HOME Tokyo and Surroundings Tokyo Tokyo's Surrounding Areas 'Say what?' 20 Cool Words that Only Exist in Japanese
Date published: 15 October 2020
Last updated: 17 February 2021
There are loads of funny, colorful, and cool Japanese words that just don’t have a direct translation into English.
Japan has a long and rich history, and its famously complex language reflects that. The language of a country can give you perspective on and insight into the culture and attitudes of the people that use it.
Naturally, there are a plethora of words in Japanese that simply don’t have a one-to-one English equivalent. They range all the way from the hilarious to the poetic to the spiritual.
These cool Japanese words are all sure to put a smile on your face, and most if not all will have you wondering, “why don’t we have a word for that in English!?”
1. KY (adj.)
The English letters ‘KY’ are used as a shorthand for the Japanese phrase “kūki yomenai”, meaning “can’t read the room,” or more literally, “can’t read the air.” You can say a person is KY if they are socially awkward or inappropriate.
Japan has a very high context culture, which means that a lot of social interactions involve suggesting things indirectly, inferring implied meaning, and not speaking frankly or saying things outright.
If this is at odds with your own cultural background, you might find Japanese conversation a little challenging to navigate at first! In the meantime, you may, unfortunately, be a little on the KY side as far as natives are concerned.
2. 木漏れ日 Komorebi (n.)
This beautiful word refers to the light that filters through the trees, dappling the forest floor. It’s a poetic word that evokes imagery of a peaceful, natural scene. Next time you’re out for a stroll in the woods, take a moment to appreciate the gently shifting komorebi and marvel at the fact that there’s no word for it in English!
3. わびさび Wabi-sabi (n.)
Wabi-sabi is the very Japanese style of art and aesthetics emphasizing simplicity and restraint. It is an appreciation of the beauty of imperfections and impermanence. Things and art that fall into this category are generally very simple but inspire a feeling of calm. Wabi-sabi brings to mind things like humble shrines and roughly made pottery.
4. 別腹 Betsu bara (n.)
Anyone with a sweet tooth can relate to the mystery of the betsu bara, or “separate stomach.” This handy noun refers to the mysterious extra room you find you have for dessert after a large meal.
While the science behind said phenomenon is actually known, this amusing word is perfect for explaining sheepishly why no, you’re not done eating thanks very much, and you don’t care for the judgment. (OK, maybe 'dessert stomach' is somewhat similar, but now you know Japan has a word for it too!)
5. 森林浴 Shinrinyoku (n.)
Literally “forest bathing,” shinrinyoku is the act of going into a forest to unwind and breathe in the fresh air. The refreshing feeling of spending time in nature and away from civilization is widely known to be good for your mental health, so how is it that we don’t have a word like this in English? If you haven’t yet, definitely try some shinrinyoku therapy; it is free, after all.
6. 積ん読 Tsundoku (n.)
Tsundoku is made up of the words “tsun,” here meaning “pile up,” and “doku,” meaning “to read.” Book lovers are probably all guilty of this one, as it refers to the act of buying lots of books and not reading them, leading to a pile of unread books.
If you’ve just realized that you’ve got a bit of a tsundoku habit, let this be a sign that you should crack open a book or two!
7. シブい Shibui (adj.)
This super-specific adjective is used to describe something or someone that has aged gracefully and gotten cooler with age. The closest English equivalent might be to say they’ve “aged like a fine wine.”
Young people nowadays just love old, weathered things like exposed brick or ripped jeans. As an appreciation of all things shibui gets more widespread, the need for a word to describe it could potentially follow!
8. 過労死 Karōshi (n.)
This dark word is somewhat well known in the English-speaking world these days, but is worth mentioning to understand some of the pressure that has arisen in some corners of the working world.
Defined as “death from working too much/overwork,” karōshi doesn’t just mean dying of stress-induced natural causes; it includes everything from keeling over at your desk because you’ve had a heart attack to even as far as taking your own life because your job is too stressful.
