Regardless of what level of proficiency you’re at in Japanese, there is just some stuff that they won’t teach you in textbooks. In any language, people use slang words. Most of the time, they’re the younger crowd. But slang words are what make your conversational skills more natural.
We’ve compiled a list of the top 10 cool Japanese words that the kids are saying today. By the end of the article, you’ll be chatting like one of the cool kids!
The first of the list of Japanese words is osu (おっす). This is used as a greeting among friends. Back in the day, this type of greeting was a military greeting. It was considered very formal. Nowadays, it’s as casual as it can get. So don’t go greeting your bosses with this!
Osu is used in the same way we use “what’s up?” in English. I’ve heard a lot of my friends using it, but it’s mostly guys that say this to each other. It’s definitely fine if a girl says it, but it does have a more masculine ring to it.
This next Japanese word is pretty common. Chō (超) is translated to “super” or “very”. Instead of using “totemo” (とても), you can use this Japanese word in its place. For example, if you want to say something is very fast, you can say it as “chō hayai” (超早い).
It’s said that it’s more commonly used in Eastern Japan, but I hear it all the time. I even use it myself. Japanese people use it on a daily basis. Alternatively, you can use the Japanese word “meccha” (めっちゃ), which has similar meanings.
“Hanpa nai” (半端ない) is commonly used among the youngsters. The word “hanpa” has the meaning of something that is incomplete, but when you say it in this phrase, it’s used when describing something is insane, figuratively speaking.
It’s not to talk about someone that’s insane in the head, but for situations. Hanpa nai can be use for good and bad. If it’s raining so heavily and you’re thinking, “the rain is insane!” then you can say it as “ame hanpa nai!” (雨半端ない)
This next Japanese word is one that I like to use often: maji (まじ). This word can have a few different meanings. The first one is when you’re exclaiming like “are you serious?”. You can say that as “maji de?” (まじで？)
The other meaning to it is the same meaning as chō , which means “very”. So if you want to say something is so insane, you can say it as “maji de hanpa nai” (まじで半端ない).
One Japanese word that kids nowadays like to use is “gachi” (ガチ). This word translates to “seriously”. It’s kind of similar to “maji” in that sense. However, “maji” can be used on its own but “gachi” can’t. It has to be attached to something.
For example, if you want to say that something is seriously funny, you can say it as “gachi de omoshiroi” (ガチで面白い). Impress your Japanese friends by saying that sentence next time!
6. Ukeru (ウケる)
“Ukeru” (ウケる) literally translates to “to take”, but the kids these days have been using it as a slang. It’s used as a reaction to something that’s funny. Although it’s classified as a verb, it can be used as a verb as well as an interjection.
If your friend said something so hilarious, you can laugh at him and then add “ウケる” at the end. It’s like saying “haha, you’re hilarious!”
Our next Japanese word doesn’t have a direct translation to English. “Bimyō” (微妙) can be translated to as “questionable” or “doubtful”, but the kids today are using it as slang for something that’s neither good nor bad. Most of the time, it’s closer to being bad than google
Say you’re trying on some clothes and asking your friend what she thinks about it. If she responses with “bimyō”, it means she doesn’t really think it’s that great…but not super bad either.
8. Dasai (ダサい)
You might have heard of this one in anime or Japanese drama. They do use this word in real life, too! “Dasai” (ダサい) can refer to both looks and action, and it’s a way of expressing that someone or something is ugly.
If someone is doing something bad or inconsiderate, you can respond to their action with “dasai”. Similarly, if you see someone on the street wearing rugged clothing and it looks awful, you can say that it’s “dasai”.
9. Uzai (うざい)
If you’re feeling a bit annoyed by something or someone, use this word: uzai (うざい). Say you’re pointing to a person and wants to say that they’re annoying, you can say it this way: “ano hito, uzai!” (あの人、うざい).
Another way of saying something or someone is annoying is by using the word “mukatsuku” (ムカつく). The word has more of a meaning of “irritating”. This one can be used in a sentence or on its own, too.
Last but not least, the Japanese word you should have at the top of your Japanese vocabulary list is “yabai” (やばい). This word translates to “terrible” or “awful”, but in slang term, it doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It can also be used to refer to positive things.
You can use “yabai” to describe just about anything, good or bad, person or thing. It’s like a reaction phrase. If you see something incredible happening in front of you, you can react with a “yabai!” If your food tastes bad, you can also describe it as “yabai”.
It’s an all-rounder word that’s used by many young people in Japan. I’ve met older Japanese people who don’t understand why the kids today are using the word in that context. But hey, we’re out here trying to sound cool.
