Turning Japanese

Album: New Clear Days (1980)
Charted: 3 36
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  • One of the more misinterpreted songs of all time, word was that "Turning Japanese" refers to the Asian 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 clichés 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), Beverly Hills Ninja (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."
  • Kirsten Dunst recorded this song for a video that was shown at a 2009 exhibition in London called Pop Life: Art In A Material World. The video was directed by McG (Charlie's Angels, Terminator Salvation) and shot in Tokyo, where Dunst performs as a Japanese schoolgirl.

Comments: 63

  • Jones from U.s.aIt played every morning on the buss ride to school
  • David from Los AngelesThe Vapors don't have a lock on the phrase, "turning Japanese", so regardless of their interpretation or definition of the phrase, it does indeed now mean something else as well.
  • Jonathan from CaliforniaSo many funny comments here! The song is obviously about a guy in prison who is a lunatic and obsessed with some playmate and is staring at her centerfold on his wall and jacking off to it. I love you is evocative of a typical comment written on centerfolds. Everyone around him is a stranger because he's in prison and doesn't know or talk to anyone, and they avoid him because he's crazy. Which is probably a good thing actually, keep that in mind in the unfortunate case that such a situation should ever arise for you. The idea that this song is about someone who is forlorn about his girlfriend leaving him is totally hairbrained. Even the most polite person couldn't listen to that explanation with a straight face. Songwriters like to use double entendres and parallel interpretations to be edgy and provide cover for their perverse lyrics, but everybody knows what's really going on. Pull up to the bumper baby in your long black limousine, yeah sure that's about a guy "driving" his "big black car" into a "tight parking spot". LOL!!!
  • Chuck from CharlotteI have no doubt the song is about masturbation. Most of the clues have been mentioned but I can’t believe nobody has addressed the line “I asked your doctor to take your picture so I can look at you from inside as well.” C’mon! Her doctor is an OB/GYN and the picture is an image of the interior of her vagina. So he can look at her from inside as well. Get it? And don’t try to say it’s an x-ray because the lyrics could easily have been “I asked your doctor to take an x-ray so I can look at you from inside as well.”
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenTim, I thought was "cyclone ranger," too. Sounds like the name of a bicycle.
  • Roy from NorthDoes someone has a clue what was the exact release date of the song? I mean, date and month..
  • Ogre from Wichita, Ks.Please remember this song was written in 1979 or 1980. At that time it was a very common "Stereotype" to see Japanese with cameras taking pictures of everything!!! In the song he is OBSESSED with her picture. And wants more and more and more of her... It was a description by the band members WAY WAY back in the early 80's on MTV. He's "Turning Japanese" because of this obsession with the pictures.

    It has nothing to do with masturbation you perverts! heh heh heh heh Sheeeeeesh...

    The more common understanding of the time was that this guy was in prison so he could not see her. Might have been a pen-pal letter where he got her picture with "I love you" written on it in Jail. But, there was never ANY thought of the whole masturbation going around today. Likely started by TROLLS looking to cause trouble like this! ;-)

    Turning Japanese simply refers to the picture taking frenzy he's in... he's "Turning Japanese". Really quite Simple. sigh... ()
  • Luke from Manchester, Uk1. It IS Cyclone Ranger
    2. Jack - you're an idiot.
  • Barry from Gagetown NbIt was always somewhat interesting as a novelty song ... I dare not take the time to count how many times the title is sang.
  • Bruce from San Jose, Calif.I first travelled to Japan the year this song was released....hilarious timing...

    As Japan was in its industrial ascendancy and buying out American businesses and real estate...the lyric "I'm turning Japanese - I really think so!" had added meaning for me at the time...
  • Brent from AustraliaThe lyric at the end of the bridge is "Everyone avoids me like a cyclone ranger". It is a reference to the 1935 cowboy film, "The Cyclone Ranger" - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0026253/
  • Circe801 from Rock Hill, ScI always thought it was "cyclone ranger" LOL!!!
  • Tim from Northfield, MnI always heard the "psyched lone ranger" line as "cyclone ranger".
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxIt was also used in 'Sixteen Candles.'
  • Jack from Mesa, AzThis 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.
  • Pj from Dublin, IrelandIf the real interpretation was known back then the bbc would have never aired it......great fun though.....
  • Simon from Atlanta, GaThis 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.
  • Tim from Okc, OkThis is actually a pretty tough song on guitar (but fun) and I can play alot of "reign in blood".
  • Joel from Boston, MaEveryone is entitled to their own opinions. I firmly believe that the song is about jerking it.
  • Cindy from San Francisco, Cai 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.
    "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
    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"
  • Matt from Tijuana, MexicoOn 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 from Tijuana, MexicoYeah, 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.
  • Big D from Huntington Beach, CaI 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.
  • J from Pittsburgh, PaI always loved this song- I liked the music best.
  • John from Brisbane, United StatesAlas! 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.
  • Eugene from Minneapolis, MnI 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"?
  • Colin from Vancouver, BcWhat'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.
  • Carla from Los Angeles, CaSome 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.
  • Avery from Bucksport, Methis 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
  • Renee from Bloomington, MnWhat makes you think just because someone has a sex life they don't still masturbate, Mark?
  • Mark from Byrdstown, TnHow 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.
  • Carl from Baltimore, Mdsongs about yankin on hank for sure...one hit wonder and very catchy tune!
  • Jeff from Liverpool, Englandalso the group had minor follow up hits with news at ten and jimmie jones both peaking at uk#44
  • Jeff from Liverpool, Englandthe 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
  • Amanda from Plymouth, WiI 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...
  • H from New York, NyCyclone isn't "one-eyed" Cyclops is "one-eyed" Josh from New York.
  • Chris from Meridian, IdLiz Phair did a pretty cool cover of this song on her Juvinalia E.P.
  • Will from South Portland, MeJust to clarify, the lyrics are not "cyclone ranger." They are "psyched Lone Ranger."
  • Josh from New York, NyJoe from Bahrain...

    seriously, a "cyclone ranger?" a one-eyed soldier... think about it...
    your shlong.
  • Josh from Boca Raton, FlTo 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.
  • Angie from Ocean Springs, MsMy hubby sings this song with altered lyrics, "I think I'm turning Pekinese"
  • Joe from Currently - Bahrain, OtherI 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?
  • Stu from Fife, ScotlandIt'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.
  • Robbo from Brighton, EnglandSeems 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!
  • Terry from Northampton, EnglandIts 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.
  • Collin from Newburgh, InI always assumed the picyure was a porno picture, but it said that both of them are in the picture. I dunno
  • Ralph from Newton, MaHow can you know all the lyrics and not think it's about masturbations:
    "you wrote I love you-I love me too,"
  • No One from Bodmin, EnglandWhen 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.
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InWhat 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?
  • Marlon from Nyc, Nyvery catchy...
  • Eric from Cincinnati, OhI 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"
  • Nessie from Sapporo, Japan<> That explanation is a good case of turning Japanese.
  • Randy from Cabimas, South America"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"

  • Mike from Winnipeg, CanadaWell 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.
  • Derek from Carmel, InYou people are sick! It's about breaking up like he said.
  • Ethan from Franklin, WiIt 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.
  • Shana from Pembroke, Canadaawesome song...i hope it isn't about jerking off...thats gross
  • Will from Portland, OrIt 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
  • Randell from Mounds, OkIncubus recorded a version of this song.
  • Kumagoro from London, EnglandI'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.
  • Jason from Wylie, Txyeah i just read the lyrics and it seems about masterbation to me
  • Dc from Hilo, HiOn 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!
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