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Turning Japanese

by

The Vapors



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

One of the more misinterpreted songs of all time, word was that "Turning Japanese" refers to the Oriental facial features people get at the moment of climax during masturbation. In a VH1 True Spin special, they asked The Vapors about this song, and they explained that it is a love song about someone who lost their girlfriend and was going slowly crazy. Lead singer Dave Fenton said: "Turning Japanese is all the clich├ęs about angst and youth and turning into something you didn't expect to." It was inspired by Fenton's relationship problems.
That recognizable opening riff repeated a few places in the song is actually called "the oriental riff" (example here). It is often used when a Western song wants to invoke the Far East; other popular examples are Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" and Siouxsie and the Banshees' "Hong Kong Garden."
The Vapors were a British pub-rock group formed by David Fenton (vocals), Edward Bazalgette (guitar), Steve Smith (bass) and Howard Smith (drums). They were discovered and managed by Bruce Foxton of the Jam. Ironically The Vapors enjoyed a bigger hit in America with this song than The Jam would ever have. The Vapors' did not chart again in the US, however they had a couple of other minor hits in the UK. After releasing another album in 1981 they called it quits. After the band disbanded Fenton retired from creating music and went to work in the music industry as a lawyer. Bazalgette became a television producer at the BBC.
This song turns up in the weirdest places, like in an episode of Bill Nye: The Science Guy where it was Weird-Al'd into a song about electricity. A Dr. Pepper commercial uses the tune, as does a commercial for KFC restaurants where it's sung on karaoke. The song also featured in the films Romy And Michele's High School Reunion (1997) and Charlie's Angels (2000).
This song topped the Australian charts for two weeks. It was also a minor hit in Japan.
A commonly misheard lyric is at the end of the bridge, "Everyone avoids me like a psyched lone ranger." It is not "Everyone avoids me like a psycho-ranger."
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Comments (50):