While we only list 10 cool Japanese words, there are so many more that’s used as slang. When you’re travelling to Japan, hang out with some of the locals and listen in. You may hear a word or two that you never knew about!
We know that the Japanese language has borrowed more than a few words from the English language. But what about the other way round? Are there any English words that are actually of Japanese origin?
There are, actually. In fact, there are quite a few words that we use often. Of course, the usual suspects “ramen” and “sushi” are obviously from the Japanese language, along with “samurai” and “kimono”. But there are a handful of words that aren’t as known and obvious.
We’ve compiled a short but interesting list of 10 English words that are actually really Japanese. Keep scrolling to find out what they are!
The paper-folding craft, known to us as “origami”, is actually of Japanese origin! The word is made up of two Japanese words: “ori” (おり) to mean “fold” and “kami” (紙) to mean “paper”. When put together, it means “folded paper”. In Japanese, though, “origami” refers to a folded official document like a certificate.
Originally, the names for this paper folding craft include “orimono”, “orikata” and “orisue”. The change to “origami” is still unclear to this day, but it’s believed to start around the 20th century. Some say it was easier for Japanese kids to spell during Japan’s kindergarten movement in the late 19th century. Others say it might be because the English translation for the word makes more sense to use it.
Will we ever know the real reason?
If you don’t know it yet, a typhoon is a rotating giant storm of wind and rain. It’s similar to a hurricane as both are kinds of tropical cyclones. This word actually comes from a Japanese word for the same thing: taifu (台風). The kanji used “風” actually means “wind”.
Did you know that word for the small symbols you type in messages is actually Japanese? “Emoji” is used to express your emotional attitude on electronic devices like smartphones and laptops, and often gives a more playful tone.
The word comes from the Japanese word “moji” (文字) which means “character” or “letter” and “e” (絵) which means “picture” or “drawing”. When put together, the meaning is like putting a picture in a letter. And now we have our beloved smiley faces.
Rickshaws are light vehicles that often have two wheels and are pulled by a person. Usually, the person is either pulling it while on foot or on a bicycle. You often see this in Asia, and first used in Japan in the late 1800s.
Originally, the word “rickshaw” (which is also spelled as “ricksha”) had another syllable in front of it. The original word was “jinricksha”, sometimes spelled as “jinrikisha”. This word comes from the Japanese language. It’s a combination of three words: “jin” (人) to mean “man”, “riki” (力) to mean “strength” and “sha” (車) to mean “carriage”. When you put it together, it means “strong man carriage”.
If you like puzzles, then you probably have played sudoku before. This 9×9 grid of squares contains 3×3 boxes. Each box has the numbers 1 to 9, and every row of the grid also has to contain the numbers 1 to 9.
The word “sudoku” is actually the short form of the Japanese phrase “sūji wa dokushin ni kagiru”. This means “the numerals must remain single” — it’s saying that the digits can only appear once. The word “sudoku” itself only made it into English publications early this century.
Maybe not all of you know this word — heck, I didn’t — but “skosh” means “a small amount”. This word was introduced by the US soldiers who were stationed in Japan after World War II. They learned the word from the Japanese word “sukoshi” (少し). This Japanese word, when spoken, is pronounced “skoh-shee”.
Is your boss at work a hotshot? Then he’s a “honcho”. This word refers to the person in charge of other people. It was introduced by the Americans who were imprisoned in Japan during the Second World War.
“Honcho” comes from the Japanese word “hanchō” (班長) to mean “squad leader”. “Han” refers to “squad” and “chō” refers to “head” or “chief”.
That cotton-filled mattress on your bed, couch or chair is known as a “futon”. This is a word we all commonly use, but did you know it’s actually a Japanese word? Futon, spelled and pronounced the same in Japanese as 布団, is a staple of small apartments and dorms.
In English, futon is something that you sleep on, but in Japanese, it can refer to a thick comforter.
Don’t mistake this word for the tropical cyclone. A tycoon is someone who is a top leader, usually in politics, or a very wealthy businessperson. This word is often used in the latter meaning.
How the word came to be associated with the meaning of a political leader is interesting. The first time an American consul came to Japan after the country opened up its borders, the shogun (the military deputy) was assumed to be a secular emperor. The American thought the shogun’s title was “taikun”, like the Chinese characters “dà” to mean “great” and “jūn” to mean “prince.” The spelling “tycoon” became popular in America to refer to political leaders, but began to fade in usage.
It was revived in the 1920s in journalism to refer to wealthy businessmen.
Our last word is something you wouldn’t quite expect to be of Japanese origin. To be honest, the origin of this term is still a mystery to this day. “Hunky-dory”, as we all know, means “fine” or “satisfactory”.
