised to go to war with their neighbor to the east at any minute [see here, here, here, here, here, and here]), I'm surprised that the present translation of the first two characters (Hiromi, a patently Japanese given name) could remain for long without complaints being lodged against it.

I'm pretty sure that whoever is responsible for the English translation on this sign got "Hiromi" from Google Translate. If you enter bóshí xīqū chāoshì 博实西区超市 into Google Translate, you'll get "Bo is the Western supermarket", but if you put in just bóshí 博实, you get "Hiromi".

Now for some notes on the orthography of "Hiromi".

博实 is the simplified Chinese version; the traditional form is 博實, and the simplified Japanese version is 博実.

In the hiragana syllabary, Hiromi would be ひろみ and in the katakana syllabary it would be ヒロミ. Here is a list of many more kanji (Chinese character) versions:

ヒロミ,ひろみ,ひろ美,ひろ実, 広三,広美,広実,広海,広深,広巳,広己,広洋,広見,広身,広躰,広満,広益,広相,広稔,廣美,廣実,廣海,廣巳,廣見, 拡美, 宏三,宏美,宏実,宏實,宏巳,宏海,宏水,宏見,宏視,宏朱,宏望,宏真, 紘美,紘実,紘未,紘海, 弘三,弘美,弘実,弘巳,弘海,弘巳,弘己,弘見,弘視,弘躬,弘壬,弘潮, 博三,博美,博 実,博未,博巳,博己,博海,博見,博視,博観,博光,博身,博臣,博民,博洋,博臨, 寛三,寛美,寛実,寛己,寛海,寛水,寛深,寛見,寛望, 裕,裕三,裕美,裕実,裕未,裕海,裕巳,裕己,裕視,裕心,裕身,裕躬,裕弥,裕文,裕望,裕洋, 祐美,祐実,祐未,祐巳,祐海, 浩三,浩美,浩実,浩實,浩未,浩味,浩海,浩深,浩巳,浩己,浩視,浩益,浩洋,浩規,浩躬,浩壬,浩望, 皓美,皓水,皓光,皓心,皓珠, 啓美,啓実,啓見,啓真,啓親,啓望, 公美,公巳, 大美,大実,大海,大洋,大心,太美,太海, 洋,洋三,洋美,洋実,洋海,洋水,洋巳,洋己, 尋美,尋海,尋実,宇美,演美,央美,央海,央洋,海美,闊美,完美,緩美,熙美,熙海,煕美,煕珠,煕海,空美,洸美,洸水,洸弥,滉 美,鴻美,洪美, 泓美,渺美,衡美,周美,周現,周望,普三,普美,潤美,仁美,碩美,碩弥,泰美,泰実,泰己,拓海,拓巳,拓味,宙美,伯美,汎美,曼 美,弥美,弥現,優美,優見,容美,容未,容己,藍水,礼美,礼已, 比呂美,比呂未,比呂海,比路美, 日呂美,日呂実,日呂見,日呂巳, 妃呂美,妃呂実,妃呂未,妃呂巳, 姫呂美,姫呂未, 陽呂美,陽露美,

N.B.: As a Sinologist, I would have to say that one of the most grueling aspects of my profession is having to deal with the opacity of Japanese names (there are many good Sinologists in Japan, so I cannot ignore them!).

博实 is definitely not used in Japanese. The traditional version (博實) is, but it is unusual. It would be a masculine name, for example, this very masculine gentleman: 河岡博實

However, the name "Hiromi" can, as they say, swing both ways. Written in hiragana (and, as we have seen, any number of kanji combinations), it is a not uncommon name for women. Case in point: Uehara Hiromi, the well-known jazz pianist.

As a stage name (芸名 geimei), Hiromi has been written in katakana for men like ヒ ロミ.

Hiromi written with 博 would normally be a man's name, although on rare occasions it could also be a woman's name. See the list of names here.

I have noticed that Google Translate returns Japanese names a surprisingly large amount of times when I'm looking up Chinese terms. As I mentioned in a comment to a recent post, when I entered lǐzi 里子 (trad. 裡子) and was expecting to get "lining" as the English translation, Google Translate returned "Yuriko" instead. What in the world?!

里子 is a possible Japanese girl's name, but it would be read "Riko" or "Satoko", not "Yuriko".

Now, 里子 read as Yuriko is quite strange. I suppose that, if some parents wanted a "different" name for their daughter, it would not be forbidden to call her "Riko" and write that as 里子, but I don't know what would happen if they tried to write that in the traditional form as 裡 子. It is legal for Japanese to give their children almost any name made up of characters from the standard set or written in kana. So it is conceivable that Riko 里子 might be a girl's name, but 里子 cannot be read Yuriko.

Yuriko is indeed a woman's name, but 里子 is usually read as Satoko, not Yuriko. If you put another kanji pronounced yu- in front of 里子, such as 裕里子, or 優里子, or 由里子, that would be Yuriko.

里子 is normally pronounced Satoko, a very Japanese sounding name. However, in Chinese fashion, lǐ 里 is pronounced "ri", and you often see three-character names in which 里子 are together pronounced "-riko", such as Mariko (麻裡子, etc.) or Yuriko (由里子, etc.), as noted above.