A tragic karōshi incident in 2015 got a lot of companies reevaluating the amount of pressure being put on employees. Hopefully, things will improve soon, and one day this word won’t still be around.
9. 紅葉 Kōyō (n.)
Perhaps best translated as “autumn foliage,” this succinct word describes the brilliant colors of the leaves in autumn. While not impossible to translate or at least describe, the fall leaves are definitely a bigger deal in Japan than in most other places as the rich red foliage here is just so beautiful. Every year people travel far and wide to see the most gorgeous leaves from the best vantage points.
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10. 口寂しい Kuchisabishī (n. + adj.)
This charming phrase means that your “mouth is lonely,” and describes eating out of boredom rather than hunger. We’ve all had an unwarranted treat when there’s been nothing else to do, but for some reason just didn’t have quite the right word to describe this absentminded munching until today! Maybe giving this bad habit a name will make it easier to stop...
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11. 猫舌 Nekojita (n.)
Japanese people really like their food and drinks to be piping hot, as in hot enough to cause moderate damage. Those lesser mortals who have to blow on their lava-like food before eating it are said to have a “nekojita,” or a “cat tongue.” This somewhat surreal word is said to have originated in the Edo period and is based on the fact that cats (allegedly) don’t like to eat hot food.
12. 飲ミュニケーション Nomunication (n.) and たばこミュニケーション Tabaccomunication (n.)
These words are both portmanteaus. Nomunication comes from the Japanese word “nomu” (drink) and the English word “communication”, and refers to “communication while drinking” (specifically alcohol). Tabaccomunication comes from the words “tobacco” and “communication,” and unsurprisingly means “communication while smoking.”
These can both be seen as pretty important in a lot of jobs in Japan. They generally refer to things like talking business over drinks with colleagues after work or having a chat while on a smoke break. While these can sometimes be effective networking skills in Japan, they certainly aren’t recommended for health reasons, and it seems younger generations are starting to stray away.
13. 三日坊主 Mikka Bōzu (n.)
This means “three-day monk,” and refers to someone who gives up or gave up on something very quickly. It can also have the nuance of initially starting with much passion and intensity, only to then falter very fast. Buddhist monks have quite a strict routine of extremely early mornings, cleaning, and tough training, so throughout history, quite a few people have understandably thrown in the towel early on.
14. ありがた迷惑 Arigatameiwaku (n.)
Arigatameiwaku is a combination of the words “arigatai” and “meiwaku,” which mean “grateful” and “nuisance” respectively. This is used to describe a very specific situation in which a person goes out of their way to do something for you that you didn’t want them to do in the first place. This “favor” ends up causing problems for you, but social norms force you to show gratitude anyway.
Most people have probably met someone who was insistent on being “helpful” even when nobody wanted them to be. For example, a computer illiterate yet confident family member who tries to do things for you on your laptop that you definitely could have done faster. These are the sorts of people that cause a lot of arigatameiwaku, oblivious to the true feelings of everyone forced to grit their teeth and hiss thanks at them.
15. 生きがい Ikigai (n.)
A combination of “ikiru,” meaning “to live,” and “gai,” meaning “reason,” your ikigai is, therefore, your reason for living or purpose in life. Your ikigai could be a hobby you’re passionate about, a special person or pet in your life, or some world-changing activism. Whatever it is, it gets you out of bed and lights a fire under you, so make time for your ikigai as much as possible!
If you’ve realized while reading that you might be a bit of a mikka bōzu, maybe you just haven’t found your ikigai yet!
16. 木枯らし Kogarashi (n.)
This is the first cold wind you feel in autumn that lets you know winter is fast approaching. It means “leaf-shaking wind,” and it might have you shaking too! Depending on your feelings about winter, the coming of kogarashi is either exciting or foreboding. Nicely reflecting a lot of Japanese culture, this word is both poetic and practical.