The term “hunky” came from the Dutch “honk” to mean “home”. In the 19th century, this became an adjective to mean “all right” or “safe and sound”. A theory of how “dory” came about is when American sailors were stationed in Japan. There was a thoroughfare that the sailors often used and described it as “hunky”. The Japanese word for “road” is “tori” or “dori” (取). It could be said that the sailors might’ve combined the two words to refer to that as a “satisfactory street”.
Which word surprises you the most?
As we said earlier, there are more English words that are derived from the Japanese language, but I think that these 10 are the most unique ones. Out of them all, which ones did you not expect to be of Japanese origin?
When you’ve spent quite a bit of time in Japan, you soon realise that it’s easier to say no in Japan than in most Western countries. But here’s the catch: it’s much more difficult to ask for an explanation or reason.
If someone asks you out for a drink in Japan, an indirect “I have something else to do today” is taken as a decline to the invitation and no reasoning is asked for, whereas in Western countries, people feel compelled to have a justifiable reason for declining.
This is all linked to what sociologists call high context and low context culture — Japan is considered to be under the category of a high context culture, so a lot of the time, you don’t need to explain much because there’s an unspoken understanding between people. It all balls down to a unique Japanese custom called “Kūki wo yomu (空気を読む)”.
What exactly is it, why is it so important, and how do we begin practicing it? All these answers and more are just a scroll down away!
Kūki o Yomu: Reading the Air
Kūki wo yomu (空気を読む) translates to “reading the air”. It can be likened to the English phrase “reading between the lines”. You ought to be situationally aware and attentive to not only your own thoughts and feelings but also of the people around you — all without the need of expressing them aloud. It’s one of the most significant and fundamental aspects of Japan’s communication culture.
This Japanese custom is not only about social relations — it applies to business contexts as well. You’re expected to predict the consequences of actions and words when you’re interacting with other people, as well as realising your own social status.
This ability to read the air is not a genetic predisposition or something taught in Japanese schools or by parents — it’s a social trait. You pick it up spontaneously as you go along in life, socialise with others, communicate and most importantly, observe. It’s in the nature of Japanese people to observe their elders and people around them, then mimicking what they see.
It’s an important skill to have in Japanese society — it’s easier for you to make friends, get into a university and get a job. You’ll be more well-liked and fit into the local community easier.
Someone who’s not able to catch the real meaning of other people’s words is often called KY, an abbreviation of “kūki yomenai” to mean “one who can’t read the air”. If you’re unable to understand the environment you’re in, it can cost you — whether it’s ruining a relationship or blowing a huge business deal.
“Kūki o yomu” forces you to pay attention to signals people are putting out, more than usual, and to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Indirectness in Japanese Communication
Reading the air is also present in other cultures, like “reading the room” or “knowing your audience”, but Japanese people are far more sensitive to this custom.
There was a tweet that went viral in Japan back in 2019 about a businessman in Kyoto who met a potential client. The client complimented his watch, so the businessman started explaining the watch’s features. It took him a while to realise that the client didn’t care much about the watch, but more of the time it showed — he wanted the businessman to look at his watch to see the time and wrap up the conversation.
That one situation can sum up the indirectness factor in Japanese communication.
There’s no such thing as a direct answer in Japan, or at least in my experience. You don’t really get a straight-up “no” from anyone, whether it’s a casual or business setting — the politeness within the culture forbids them to. A “maybe” or “it’s possible” is used instead.
I’ll give you an example: I once asked someone if he could direct me to the nearest station, and his answer was “sore wa chotto…” (それはちょっと。。。) This directly translates to “that’s a bit…” but it actually holds the meaning of “that’s inconvenient for me” or “that’s a bit difficult for me to answer.” Basically, he was indirectly telling me no. The sentence was left hanging, but that’s the phrase often used in Japan — people assume you’re able to determine the rest of the sentence and read the situation.
There’s a collectivist culture in Japan that is probably one of the reasons for this ambiguity. The society prefers conformity over individualism — to directly communicate is like going against this status quo. So they avoid unpleasant interactions and situations to maintain social harmony, and to do that, everyone has to acquire the skill of reading the air.
Tatemae vs Honne
Tatemae (建前) is what one expresses in public and honne (本音) is what one truly feels. It links together with how Japanese communication is epitomised by implicitness and indirectness. People are socially obligated to respond according to tatemae, defined by social expectations and opinion, regardless if it contradicts their own honne.
That’s because importance is placed on demonstrating respect and saving face. If you deny a request directly by saying “no”, Japanese people believe that that’ll cause embarrassment and both the invitee and inviter will lose face. A “maybe” or “I’ll consider it” is the Japanese way of saying “no” — their indication of their honne.