It was also used in 'Sixteen Candles.'
- esskayess, Dallas, TX
This is about a guy in prison looking at a girl's picture: He pretty clearly sings "I'd like a million of ya over my cell," watch the video, he says "my cell," not "myself". Then there's the "no drugs no sex no wine no women no fun," etc. And, everyone around him is a total stranger... And yeah he's masturbating: "I'm turning in I'm turning 'round" = going to bed and turning to look at her picture.
Also notice how he replaces the "l" with an "r" when he sings "I (r)ove you too," immitating a Japanese accent.
- Jack, Mesa, AZ
If the real interpretation was known back then the bbc would have never aired it......great fun though.....
- pj, dublin, Ireland
This song is about a guy going crazy after losing his girlfriend. They saw a Japanese guy going crazy in an old movie, so they decided to use that as a metaphor.
- Simon, Atlanta, GA
This is actually a pretty tough song on guitar (but fun) and I can play alot of "reign in blood".
- tim, okc, OK
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I firmly believe that the song is about jerking it.
- Joel, Boston, MA
i never really cared to understand the premise of the lyrics during the 80's. Sometime during the 90's i was curious enough to seek out what the hell was being song. Now, (early 21st Century) i racked my intellectual brain tring to analyze some sort of meaning to the song. Once i got a WiFi connection, i goggled it and was actually surprised at what i found. During the 12 min car ride without the internet i had come to a theory that "turining Japanese" was a metaphor for goin crazy, wanna/gonna kill someone/everyone...hence Kamizaze!!! Why he was goin kamizaze? "no sex, no drugs, no wine, no women..." ---- In conclusion, masterbation is NOT the premise, it was merely the effect. The cause or reason which propelled the lyrics was a break-up or loss of a lover.
- Cindy, San Francisco, CA
I THINK THIS SONG IS ABOUT FALLING IN LOVE AND FINDING IT CHANGES YOU AS A PERSON, ie Japanese BUT THEN,
"No sex, no drugs, no wine, no women
No fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it's dark
Everyone around me is a total stranger
Everyone avoids me like a cyclone Ranger
Everyone...
That's why I'm turning Japanese
I think I'm turning Japanese
I really think so
Turning Japanese
I think I'm turning Japanese
I really think so
I'm turning Japanese
I think I'm turning Japanese
I really think so
Turning Japanese
I think I'm turning Japanese
I really think so"
THEY REALIZE THAT THE OTHER PERSON ISN'T QUITE IN LOVE WITH THEM AND BAM, ITS STARTS REFERING a little bit TO MASTURBATION.
- Heather, Peachland, BC
On a side note, now I have begun to question all song lyrics. What is 'Jizz in my Pants' really about? http://www.yourdictionary.com/wotd/jizz
"Leo, since you had that bad haircut and the surgery on your knee, you have developed a unique jizz." Not so clear cut anymore.....
- Matt, Tijuana, Mexico
Yeah, of course if they say it's not about masturbation, then it isn't. Just like how Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds isn't about acid. When you get older (and you're a one hit wonder) you probably don't want to be known as the masturbation song guy.
- Matt, Tijuana, Mexico
I agree with Carla from LA; Dave Fenton's "developed a bit of mid-life, hind-sight conservativism" and doesn't want his legacy to be about masturbation. Sorry Dave, but I'd have more respect for you if you said it was. Turning Japanese IS about the proactive pursuit of blindness." Or Godzilla vs. Rhodan... I forget.
- Big D, Huntington Beach, CA
I always loved this song- I liked the music best.
- J, Pittsburgh, PA
Alas! America just did not get it.This is one of the all time classix of that era and the USA failed to see it.I love this song,why?well because I just love it.But serious people come along with ethnicity problems and mess up our fun.
- john, Brisbane, United States
I agree with DC I had to check this out myself. Someone was too kind and posted that video of "True Spin" on the You Tube. Let us be clear, it is NOT about masturbation. Simply about being crazy in love and then feeling like turing into someone else. But, why in heavens does this have to be "Japanese"?
- Eugene, Minneapolis, MN
What's with this "Cyclone Ranger" nonsense? The original lyric is "psyched Lone Ranger". It's perfectly clear on the original vinyl sleeve and even on the re-released CD liner lyrics. And the argument about whether this is about wanking has long since been settled - it isn't.
- Colin, Vancouver, BC
Some of you (over 40 and Catholic) may recall being warned as kids that your eyes would permanently "turn slanty" (among other horrors) if you masterbated? So, Will, I don't think it's "I think I'm turning Japanese (masturbating), I really THINK so.", rather "I think I'm turning Japanese (because I'm masturbating too much), I really THINK so." That makes more sense. The writer contradicts himself a bit. He says he didn't intend it to be about "wanking" (What else could it possibly mean??), but also says, "It could be about a lot of things." So maybe it's not about wanking per se, but is about what happens when you wank too much. I'm betting we're right and that he's just developed a bit of mid-life, hind-sight conservativism. That happens to the best of us.
- Carla, Los Angeles, CA
this song is awesome no matter what its about! and you would have to ask the vapors yourself on what it means or if it even has a meaning cause most songs dont have meanings, if they have a good tune?riff thats all that matters to most bands as long as they get money
- Avery, Bucksport, ME
What makes you think just because someone has a sex life they don't still masturbate, Mark?
- renee, bloomington, MN
How come you Einsteins think every song in here is about whacking?Ive seen at least 20 songs in here where people post they are about spanking the monkey. Why would all these bands that are getting laid 24/7 make so many records about whacking off?Think about it.Your world may revolve around the hand but not everyones does.
- Mark, byrdstown, TN
songs about yankin on hank for sure...one hit wonder and very catchy tune!
- carl, baltimore, MD
also the group had minor follow up hits with news at ten and jimmie jones both peaking at uk#44
- jeff, liverpool, England
the vapors were managed by the jam bassist bruce foxton who had going underground at no 1 at the time turning japanese reached it's #2 uk peak
- jeff, liverpool, England
I think it makes sense both ways...masturbation ..turning japanese=im coming...breaking up and losing ur identity= turning into someone else...... and the band wouldnt always necesarily know what they were singing about unless they wrote it...
- Amanda, Plymouth, WI
Cyclone isn't "one-eyed" Cyclops is "one-eyed" Josh from New York.
- H, New York, NY
Liz Phair did a pretty cool cover of this song on her Juvinalia E.P.
- Chris, Meridian, ID
Just to clarify, the lyrics are not "cyclone ranger." They are "psyched Lone Ranger."
- Will, South Portland, ME
Joe from Bahrain...