Here is a list of different ways to write "Satoko":

サトコ,サト子,さとこ,さと子,里子,里好,郷子,聡子,聰子,恵子,知 子, 智子,都子,覚子,暁子,啓子,慧子,公子,巧子,悟子,仁子,聖子,惺子,誠子,達子,哲子,敏子,邑子,徳子,諭子,理子,了子,倫子, 怜子, 沙登子,沙都子,沙斗子,沙戸子,紗登子,沙都子,紗斗子,紗都子,左斗子,左度子,左和子,佐斗子,佐登子,佐都子,佐渡子,佐得子,佐東 子,佐及子,砂十子,彩都子,彩冬子,小都子,早登子,早都子,早杜子, 咲登子,咲都子,咲斗子

It's up to the parents which characters to choose. There is often such a bewildering variety of kanji combinations for each name that many people prefer kana, I think.

The last question is what the shopowners intended by bóshí 博实 if they did not mean "Hiromi". The literal meanings of the two characters bóshí 博实 are "ample" and "substantial", which would be a nice enough name for a Chinese store. But I also think that they may have been punning on bóshì 博士 ("Ph.D."), of which species there are quite a few specimens walking around the Peking University campus.

[Thanks to Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Nathan Hopson, and Hiroko Sherry]


  1. Bathrobe said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    There is a major coal mine in Queensland called Saraji. Translating this into Chinese with Google Translate yields 更地. It is unthinkable to write Saraji as 更地 in Chinese, but it works for Japanese, where 更地 means vacant or undeveloped land — although the pronunciation is usually sarachi, not saraji.

    After more than half a decade it seems to me that the Google Translate approach to machine translation has reached its limits, and this kind of thing is just one example of how it is not getting any better.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

    Does anyone know the origin of the name Saraji for the Queensland coal mine mentioned by Bathrobe in the preceding comment?

    This website


    has a very brief article by "Languages and Cultures Supervisor" Adam Reisman which states:


    Saraji is a coal mine near dysart [sic] in central Queensland. It was named by the people that owned the cattle property it was built on. The name was made-up by taking two letter [sic] from each of there [sic] children's names.


    But it gives no references. So I'm rather dubious.

    Since the Japanese are involved in the operation of this mine, is it possible that it comes from the Japanese word sarachi ("vacant / undeveloped land") noted by Bathrobe?

  3. Bathrobe said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 12:09 am

    While anything is possible, I'm somewhat doubtful about a Japanese etymology for Saraji.

    1. Offhand I can't think of a single case where the Japanese have been involved in naming Australian coal mines, especially way back in 1972.

    2. The Japanese write the name サラジ, with not a single web citation for 更地 in association with this mine.

    3. The children's names portmanteau (possibly 'Sarah' + 'Jim') would not be out of character for Australians — I've heard of other examples of people doing this kind of thing.

    As I said, however, anything's possible.

  4. Jonathan Dushoff said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 12:52 am

    I was about to say that using traditional characters, when you know them, should be helpful in general with Google Translate. But I went to Google translate, and found that 裡子 gives Yuriko as well! Or maybe that's correct, and explains the other mystery?

  5. Bathrobe said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 1:08 am

    I searched for ["裡子" ゆりこ] on Google. There were no hits at all for just 裡子 with the pronunciation ゆりこ. I did find 吉高由裡子 (Japanese actress Yoshitaka Yuriko) on a few Chinese sites, but even this implies that what is pronounced Yuriko is 由裡子, NOT 裡子.
    What is more, if you look up Yoshitaka Yuriko (on Wikipedia, for instance), you'll find that her name in Japanese is actually 吉高由里子. So the Chinese version is incorrect.
    This is totally messed up and detracts from Google Translate's credibility. If you didn't know Japanese you could get seriously led astray depending on these results.

  6. Hou Qiming said,

    July 12, 2014 @ 7:52 am

    It could be an algorithmic mishap, where "由里子" translates to "Yuriko" in a training pair, but the algorithm chose to split "由" off into whatever word preceding that. It's entirely possible to have a Chinese training text mentioning a Japanese girl "由里子", where a Chinese word splitting algorithm would understandably get confused and interpret "由" as "by" or something. The translation module would then come to the conclusion that "里子" = "Yuriko".

    It's worth noting that much of the confusion could have been avoided if Unicode didn't do the Han Unification thing. If the Japanese version of "里子" uses different code points, Google could have found out that it's Japanese, which could more easily avoid Yuriko problems.

  7. Jiajia said,

    July 12, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

    Boshi 博实 was originally a store selling food staffs and necessities near the Building 31 (31号楼) around 1996-97. I think the name came from erudition (博学) and 求实 (pursuing truth, a part of the PKU motto), not necessariliy a pun for 博士.

  8. Zhou Lei said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

    博実 is not so rare in Japanese names. Google "博実" and you can get "原博実" Hiromi Hara, a famous soccer player with the nick name ""Asian Nuclear Warhead" and later the boss of Japan's national soccer team. Now he still plays an important role in Japanese soccer. A more funny thing: google "原博実" and you will have 370,000 results in Japanese, while "原博实" shows 962,000 results in simplified Chinese. Even though "博実" is not a popular Japanese name, his name singles out, that's enough for google translator to do it wrong.

  9. Johan said,

    September 18, 2014 @ 8:16 am

    The dictionary ENAMDICT/JMnedict (Japanese Proper Names Dictionary Files), as fetched from http://wwwjdic.org/, gives this line for the key ‘里子’:

    里子 【さとこ】 (f,s) Satoko 【さとし】 (g) Satoshi 【のりこ】 (f) Noriko 【ゆりこ】 (f) Yuriko 【りこ】 (f) Riko

    (my emphasis) where: f=‘female given name’, s=‘surname’, g=‘given name, as-yet not classified by sex’.

    So, although ENAMDIC doesn't give usage frequencies, the use of 里子 (read ゆりこ) as a female given name seems to be frequent enough (or prominent enough?) to include it in the dictionary. At least it doesn't look like a one-off to me…

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