“Hear One, Know Ten”
Something that’s linked closely to “kūki o yomu” is a concept called “ichi ieba jū wo shiru” (一言えば十を知る). This translates to “hear one, know ten”. Subtlety is pretty key when it comes to Japanese communication, so sometimes, social cues like facial expressions and body language aren’t as physically evident.
Japanese people believe that people should be so in tune with each other that the verbal words make up only 10% while the non-verbal ones communicate the remaining 90% — hear one, know ten. Whether it’s a twitch of the mouth or a discreet raise of the eyebrow can be telltale signs of disapproval or reproach.
If you decided to work in a Japanese company, be prepared to get as little guidelines as possible and barely any guidance or feedback — they expect you to already know by “reading the air”. And anyway, take brief communication as positive communication in the office.
What about you, can you read the air? Is your skill as extensive as the Japanese people? Whether it’s by observing people around you or educating yourself with the media, Japan’s high context culture does give you some plus points, especially if you’re planning to live in Japan.
The word “ki” (気) is pretty strong in the Japanese language — it refers to the spirit, mind, nature, air, or all of the above. Regardless of what language we’re speaking in, our inner being, our soul, brings up a lot of opportunities for conversation.
Expressing our deepest darkest desires can become a difficult task — impossible for some. That’s where “ki” comes to save the day. It’s used to convey difficult thoughts and emotions in the Japanese language. So you don’t need to always pour your heart out every single time you need to express something — just use one of these key “ki” phrases!
Here are the top 9 essential key phrases using “ki” (気)!
The Significance of 気
What exactly is “ki”? It holds many meanings and emotions, so isn’t it best for any Japanese language learner to get acquainted with it? One word, tons of usage. “Ki” can refer to a variety of things: air, atmosphere, mind, spirit, heart, flavour, feelings, humour, intention, mind, will, etc.
In the Japanese culture: the kikessui (気血水) concept, making up of three elements: ki (気), ketsu (血, blood) and sui (水, water). Kikessui translates to life force, and in the Japanese culture, it’s believed that the three elements of kikessui are what our bodies are made up of.
The word “ki” becomes ten times more powerful when it’s combined with another kanji or word.
They’re in tons of newbie Japanese words like genki (元気, happy or energetic), tenki (天気, weather), kimochi (気持ち, feelings) and byouki (病気, illness). If you noticed, all of these words encompass concepts of inexpressible feelings that the little package of “ki” can do the job of describing for you.
Let’s now look at the 9 essential key phrases using “ki”!
1. Ki ni iru (気に入る)
The first one is ki ni iru (気に入る). If you literally translate it, this phrase means “to go into one’s ki”. The actual meaning is that you’ve taken a liking to something or you’re showing interest in something. You can compare it to “suki” (好き, like) but the difference is that “suki” implies you’ve already liked it for a while and is an ongoing feeling, whereas “ki ni iru” implies that you’ve grown to like it after hearing about it.
For example, if you say “kono sētā ha ki ni iru” (このセーターは気に入る), you’re saying that you’ve grown to like this sweater. It also subtly implies that you previously didn’t like it. However, if you say “kono sētā ha ki ni iranai” (このセーターは気に入らない), you’re saying that you’ve grown to not like this sweater, which means you used to like it but not anymore.
2. Ki ni naru (気になる)
The second phrase is ki ni naru (気になる). While it literally means to become someone’s ki, it actually holds the meaning of being bothered by or concerned about something.
A simple example is to say that you’re worried about weight: taijuu no koto ga ki ni natteiru (体重のことが気になっている). In that sentence, you switch it to its te iru form, implying that it’s an ongoing concern.
You can also use it in its negative form: watashi ha ima taberu no ha ki ni naranai (私は今食べるのは気にならない). This translates to “I don’t feel like eating now.”
3. Ki ni suru (気にする)
The third “ki” phrase is ki ni suru (気にする). You’ll often hear this in its negative form, ki ni shinai (気にしない) to mean “don’t worry”. Ki ni suru literally means that the “ki” has something done to it, but the actual meaning is that you’re deeply troubled by something. Don’t confuse its meaning with the previous one — ki ni suru is more like giving attention or care about something.
If you’re worried about gossips and rumours, or what other people think of you, then your best friend would say to you, “hito no itteiru koto wo ki ni shinai hou ga ii” (人の言っているのことを気にしない方がいい).
4. Ki wo tsukeru (気をつける)
The next one is ki wo tsukeru (気をつける). This means that you’re being cautious and careful when doing something.
