‘Fukuppy’ the Japanese refrigerator mascot lost in translation

16/10/2013 | Hayley

The Japanese tradition of having a cute corporate mascot went somewhat awry this week when a new character got lost in translation.

Fukushima Industries makes refrigerators and freezers – and has nothing to do with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was the site of a nuclear disaster in 2011. Despite the rather un-glamorous nature of the business, it describes itself as being a “happiness creation company”. To help illustrate this, in April it unveiled its new mascot – a smiling egg with red shoes and angel wings.

The egg greets customers by admitting it is a little “scatter-brained” but has a “strong sense of justice”. However, it wasn’t the character’s moral compass that prompted sniggers in English-speaking countries, but its name – Fukuppy.

According to Fukushima Industries, the transliteration of the original Japanese rendering of the name was chosen because it combined the name of the firm with the word “happy”. As happiness is an integral part of its image, it seemed an obvious choice. However, the translators may not have realised how the word would read in English.

Within a short time of the mascot being unveiled with its new English name, it had become an internet hit. Memes appeared taking advantage of the translation mishap and soon Fukuppy was appearing on the computer screens of more than just those who wanted to buy a fridge.

Fukushima Industries has now withdrawn the English name of the mascot. In a statement, it apologised “profusely” and said: “It seems that the transliteration of the name of our corporate mascot into the English alphabet has been mistakenly associated with some unsavoury words by people living in English-speaking countries.” It noted that it would be reconsidering what the name of the mascot should be, along with the transliteration of it.

However, as Fukushima Industries describes itself as a creator of happiness, it would seem Fukuppy achieved exactly what it was supposed to. There are few who would argue that the little egg didn’t spread joy across the internet this week.

Of course, this is not the first time a company’s brand has become lost in translation with slightly distasteful results. When Scandinavian household appliance manufacturer Electrolux began marketing its products in English-speaking countries it used the slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. While it’s obvious what the phrase meant, the slang meaning of “sucks” in the US put a whole new spin on it – although there are those who say the company was aware of this and hoped it would make its name memorable.

A US computer company also discovered how local slang can act against you when, in the 1970s, it attempted to promote its dedication to customer satisfaction in the UK. Wang Computers’ choice of the phrase “Wang cares” was always going to mean something other than what was intended among Britons.

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