Every language has its own quirks that make them interesting and unique, and Japanese is no exception. With a great array of humorous and descriptive words for everyday life, as well as for highly specific situations, learning Japanese is a fun and rewarding way of learning about a people and culture with a fascinating history and present.
Take this as both a language and a culture lesson in one; when you come to Japan, you know now why it’s important not to be KY or a kucharā! And if you go for some rejuvenating shinrinyoku while you’re here, make sure to enjoy the komorebi and kōyō that you might not have appreciated as much before they were pointed out to you.
17. ばたんきゅう Batan-kyū
Batan-kyū has fallen somewhat out of use, but is an onomatopoeia that is mostly written in casual situations rather than spoken, and is used to describe that feeling when you are so tired you flop into bed and fall straight to sleep.
"Batan" denotes the "flop", where you fall onto bed, and "kyū" describes the stillness that follows, when you fall straight to sleep. Think about the last time you came home from work and without even having dinner you fell straight into bed... Then the next thing you knew it was morning!
Our last three words have mostly fallen out of use, but are pretty interesting insights into what was popular at the time.
18. 物の哀れ Mono no Aware (n.)
Mono no aware is very similar to wabi-sabi, but is an older word that is not used as much now. It refers to appreciating the bittersweet impermanence of something’s fleeting beauty since nothing lasts forever. It’s very in line with the Buddhist idea of being in the moment and letting things go, although it also suggests a sort of wistfulness.
While both of these words are on the more old-fashioned side, the untranslated phrase mono no aware appears in one of Marie Kondo’s books, so perhaps it’s time for a comeback?
19. キープ君 Keep-kun (n.)
This one might seem a little harsh, but a Keep-kun is a placeholder boyfriend who is only kept around until someone better shows up. The unfortunate label comprises the English word “keep,” and the Japanese honorific “kun,” which is a suffix added to men’s names to show affection or closeness.
Take heart in the fact that this word is generally only used by older generations and has mostly fallen out of popular use. Hopefully, that means there are fewer poor souls being used as Keep-kuns!
20. クチャラー Kucharā (n.)
The word kucharā is a little dated, but it refers to a person who chews with their mouth open.
Japanese is absolutely chockablock with onomatopoeias, and the one for the sound made by chewing with your mouth open is kucha-kucha. Add that to the English suffix -er, as in “player” or “worker,” and you’ve got a perfect succinct word for noisy eaters.
While eating with your mouth open is acceptable in some cultures, in Japan it is considered quite rude. Slurping your noodles, on the other hand, is A-okay! So slurp away and then close your mouth to chew. Table manners vary a lot from country to country, so make sure to read up on eating dos and don’ts before jumping on a plane to Japan!
Having lived in Jamaica and the UK, Katie now finds herself most at home in Japan.She’s an English teacher and a translator with a passion for fashion, and she’s a proat hunting down beautiful locally made products and thrifted gems. Two of herfavorite pastimes include eating and relaxing at onsen – though preferably not at thesame time!
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'Say what? ' 20 Cool Words that Only Exist in Japanese
- KY (adj.) ...
- 木漏れ日 Komorebi (n.) ...
- わびさび Wabi-sabi (n.) ...
- 別腹 Betsu bara (n.) ...
- 森林浴 Shinrinyoku (n.) ...
- 積ん読 Tsundoku (n.) ...
- シブい Shibui (adj.) ...