If you’ve watched anime or J-drama, you would’ve heard some of the characters saying this sentence at some point: “ki wo tsukete ne!” (気をつけてね！) This means, “take care!” If you’re done for the day at work or school and parting ways with your colleagues or schoolmates, you can usually say this phrase while parting.
It could also be used for other situations, like crossing the roads. You can say “ki wo tsukete douro wo wataru” (気をつけて道路を渡る). This translates to mean “be careful crossing the roads.”
5. Ki wo tsukau (気を使う)
Now we’ll look at the fifth one which is ki wo tsukau (気を使う). This phrase means to be considerate to someone’s feelings or to pay attention to someone else’s situation.
The global pandemic is the perfect example. We’re all in this unusual new normal where masks is a mandatory piece of accessory as soon as we step out of the house. Of course, it’s for the safety of others and ourselves — it’s being socially responsible. If you see someone who’s not wearing a mask, you can tell them to be more sensitive by saying “ki wo tsukainasai!” (気を使いなさい！)
On the contrary, if you’re too polite or attentive, someone might tell you to “ki wo tsukawanai de kudasai”(気を使わないでください ). This translates to, “please don’t worry about me so much.”
6. Ki wo waruku suru (気を悪くする)
Let’s take a look at ki wo waruku suru (気を悪くする). This phrase means that you feel hurt by something. You’re taking offence at something said or something you saw.
If you accidentally said something offensive to someone but didn’t mean it, apologise and then say, “ki wo waruku shinai de” (気を悪くしないで).
7. Ki ga tsuku (気がつく)
Next we have ki ga tsuku (気がつく). The phrase, a pretty common one, means to realise something or notice something. How many times have you realised you forgot something after heading out the door, or noticed something different about a friend you haven’t met in ages?
If you’ve been playing games for hours on end and lost track of the time, you might say something like, “zutto gēmu wo shiteite ki ga tsuitara juu jikan tatteita. Shimatta!” (ずっとゲームをしていて気がついたら10時間経っていた！しまった！) This sentence means, “I kept playing the game and when I realised, 10 hours have passed, oh no!” Anyone else can relate?
8. Ki ga kawaru (気が変わる)
The next one is ki ga kawaru (気が変わる). Kawaru (変わる) means to change — so this phrase translates to mean to change one’s mind.
I’m a fickle-minded person, so I change my mind more often than I’d like. I would want to take a walk one minute and as soon as I get up from bed, I decided not to. So I can say that as, “sanpo ni ikou to omou kedo ki ga kawatta” (散歩に行こうと思うけど気が変わった).
9. Ki ga suru (気がする)
Our final phrase is ki ga suru (気がする). This is a pretty common everyday ki phrase which literally translates to mean the ki is doing something.The actual meaning of this phrase is to have a feeling, kind of like a gut feeling.
You know when you kind of know that something’s going to happen — like, it’s going to rain today. “ame ga furu ki ga suru” (雨が降る気がする).
So there you have it — 9 essential key “ki” phrases that you can use every day to express your feelings. Why not give one of them a go the next time you practice your nihongo?
One of the first things you learn about the Japanese language is “desu” (です). In fact, even those who don’t know Japanese know generally how to use this copula. Just stick it at the end of the sentence and you’re good to go, right?
And for those of us who watched an anime or J-drama episode or two, we’re pretty familiar with the copula “da” (だ), aren’t we? As the textbooks would tell us, these two are supposed to be interchangeable. One is used for formal context and the other for informal ones.
I’m here to tell you that there’s more to them than that, and you won’t find your answers in textbooks. They’re from observation and practice in conversation with local Japanese people – read on to find out what they are!
The Usage of “Desu”
“Desu” (です), as we all know, is used at the end of a sentence to make it formal. This phrase is a copula, so it’s kind of like “to be” (is, am, are) in English. For example, “this is a pen” is said as “kore ha pen desu” (これはペンです). “Desu” is used to link the subject to a subject complement.
When you end a sentence with “desu”, there’s a certain level of formality attached to it. Usually, you would use “desu” when speaking to people who you aren’t familiar with as well as those above you in the work or social hierarchy. If you’re talking to your boss, I’d recommend ending your sentences with “desu”. If you’re talking to your teacher, yup, definitely use it. If you’re talking to your good friend, chances are you don’t have to use it.
“Desu” is attached to nouns and adjectives only. Verbs have their own conjugation that has the same formality as “desu”. Ending a verb with “masu” (ます) is like saying “desu”, but that’s a whole other article altogether.
The Usage of “Da”
Da (だ) is also a copula and acts the exact same way as “desu” most of the time. If you want to say “this is a pen” but using “da” instead, just replace the “desu” with “da”: “kore ha pen da” (これはペンだ). The message is conveyed across just the same.
