Japanese Words in English

Japanese Words in English

“What a strange thing!

to be alive

beneath cherry blossoms.”

Issa Kobayashi, a Japanese poet

There are numerous English words that are used in everyday Japanese conversations. And even though it’s usually possible to do without Japanese loanwords in daily English conversations, there are some words we simply can’t help using in certain situations. They are usually related to cuisine, culture, history, sports and entertainment. See our list of the most useful Japanese loanwords (sorry for not including sushi, sashimi, okonomiyaki and other yummy things in the list!):

Word  Meaning
Bento /ˈbentəʊ/ / bento box 


a thin box divided into compartments which contain small separate dishes comprising a Japanese meal, esp. lunch; a Japanese-style packed lunch: I left you a bento box. 
Daikon /ˈdaɪkɒn/ / daikon radish  a kind of white radish: I sometimes add daikon to miso /ˈmiːsəʊ/ (a soft Japanese food made from soya beans) soup.
Sake /ˈsɑːki/ an alcoholic drink made from rice: This is a sake brewery. 
Tofu /ˈtəʊfuː/ a soft white food made from soya beans: There’s also a tofu dumpling coming up.
Kabuki /kəˈbuːki/ a form of Japanese drama: That book on kabuki might be expensive.
Kanji /ˈkændʒɪ , ˈkɑːn-/ a Japanese writing system using characters mainly derived from Chinese ideograms; a character of this system: Tom has memorized so many kanji that he can read books for primary school children.
Origami /ˌɒrɪˈɡɑːmi/


the Japanese art of folding pieces of paper to make models: This is not proper origami paper. 
Ikebana /ˌiːkeɪˈbɑːnə/ the Japanese art of arranging flowers in an attractive way according to strict rules: You can’t learn ikebana in 10 days. 
Bonsai /ˈbɒnsaɪ/


a tree grown in a small container; the activity of growing bonsai trees: You know, I’ve been thinking about the bonsai shop idea.
Haiku /ˈhaɪkuː/ a short poem written in a traditional Japanese style: I wrote little haiku poems. I e-mailed them to everyone.
Kimono /kɪˈməʊnəʊ/


a type of traditional Japanese clothing, like a long coat with wide sleeves; a dressing gown in this style: She certainly looks beautiful in a Japanese kimono.
Anime /ˈænɪmeɪ/


a style of Japanese animated film or TV program: She loves anime and manga /ˈmæŋɡə/ (Japanese comics or cartoons with stories that are aimed at adults as well as children)
Kawaii /kəˈwai/ attractive and appealing; in English the word is used when talking about Japanese pop culture: It’s such a kawaii character!
Katana /kəˈtɑːnə / a long curved single-edged sword traditionally used by Japanese samurai ˈsæmʊraɪ/: When a katana is gripped properly, the little finger is the strongest.
Rickshaw /ˈrɪkˌʃɔː/


a small vehicle with two wheels used for carrying passengers and pulled by someone riding a bicycle or walking: My rickshaw got caught in this massive traffic jam.
Sudoku /suˈdəʊkuː/ a kind of number game: I’m a sudoku fan. 
Karaoke /ˌkæriˈəʊki/ a type of entertainment in which people sing popular songs while recorded music is played: Let’s sing karaoke

Note karaoke is not a place, so don’t say Let’s go to a karaoke. Instead, you can say, let’s go to a karaoke bar/place or just let’s go sing karaoke.

Emoji /ɪˈməʊdʒi/


a small digital image or symbol used in electronic communication to convey an idea or feeling: She often uses emojis
Typhoon /taɪˈfuːn/ a kind of tropical storm: The typhoon has made landfall. 
Tsunami /tsuːˈnɑːmi/ a very large wave caused when something such as an earthquake moves a large quantity of water in the sea: See the tsunami evacuation map; an extremely large quantity of something bad: This is a tsunami of lies; a disastrous situation that cannot be controlled: A financial tsunami is coming. 

As we have mentioned, numerous English words are used in Japanese nowadays. But some Japanese people learning English may be surprised to find out that some Japanese English expressions are actually not that natural in English. Here are a few notable examples:

ペーパードライバー (peepaa doraibaa) (from the English “paper + driver”) – a person who has a driving license but little or no experience driving

マンツーマン (mantsuman) (from the English “man-to-man”) – in Japanese the word is often used to talk about one-on-oneclasses. In English though, we don’t say “man-to-man classes”. We say “one-on-one classes/lessons” or “private classes/lessons”. In English, “man-to-man” means “involving two men who are telling each other what they really think” (Let’s talk man-to-man). It can also be an adjective: Let’s have a man-to-man conversation.

ワンピース (wanpiisu) (from the English “one-piece”) – a dress. In English, however, a one-piece is a type of woman’s swimming costume that consists of one piece of material and which covers her chest (see the picture below). One-piece is also an adjective: this is a one-piece swimsuit.

ユーティリティー (yuutiritii) (from the English “utility”) – a room with a sink, a washing machine, etc. in a house/apartment​. In English, utility an important service such as water, electricity, or gas that is provided for everyone, and that everyone pays for.

チャームポイント (chaamupointo) (from the English “charm point” – the most attractive feature (of a person))​. Remember it is pseudo-English, so, for example, “her eyes are her charm point” doesn’t sound natural. Say “her eyes are the most beautiful thing about her / the most beautiful part of her body” instead.

They are wearing one-pieces.

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