KY: Not what Seiyu thinks it means

Seiyu is a discount supermarket/general retail store that’s owned and operated by Walmart. Since first investing in the chain in 2002 and eventually taking a 95% stake, Walmart has reportedly never managed to make the stores profitable. I am not here to judge why that might be, but today shopping there I came across some evidence of why they might be having trouble making headway in the Japan market:


The letters KY are apparently intended to stand for “kakaku yasuku” (low prices), which would make the whole phrase “non-stop low prices” a translation of Walmart’s “Everyday Low Prices” slogan into Japanized English. Ironically enough, someone must not have realized that “KY” in Japan was last year’s buzzword and literally means failing to respond appropriately to the situation at hand.

Since a couple was joking about it on their way in, I can be sure I wasn’t the only one in on the joke.

11 thoughts on “KY: Not what Seiyu thinks it means”

  1. I find it hard to believe their ad people would not be aware of the original 流行語. I think it’s much more likely that they’re intentionally referencing it but simply not doing that great a job.

  2. I considered that possibility for a moment but then thought it just couldn’t be. I mean, they don’t just admit to being KY but go on to claim that their KY never stops…

    At least no one on the Japanese blogosphere seems to have missed the humor:

    Maybe it’s their attempt at viral marketing though it’s hard to see how people will remember that KY is supposed to stand for low prices.

  3. I actually think it’s a good advertisement. It draws the attention of people and makes them double check the advertisement to find out why the hell they are using “KY” in the advertisement. Without the KY, few would probably bother looking at the ad.

    (I am a regular Seiyu shopper, and find their prices pretty good on a lot of items.)

  4. I would agree with Aaron… they could not possibly NOT know about the current slang meaning. Seems clear they are playing off it.


  5. Seiyu isn’t close enough for me to be a regular, but they definitely have the best deals on beef and a few other items.

  6. I assumed the original joke was about KY Jelly. I had totally forgotten about last year’s BS buzzword (BSBW for short!)

  7. KY in big letters is obviously there to call attention to the ad, which it certainly succeeds in doing because it was so popular last year. But they are giving it another meaning : as the kanji reaading under it shows, “kakaku yasuku” does NOT mean “non-stop low prices”. It actually means “value” + “low prices”, so it is NOT a bad, literal translation of “everyday low prices”. And by the way, Seiyu now has changed the “meaning” of KY, which now stands for “kawai – yasui”, which I guess needs no translation.

  8. I didnt realize my interpretation could spark so much fury. Actually the poster says “non-stop KY” and kakaku does literally mean the sticker price of an item, not the concept of value, so I think my original idea that it means more or less the same thing as “everyday low prices” isnt so off the mark, especially since Seiyu stores appear to price their items similarly to Walmart stores, ie with no special discount cards or coupons.

    I’ll admit I was just guessing (and I was probably wrong to think they used KY without knowledge of the original meaning), but do you have some kind of evidence or inside knowledge that the reasoning behind the logo is closer to your interpretation than mine? Also, I didnt say it was a bad translation, I said it was a Japanized English translation, by which I mean the poster is all in romaji and uses phrases that seem like English but are actually Japanese. You can see this sort of mixture of English loan words and exoticized Japanese words all over Japan.

    Reference: Dictionary definition of “kakaku”

  9. First, let me apologize if you see any “fury” in my reply. I can assure you no such fury was intended. And I apologize in advance also for this lenghty explanation, which would be of interest only to people with a deep interest in language.

    Second, you are right that the basic meaning of the phrase is more or less the equivalent of “everyday low prices”; however, I have to disagree about the meaning you are giving to “kakaku”; true, in most cases, “kakaku” does mean “price”, but that is not its only meaning; one its other meanings happens to be “value” (check the first line of the yahoo link you provided); also, check Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC [], which does have actual examples of kakaku translated as “value” in compound words).

    Very few words in any language can be rendered by just one concept when translated into another language. In the end, it always depends on the context. In this case, the full context (and explanation) is provided by the sentence that appears just under the phrase in question : 24 jikan, 365 nichi, “kakaku yasuku” wa tomaranai. If the meaning of “kakaku” is “price”, then the following word (yasuku) becomes redundant, as the word “price”, even though not actually spelled out, is already understood in the word “yasuku”.

    With this in mind, as a translator and interpreter with close to four decades of experience, I just feel “kakaku” has to have another meaning than “price” or “sticker price”, otherwise, what would be the point of saying “non-stop price / cheap (price)”. But give “kakaku” the meaning “value”, and you end up with a Japanese slogan that is actually one up on the original, as it says (Seiyu) offers not only cheap prices but also quality at those low prices , which would translate to something like “non-stop (good) value and low (prices). (And to refer to another point you mentioned, the “Japanized” feeling of the phrase probably stems from the use of “non-stop”, i.e. no native speaker would use such a phrase phrase to qualify “value” or “price” : what’s a non-stop low price?)

    Finally, as to whether the people who devised the ad (or anyone living in Japan, for that matter) could not have known “last year’s” meaning of “KY”, James has the best explanation for that, and I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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