While “desu” is more formal, “da” is more informal. You often hear it in conversations among good friends, and never with superiors and those you are not familiar with. I would advise you never to use “da” with your boss or teachers. More often than not, guys are the ones using it among themselves. That’s not to say girls don’t say it, too. My girl friends use it, and so do I.
However, “da” is often used in combination with other Japanese particles like “yo” (よ) and “ne” (ね) to make “da yo” (だよ) and “da ne” (だね). Sometimes, you’ll even hear “da yo ne” (だよね) attached at the end of sentences as well as on its own. That’s because, “da” on its own can sound rude and dry in conversation and it’s often used in written form instead of “desu” to imply informality. Using “da yo”, “da ne” and “da yo ne” brings the “da” from cold to casual.
“Da ne” is the most common one of them all, in my opinion. Attaching the “ne” with “da” automatically makes the sentence an engaging one. It’s kind of like asking the other person for their opinion – if they agree or not. If you say “Kono kēki wa oishī da ne” (このケーキを美味しいだね) is like saying “this cake is delicious, isn’t it?”
“Da yo” has a more aggressive tone to it. If you say “watashi da yo” (私だよ), it kind of sounds like “it’s obviously me!” If you’re not so close with someone, it’s best to stay away from this one.
I often use “da yo ne” (だよね) as a response and use it on its own. For example, this phrase is perfect as a response to the cake statement. Saying “da yo ne” to that is you agreeing that the cake is delicious.
The Difference Between “Desu” and “Da”
In textbooks, they’ll tell you that “da” is the informal version of “desu”. That’s pretty accurate. In theory, it is. You can definitely use “da” to make your sentences sound more informal. But make sure you’re also aware that it can also make you sound rude and aggressive.
Using “da” on its own is rather rare in conversation. “Desu”, however, is extremely common. If you’re unsure of what to use at the end of a sentence, it’s never wrong to use “desu”, but it’s not so straightforward with “da”. My advice is to stick with “desu” until you’re comfortable with the various ending particles like “da yo” and “da ne”, or even “yo” and “ne” on their own. Read our Japanese Particles article if you want a clearer picture of what you can use and how to use them.
And there you have it! “Desu” and “da” can seem pretty clear-cut, but it’s not so black and white until you have to actually use it in conversation. I was like that when I first got to Japan, but after countless observations and practice, I now have a better understanding of their usage. Remember, Japanese is a constant learning journey. Good luck!
So you’ve watched a few episodes of anime or Japanese drama and heard the word “senpai” (先輩) more than a couple of times. I think it might have been the first few Japanese words that I’ve learned. I bet even your friends who don’t know Japanese might know this word.
If you watched it with subtitles, then you probably have assumed the meaning of it. But we’re here to clearly define what it is, how to use it and if it’s used as often in real life as it is in Japanese media.
All your doubts and questions are cleared and answered right here in this article – you’re just a scroll away from them!
The Definition of ‘Senpai’
So, what is “senpai”? The word can be defined as “senior, superior or elder” in short. It then begs the question of who can be classified as a senpai – what are the requirements to hold such a title?
Basically, a senpai is a person who is in a higher position than you in terms of skill, age, experience or social status. A senpai can also be someone who entered a workplace or school earlier than you.
Let’s look at a few examples.
In Japanese schools, the term senpai as well as kouhai (後輩) are first introduced. The older students enter the school earlier than the younger ones, hence they’re automatically senpais. In this case, age might not matter (although the usual case is that those older than you are in grades above you). If you have someone of the same age but enters school earlier, they’re still considered a senpai.
Especially during after-school club activities, the senpai-kouhai relationship is strong as the senpais are required to instruct their kouhais and train them.
Then there’s the workplace. The senpai terminology isn’t only used in schools. At a workplace, the relationship between senpais and kouhais differ a bit. Instead of instructing their kouhai, senpais take on the role of taking care of the people under them. If you’re a senpai at work, you have a sense of responsibility to look after your kouhai. Depending on the company, the senpai-kouhai relationship can differ.
Other organisations like part-time jobs and those relying on mentorship relationships like dojos also have similar senpai-kouhai relationships.
How to Use ‘Senpai’
So, how do you use the term “senpai”? At school, you usually attach it to the end of the person’s name. If the person in the grade above you is called Nakamura Kei, you can call him “Nakamura-senpai”. Sometimes, depending on the situation, you can also call them with their first name, like “Kei-senpai”. This reflects the intimacy of the relationship, but most of the time, it’s the last name.