- 過労死 Karōshi (n.)
|Japanese Script||English Pronunciation||English Meaning|
|ちょかわいい||cho kawaii (cho kah-wah-ee)||super cute (about an attractive guy or girl you like)|
|ダサい||dasai (da-si)||lame, not cool|
|ドンマイ||donmai (dohn-my)||I don't mind (no problem)|
|半端ない||hanpa nai (hawn-pah nye)||insane, crazy (an unbelievable situation)|
- Hai. Yes. はい。
- Iie. No. いいえ。
- O-negai shimasu. Please. おねがいします。
- Arigatō. Thank you. ありがとう。
- Dōitashimashite. You're welcome. どういたしまして。
- Sumimasen. Excuse me. すみません。
- Gomennasai. I am sorry. ごめんなさい。
- Ohayō gozaimasu. Good morning. おはようございます。
(Kon'nichiwa) which means “Hello” in Japanese. This is one of the most common words in Japanese and a great way to start a conversation with someone from Japan.
- 男の子 (otoko no ko) – Boy.
- 女の子 (onna no ko) – Girl.
- 子供 (kodomo) – Child.
- 母 (haha) – Mother.
- 父 (chichi) – Father.
- 友達 (tomodachi) – Friend.
- 学生 (kagusei) – Student.
- 先生 (sensei) – Teacher.
- KY (adj.) ...
- 木漏れ日 Komorebi (n.) ...
- わびさび Wabi-sabi (n.) ...
- 別腹 Betsu bara (n.) ...
- 森林浴 Shinrinyoku (n.) ...
- 積ん読 Tsundoku (n.) ...
- シブい Shibui (adj.) ...
- 過労死 Karōshi (n.)
Ara ara (あら あら) is a Japanese expression that is mainly used by older females and means “My my”, “Oh dear”, or “Oh me, oh my”. Depending on the… Visit.
Created by Nippon.com based on data from Akachan Honpo. In 2019, the top three boys' names were 蓮 (Ren), followed by 湊 (Minato), and 陽翔 (Haruto), while the top three for girls were 陽葵 (Himari), 芽依(Mei), and 凛 (Rin).
ゼット is the most common pronunciation for Z. ズィー is used by younger generation or by realists, but elderly and conservative people may not understand it. ゼッド is rare.
Kawaii - Kawaii (かわいい, pronounced [kaɰaiꜜi]; "lovable", "cute", or "adorable") is the culture of cuteness in Japan.
Pretty in Japanese – 綺麗な
きれいな (kireina), or written in kanji – 綺麗な – means both “clean” and “pretty.” You can use it to describe your room as clean, like: 部屋はきれいです。
Baka is a Japanese word that means “crazy,” “foolish,” or downright “stupid.” It can also be used as a noun for “a fool” or “a crazy or stupid person.” Anime and manga fans in the West have adopted the use of baka as a (usually joking) insult.
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#1 Konnichiwa (こんにちは) – Hello. #2 Ohayou gozaimasu (おはようございます) – Good morning. #3 Konbanwa (こんばんは) – Good evening. #4 Moshi moshi (もしもし) – Hello (but only if you're on the phone or something like Skype) #5 Ogenki desu ka? (お元気ですか) – How are you?
It can be written with two different kanji: the traditional 歳 and the simplified and most commonly used 才. To ask someone "how old are you?," you can say: Nan sai desu ka (何歳ですか); Or in a more formal way, O ikutsu desu ka (おいくつですか).
The Japanese language is considered one of the most difficult to learn by many English speakers. With three separate writing systems, an opposite sentence structure to English, and a complicated hierarchy of politeness, it's decidedly complex.
- 私の名前は [name]です。 watashi no namae wa [name] desu. My name is [name].
- 私は [name] です。 watashi wa [name] desu. I am [name].
Japan is famous for natural sights like cherry blossoms and Mount Fuji, cutting-edge technology like Japanese cars and bullet trains, wacky inventions like karaoke and vending machines, cultural values like politeness and punctuality, popular anime and manga, and mouth-watering food like ramen and sushi.
The meaning behind 'uwu'
It's also known as “happy anime face.” The expression can be interpreted as being happy in a particularly smug way. Uwu is often used in Japanese and Korean online culture, typically in response to something especially cute, or kawaii.
