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Is there a better way to start your day than with a nice plate of Italian wind salad and “near the broil with salt?”

So I recently took a trip up to Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands. It’s really a beautiful place, and after a long first day of sightseeing, a soak in the hotel’s hot spring bath, and a good night’s sleep, I woke up the next morning hungry and ready to hit the buffet.

In recent years, Hokkaido has been seeing more and more foreign travelers. It’s an especially popular destination for southeast Asian visitors, many of whom don’t have the opportunity to see snow or alpine scenery in their home countries, and the island’s wide open spaces also draw Western tourists who want to see a less-crowded side of Japan than its congested urban centers.

Because of that, the dining options at the hotel’s breakfast buffet were labeled in multiple languages, an extremely helpful bit of hospitality for customers who can’t read Japanese. For the most part, the translations were spot-on, but then I came across something labeled “Italian wind warm saladt.”

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Okay, that terminal T is obviously a typo tacked on to “salad,” but where the heck did “wind” come from? Maybe there’re some answers inside the tray…

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Nope, no wind in there – just cabbage and salami. So is “wind” a mistranslation?

Well, yes and no. Right in the middle of the sign for the dish is the kanji character 風, which is indeed how you write kaze, the Japanese word for “wind.”

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If you looked up each Japanese word in the dish’s name individually in a dictionary, “Italian,” “wind,” “warm,” and “salad” are exactly what you’d find. However, 風 can also be read as fuu, which means “style.” For example, wafuu sweets are Japanese-style sweets (wa being a word used to refer to Japan).

So really, this isn’t an Italian wind salad, but an Italian-style one.

Okay, that’s one mystery solved. But a couple more steps down the buffet line, there was this.

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“Near the broil with salt?” That’s…not even a noun! How can you be serving people a prepositional phrase for breakfast? Where’s the nutritional value in that?

Okay, let’s lift up the lid and peek inside…

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…where we find…

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…stir-fried noodles?

So how did this happen? Well, let’s go back to the sign.

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First we’ve got 塩, which is the kanji for shio, or “salt.” OK, so far so good. Then we’ve got 焼き, yaki, which comes from yaku, which means to broil, roast, or sauté something (Japanese traditionally doesn’t differentiate between the three). Finally we’ve got そば, read soba, and that’s where the English translation unravels.

See, soba has two possible meanings. One of them is a type of noodle, but the other means “next to,” “adjacent to,” or “near.” While the soba for noodles can be written in kanji characters as 蕎麦, those kanji are kind of a pain to write, even for Japanese people, as so the noodle soba often gets written in phonetic hiragana, like it is here. But using the phonetic writing means online dictionaries or translation tools can’t differentiate between which homonym you’re trying to use, and apparently the first result was for “near,” which is why the sign ended up as “near the broil with salt” when it should have been “salty stir-fried noodles.”

Still, aside from these two hiccups, all of the English signs were accurate and easy to understand, and a godsend for travelers not in the mood to test their Japanese reading comprehension skills first thing in the morning (and on an empty stomach, no less). So again, hats off to this hotel for taking the time to make their guests more comfortable at the start of their day.

▼ I just wish the sign mentioned there were mushrooms, my most hated adversary, mixed in with the noodles.

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Follow Casey on Twitter to learn more about how deeply, deeply he hates mushrooms.

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