When a drink gets lost in translation

Pokka Image copyright POKKA SAPPORO

Would you help yourself to a beverage labelled Free Tea?

That was the choice one shopper made recently at a Japanese convenience store.

The non-Japanese man was seen openly drinking from a bottle of lemon iced tea which he had taken from the shelf, resulting in an argument with store staff.

"What did I do that was wrong? It's written right there on the label," he apparently questioned angrily.

After an explanation by the cashier, it became evident that it was all lost in translation. Free Tea was the brand name, not an offer of a complimentary drink.

Image copyright Twitter: Domoboku
Image caption Twitter user Domoboku stepped in to help resolve the dispute

The formerly outraged man sheepishly replied: "The store should change its label."

The heated argument was witnessed by Twitter user Domoboku in Tokyo, real name Akiyama Kojiro, who shared his account with his followers.

He told BBC News he had tried to help translating for the foreigner and the staffer, but there was a "bad atmosphere".

His take on the episode generated more than 34,000 retweets and was liked by more than 18,500 users, with people sharing their own experiences of linguistic confusion.

Image copyright @yuichiroyummy
Image caption @yuichiroyummy noted that free newspapers are also distributed in Japanese convenience stores
Image copyright @orotiyamata
Image caption One Twitter user explained that in Japan, "free" more commonly means without stress than without cost

The confusingly named tea is a product of Japanese beverage giant Pokka Sapporo.

The drink "encourages people to be free from a stress-filled society," read an official description on its site.

Mr Kojiro, noted the "irony" of it drink's name and health properties, because the beverage clearly did the opposite in this case.

"This tea ended up causing a stressful problem for both the traveller who came all the way to Japan and an honest shopkeeper," he mused.

The abundance of freebies in Japan, like free oolong tea at restaurants and pocket tissues distributed on the streets, could have added to the confusion, he said.

Image copyright @kazooooya
Image caption Not everyone was sympathetic - this tweet pointed out there was clearly a price tag on the shelf below

"Foreigners may misunderstand what a wonderful and free country Japan is!"

He also said that Japanese people too were often sometimes confused by language.

"There are many examples of odd Japanese translations," he said.

"Everyone make mistakes. And I want to emphasise that using foreign languages, we need to be generous and understand each other."

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