If you already watched or read JoJo's Bizzarre Adventure in Japanese, you would know the iconic phrase by Jotaro Kujo: “やれやれ” -pronounced “Yare Yare”. The phrase is trasnlated to intrepretations such as “well well”, “good grief” and “give me a break.” It is a common expression in Japan used to show disappointment.
A yell, like "oi!" or "ayy!" or "hey!" or whatever. It gets used toward children or animals when they're doing something improper. You could translate it as "watch out" or "stop that!" depending on the situation.
The name Tokyo is primarily a gender-neutral name of Japanese origin that means Eastern Capital'.
- Akari | 丹李 Akari is a girl's name. ...
- Junya | 純也 Junya, a name for boys, combines the kanji for “purity” with ya, a character often used for phonetic purposes in given names.
- Saeko | 紗子
As the answer says, in modern standard Japanese, [dz] and [z] are the variants (allophones) of the same sound (phoneme). That is, even if you may hear a native Japanese speaker say both [dz] and [z] depending on the situation, they are usually totally unaware of this fact, and they cannot even hear the difference.
"What does the "Z" mean? It's just a subtitle invented for the second season of the Japanese anime, distinguishing the earlier, funnier stories from the later, more intense stories when the characters are grown up." And in an even earlier interview (issue 3 perhaps?)
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Writing love in Japanese is represented as the kanji symbol 愛 which means love and affection.
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So what does kawaii desu ne mean? Kawaii desu ne means, it's cute, isn't it? Or as a Canadian… it's cute, eh? Trust me, if you spend some time in Japan, you'll definitely hear this phrase… so even better if you learn it now!
How to Pronounce UwU? (CORRECTLY) - YouTube
The Japanese phrase kawaii desu ne (可愛いですね、かわいいですね) means “cute isn't it?”. The word kawaii means cute, pretty or adorable. Kawaii is one of the most popular words among young Japanese girls and women of all ages.
友美, "friend, beauty"
Baka (馬鹿 or ばか) is a Japanese swear or curse word meaning idiot, jackass, dumbass, or unthinking fool. (Excuse our language, please!) That said, baka's meaning is highly contextual, as our resident Japanese expert explains: “Baka (馬鹿) means a fool or an idiot, and used as an insult.
“Sussy” and “sus” are words used in the videogame Among Us to describe someone shifty or suspicious, whilst baka means “fool” in Japanese. So to be a sussy baka is to be a suspicious fool, presumably – although it appears that the meme has taken this meaning and ran with it a little.
|Japanese term or phrase:||I love you too baka|
|English translation:||I love you too you fool!|
|Entered by:||Philip Soldini|
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Japanese is ranked by the U.S. Foreign Services Institute as the most difficult language for native English speakers to learn. The institute uses the time it takes to learn a language to determine its difficulty 23-24 weeks for the easiest and 88 weeks for the hardest.
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- 猫に小判 Neko ni koban. Literally: Gold coins to a cat. ...
- 七転び八起き Nanakorobi yaoki. Literally: Fall seven times and stand up eight. ...
- 猿も木から落ちる Saru mo ki kara ochiru. Literally: Even monkeys fall from trees. ...
- 花より団子 Hana yori dango. Literally: Dumplings rather than flowers.
- arigato (a.ɾi.ɡaˈto) - thank you.
- baka (ba̠ka̠) - foolish, stupid, dummy (used when a character does something foolish)
- chikara (t͡ɕi̥ka̠ɾa̠) - power, strength.
- daijōbu (daidubu) - alright, okay (as in I will be okay; I am not hurt.)
- doshite (dōshite) - for what reason, why.
１. すごい(sugoi) “すごい” (sugoi) is a compliment that Japanese people often use. It is used anytime when you are impressed by the other person's attitude and behavior, or when you think "This is good!" It is an expression that you feel intuitively rather than thinking. Example.
Shibui (渋い) (adjective), shibumi (渋み) (noun), or shibusa (渋さ) (noun) are Japanese words that refer to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.