seriously, a "cyclone ranger?" a one-eyed soldier... think about it...
your shlong.
- Josh, New York, NY
To tell the truth, I like the song, but never listened to the lyrics so really, I think I should have a look before I actually take a side in this argument.
- Josh, Boca Raton, FL
My hubby sings this song with altered lyrics, "I think I'm turning Pekinese"
- Angie, Ocean Springs, MS
I always loved this song when I was younger, but I never had a clue what it was about. After reading all of the comments posted, I can see both sides of the "Masturbation or Break-up" argument. Me, I think it's probably about having a spank, but what the hell is a "Cyclone Ranger" and why are they avoided?
- Joe, Currently - Bahrain, Other
It's not unusual for a band to put out a cover story about the meaning of a song to keep their record company happy. The same happened with Queen's "Death on Two Legs" and "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Mind you, if the truth about this song had been made public, it probably would have been banned by the BBC and hence made No. 1, exactly as Relax did.
- Stu, Fife, Scotland
Seems there still an awful lot of repression, wooly thinking and illiteracy out there guys, reading all the foregoing. "Virgina"! Love it! Well of course it's about belting one off, even if the Vapors guy denies it now, and why not write a song about it? All human life is up for grabs in the world of the artist. Yes, the rictus grimace and the narrowed eyes, plus the furtive sense of guilt and alienation are all part of the wanking experience. All normal people do it and no-one is particularly proud of it: a bit like picking your nose if you like....The record still cracks me up every time. And Will (Portland, OR)- it's not supposed to be a synonym for masturbation, but the visual result of it. Shape up!
- Robbo, Brighton, England
Its not a song about Masturbation.It is a song about a man that masturbates.I looked at myself in the mirror while i was doing it and Yes,i do make Oriental Facial Features.I really thought i was Turning Japanese.
- Terry, Northampton, England
I always assumed the picyure was a porno picture, but it said that both of them are in the picture. I dunno
- Collin, newburgh, IN
How can you know all the lyrics and not think it's about masturbations:
"you wrote I love you-I love me too,"
- Ralph, Newton, MA
When one is indulging in the act of onanism, one is turning into another person. You forget your morals, your forget yourself. This song is ambiguous.
- no one, bodmin, England
What a fun song, and who cares if it's about masturbation or not!! Don't people have better things to do. "Dancing with Myself" by Billy Idol is suppose to be about self pleasure as well. My goodness, we wouldn't want that, now would we?
- Dee, Indianapolis, IN
very catchy...
- Marlon, NYC, NY
I can't say for sure if the song was originally a reference to masturbation, but the term "turning Japanese" is now synonomous with "putting on your O-face"
- Eric, Cincinnati, OH
<> That explanation is a good case of turning Japanese.
- Nessie, Sapporo, Japan
"I've got your picture, I've got your picture
I'd like a million of you all to myself
I want a doctor to take your picture
So I can look at you from inside as well"

"You've got me turning oh I'm turning yeah I'm turning now I'm
turning that..."

if you are a normal teenager you will definetely figure out that this is a song about masturbation"
- Randy, Cabimas, South America
Well it's hard to say. But part of the song "No sex no drugs no wine no women no fun no sin no you no wonder it's dark." and "Everyone around me is a total stranger everyone avoids me like a cyclone ranger." It does sound like he is changing into another person.
I still think it is about masturbation too.
- Mike, Winnipeg, Canada
You people are sick! It's about breaking up like he said.
- Derek, Carmel, IN
It is about a man who just had his heart broken from his now ex-girlfriend. In public he starts kissing a picture of his ex-girlfriend and eventually masturbates to the picture in a dark allyway thinking everybody is seeing him. He is, "Turning Japanese" as a metaphor for the loose sex laws on censorship and undertaking of the act.

Until 1998, anyone could have sex legally in Japan. After 1998, is it now illegal to have sex if your under 13 in Japan. Sex used to be completly uncensored on television in Japan --- unless you considered late adult programming censorship. Now they must censor the virgina and penis but back in 1980 it was even looser then it is today.

I don't think everybody, or at least me gets, "Oriental facial features" while masturbating, but again, that's just me.
- Ethan, Franklin, WI
awesome song...i hope it isn't about jerking off...thats gross
- Shana, Pembroke, Canada
It wouldn't make any sense if turning japanese means jacking off. Then these would be the lyrics
I think I'm masturbating, I think I'm masturbating, I really THINK so.

You don't THINK your masturbating, you KNOW your masturbating
- Will, Portland, OR
Incubus recorded a version of this song.
- Randell, Mounds, OK
I'm turning japanese is not a euphemism for having a wank and is an american urban myth.

In an interview Andy Fenton the writer, says he didnt mean it as wanking.

Goto parengstrom.com/vapors.htm then goto stories.
- Kumagoro, London, England
yeah i just read the lyrics and it seems about masterbation to me
- jason, wylie, TX
On VH-1's "True Spin", the Vapors said it DOESN'T refer to masturbation. It's about a breakup and how the individual "loses themself" and turns into somebody else, ie turning Japanese. Me? I still think it's about masturbation!
- DC, Hilo, HI
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