« previous post | next post »

Nathan Hopson sent in this photo (from Nagoya, Japan, but there are similar stores all over Japan):

Nathan was unable to get an interior photo, but there is a company website, of course.

Starvations is a kids' boutique of sorts, and appears to be owned by a company called Cozy. From their company history page (here, Japanese only), Babydoll is the clothing brand and Starvations is the chain of stores.

"Cozy" and "Babydoll" make some sense, and there are some explanations about brand image, etc., on the site, but no clue anywhere as to why the company chose the name Starvations.

Apart from the mystifying name, another thing that struck me powerfully is that, in their stores and on their website, there is so much English (both in Roman letters and in katakana) that I wondered who they were targeting — foreigners or Japanese?

Nathan notes:

They are definitely targeting Japanese. One thing I noticed in the mall (first time I'd been to a Japanese mall in more than a decade, I think) was that all but one of the store names were in English or at least Roman letters. The exception was San Marc Cafe, which is an older cafe chain. I assume that this is in part the result of a kind of "inflation pressure" caused by the increasing number of international brand stores (just in this mall I saw Sports Authority, LL Bean, Timberland, etc.). The Japanese stores have to "keep up" with the cachet.
Things change once you get inside, though. The brand names are symbols, just new "kanji" to remember. But almost all of the items are labeled in katakana.
[VHM:  Since they are mostly in katakana, they are probably largely transcriptions of English as well]

So we know a fair amount about this store, but I still have no clue about its name, unless it's the same type as this one: Selfish. Be selfish; we know that you're starving for our clothing and accessories.


  1. AG said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 9:21 pm

    Get ready for a weirder pair of explanations than you probably could have imagined… My Japanese is really bad, but these guys on Twitter seem to have noticed that:

    a) It's one syllable away from being identical to "masturbation" in katakana

    b) the starvation angle (and this seems absurdly convoluted to me, but I'm not Japanese & anything's possible) could be related to "hungry ghost", or "gaki", which is also a common Japanese term for bratty kid.

  2. Steve B said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 9:31 pm

    One Japanese mall store has hit the US, complete with katakana in the corporate logo: The name itself appears to be a nonsense word made to look English.

    This isn't new. I'm not sure if Sony (ソニー) was the first, but they did it back in the sixties.

    Also, I could have sworn I read an article here about how all Japanese car companies use Roman lettering.

  3. AG said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 9:35 pm

    Steve –

    I don't have time to find sources for it at the moment, but I'm pretty sure "UNIQLO" is a portmanteau/abbreviation of "unique clothing"

  4. Ex Tex said,

    November 30, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

    My conjecture is that the store name is a poor translation of "hungers", as a synonym for "desires". If there's not already a US store called "Desires", there undoubtedly will be one soon.

    Since my Japanese vocabulary is minuscule, though, it's pure conjecture (based on similar Chinglish errors).

  5. Steve Tripp said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 12:09 am

    A Japanese woman once said to me;" We Japanese don't learn English to talk to you. We learn it to talk to other Japanese."

  6. Matt said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 12:59 am

    The katakana, スターベイションズ, looks a bit like a portmanteau of "star" + "ba[by doll]" + "[disney collec]tion" + "s". Maybe they were messing around with a combination of the brands they focus on, and then realized "Hey, that's pretty close to a real word, might as well use that."

  7. Brian Hillcoat said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 4:26 am

    UNIQLO has also arrived here in Berlin but it doesn't sound so great on the German street. 'Klo' is colloquial German for bathroom (from Klosett), so the brand sounds rather like it's a unisex toilet.

  8. Chris Kern said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 7:56 am

    From what I can tell, a number of Japanese people are also confused by the choice of name. They don't seem to have any idea why it was chosen either. The best guess seems to be that it is somehow associated with "gaki" (kid/brat); one person wondered if it was somehow "star" + "baby" + "station" but that seems farfetched.

  9. TonyK said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 8:31 am

    My money is on "STAR INVASION" shortened to "STARVASION" and put through a spell-checker.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    December 1, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

    From a colleague:

    Wow, Victor, just wow. I thought one of your responses was particularly worth taking note of: the commenter pointed out that all such English isn’t meant for English speakers anyway; it’s meant for other Japanese.

    And many of the “words” are not English anyway, just English-like. My Japanese colleague tells me that oftentimes ad words in Japanese text are from the outset simply meaningless and uninterpretable, and deliberately so; they are simply added to give the reader the impression that the company is hip and attractive through a “word” shape and appearance that Japanese find attractive.

  11. AG said,

    December 2, 2014 @ 5:04 am

    Matt's definitely got the right idea. So many words in Japanese (pseudo-) English involve "star" (Starbucks, rockstar, etc.) and so many end in "-tion" that this probably seemed like a slam dunk, particularly with that hint of "baby" in the middle.

  12. John Rohsenow said,

    December 3, 2014 @ 4:05 am

    I believe that most Americans believe that DATSUN is a Japanese word, but someone pointed out to me many years ago that it cannot be, and
    in fact is pronounced by Japanese spkrs as "Datosan". Anyone know where
    DATSUN came from?

  13. Keith said,

    December 3, 2014 @ 8:35 am

    @John Rohsenow
    Wikipedia has a rather good article explaining the name.

  14. Nathan Myers said,

    December 3, 2014 @ 11:50 pm

    Usually Datsun is explained as an interrogative exclamation by a Yiddish PR consultant on being told he must come up with a good, marketable brand name before end of business the following day. The customer was pleased with his quick service.

  15. Michael said,

    December 7, 2014 @ 8:13 am

    If katakana is the origin, then star+baby+station isn't too far-fetched. A Japanese search on Google pulls up a number posts suggesting that as the basis of the name, so it's at least crossed the mind of some native-speakers.

RSS feed for comments on this post