At workplaces, it’s common to attach “san” (さん) instead of “senpai”. “San” acts more like “Mr.”, “Miss”, or “Mrs.”, but it holds the same impact as “senpai”. Say the same person is in a higher hierarchical position than you at work. You can call him “Nakamura-san”. This way is more appropriate than the first way.
Alternatively, you could just call him “senpai” on its own without the name attached to the title. This can be used at both school and workplace.
The Respect Attached to “Senpai”
What’s just as important as the title is the respect attached to it. Just like any title, there’s a certain way you have to act with someone who holds that title. You don’t go up to your boss and say, “Hey, man! How’s it going”, right? If you do, I envy you – you have a pretty cool boss.
Anyway, your senpai is someone who is more experienced or skilled, older than you or someone who is going to train and take care of you. In other words, your care is in their hands. Whether it’s at school’s club activities or at the workplace, your senpai has insights and skills that they can pass down to you.
When speaking to your senpai, it’s best to use the polite or formal form. This includes the “desu” (です) and “masu” (ます) forms. By using these forms, you’re showing that you’re respecting your senpai.
Or at least for the beginning of the senpai-kouhai relationship. Over time, you might find yourself growing very close to your senpai and it then becomes a more “douryou” (同僚) relationship where you speak less formally. I know a few friends who are extremely close with their senpai that they go out drinking ever so often and talk like they’re the closest buddies. It all really balls down to how cool your senpai is. You might get a strict senpai who plays by the hierarchical formality pretty rigidly.
Now that you know who can be classified as a senpai, how to use the term and how to act with a senpai, will you be practicing this with your higher-ups at the workplace or school? I’m pretty sure they’ll be honoured to be called your senpai. I’ll try that with higher-ups – you should, too!
The Japanese language is beautiful. There are tons of words that can’t fully be explained in English, let alone have an English word equivalent. In just one word, it can describe a whole scenario. And sometimes, just from the sound of it, it gives you a sense of what the word holds. The list of untranslatable Japanese words is endless, but we’ll start with 15 of the most beautiful ones.
1. Komorebi (木漏れ日)
Komorebi (木漏れ日) is such a beautiful word. This word translates to the sunlight that filters through trees. There’s no one word in English that can fully encompass the meaning of this word. When one thinks of this word, the image of a peaceful forest appears in their mind. Remember this one the next time you go wandering in the woods!
2. Shinrinyoku (森林浴)
This next word is also related to the forest. Shinrinyoku (森林浴) refers to taking a peaceful walk through the woods. When on this stroll, the aim is to relax, unwind and appreciate the peace of nature. There’s actually events and tours for shinrinyoku therapy. What better way to treat your mental health than a break away from civilisation?
3. Shibui (シブイ)
Have you ever heard of the phrase “age like fine wine” in English? In Japanese, just one word holds the same meaning: shibui (シブイ). However, this untranslatable word means so much more. It’s a very specific adjective that describes something or someone who has gotten cooler or more graceful with age.
4. Tsundoku (積ん読)
This word is a combination of two words. Tsundoku (積ん読) makes up of “tsun”, which means “pile up”, and “doku”, which means “to read”. Together, it means the act of buying so many books and ending up not reading them. You’re just piling them up. Who else is guilty of that? It’s amazing that there’s one word that describes it all in Japanese.
5. Karoushi (過労死)
This next work is something we all don’t want to be. Karoushi (過労死) translates to “death from overwork and mental stress”. Japan has a very overworked culture. Sometimes the pressure and stress from working too much can cause some to have illnesses or even take their own life. That feeling is the definition of this word.
6. Wabi sabi (わびさび)
Onto a lighter note, our next word is wabi sabi (わびさび). I bet some of us have seen this word on a few books in the bookstore. This word refers to the appreciation of the beauty of imperfection and impermanence. It’s a traditional Japanese aesthetic as well as a style of art. It focuses on restraint and simplicity. At the end of the day, wabi sabi is being at peace and calm with temporary things.
7. Ikigai (生きがい)
Ikigai (生きがい) is a combination of two words. It combines the word for “to live”, “ikiru” (生きる), and “gai” (がい), which means “reason”. When combined, it means “the reason to live”. It’s the purpose you have for living. It could be a hobby, a person or cause. It can quite literally be anything, as long as it gets you out of bed in the morning. What a beautiful concept in a word!
8. Nekojita (猫舌)
Here’s a fun word: nekojita (猫舌). This word literally translates to “cat tongue”, but it has another meaning. A lot of Japanese people love to eat their food and drinks when it’s super hot. People who blow on their food to cool it down are said to have “nekojita”. It’s said that it’s based on the fact that cats generally don’t like to eat hot food. This usage can be dated back to the Edo period!
9. Kuchi sabishii (口寂しい)
Kuchi sabishii (口寂しい) is another fun one. This word literally means “lonely mouth”, but of course, it has another meaning. Those of us who eat just because we’re bored, we’re basically ‘kuchi sabishii”. I know I’m guilty of munching on chips just because I have nothing else to do.
10. Kouyou (紅葉)
One of the best things about autumn in Japan is its kouyou (紅葉). Translated to “autumn foliage”, this word beautifully encapsulates the beauty of the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of the fall season. From Japanese locals to foreign tourists, everyone travels around to see “kouyou”.
11. Kogarashi (木枯らし)
Japan loves its nature. Here’s another word that beautifully describes an aspect of mother nature: kogarashi (木枯らし). It can translate to “leaf-shaking wind”. This word refers to the first cold wind you feel in autumn that lets you know that winter is coming real soon. For some of us, this is a sign to start shopping for winter jackets and sweaters!
12. Batankyuu (ばたんきゅう)
Ever felt so exhausted that you immediately flop into bed and fell straight to sleep? That, my friend, is “batankyuu” (ばたんきゅう). This is an onomatopoeia used mostly in written form rather than spoken. “Batan” is the action of falling onto the bed, and “kyuu” is the stillness of when you sleep. The Japanese people work so hard that everyone might as well be “batankyuu” every night.
13. Mikka Bouzu (三日坊主)
“Mikka bouzu” (三日坊主) translates to “three-day monk”. That can give you an idea of what it actually refers to. If someone gives up really easily or quickly, then this word is for them. It can also refer to someone who initially starts off with so much passion for something and then falter just as quickly. The referral to monks is quite interesting because monks are known to have a very strict routine. Throughout history, more than a few people have called it quits not too long after they’ve started.
14. Betsu bara (別腹)
Ever eaten so much for a meal, but still have the appetite for dessert? You might have “betsu bara” (別腹). This translates to “separate stomach”. Some of us might be able to relate to this. No matter how full we are, there’s always room for dessert!
15. Mono no aware (物の哀れ)
The last word on our list is “mono no aware” (物の憐れ). This word is pretty similar to “wabi sabi”, but it’s considered to be an older word that not a lot of people use now. The meaning of this word is to appreciate the fleeting beauty of something. It’s in line with the Buddhist idea of being in the moment as well as letting things go.
Which untranslatable word is your favourite?
In just one word, it can convey emotions, thoughts and wisdom. The Japanese language is very beautiful indeed. While this list is only of 15 words, there are dozens, if not hundreds, more of Japanese words that can’t be translated. For now, which one of these 15 words is your favourite?
When you learn Japanese from a textbook, you get all the useful words and phrases for communication. It can sometimes be a bit dry without the fun stuff. The Japanese language has an abundance of cute and fun words that aren’t always introduced when you first start learning Japanese. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth knowing. Here is a list of the top 20 cute Japanese words that are definitely going to make your heart melt!
1. Doki doki (ドキドキ)
Do you remember the feeling of nervousness when you see your crush? Or when your heart beats fast as if it’s thumping to get out of your chest? In Japanese, you can describe this feeling as “doki doki” (ドキドキ). The word itself is like the sound of a fast heartbeat. You can use this word as a verb, too, by adding ”suru” (する) to make “doki doki suru” (ドキドキする). This translates to be excited (with a racing heart) or when you have butterflies in your stomach.
When you feel dizzy or giddy, you can describe the feeling as “kura kura” (クラクラ). Even though the act of being dizzy itself isn’t all that fun, at least the word has a cute ring to it. Use it as a verb by adding ”suru” (する) to make “kura kura suru” (クラクラする)
3. Kawaii (かわいい)
What’s a list of cute Japanese words without the Japanese word for “cute” in it, and that is “kawaii” (かわいい). While it translates to “adorable” and “cute”, this word covers a wider range than just that. You can call a kitty or puppy “kawaii”, but you can also refer to an action as “kawaii”. This is when the word holds the meaning of “adorable” that makes you want to show your affection.
“Kawaii” can also be written in kanji as 可愛い, but it’s more common to spell it out in hiragana.
4. Kirei (綺麗)
While “kawaii” is a common compliment, a step up from it is “kirei” (綺麗). This Japanese word means “pretty”. Not only does the word sound cute when spoken, but it’s also considered as a sweet compliment. You can say this to your girlfriend or among your group of friends (for the ladies). Since it has a more feminine tone, I don’t think it’s best to say this to your guy pals. They might even take it the wrong way, who knows!
5. Niko niko (ニコニコ)
The Japanese word for smile is “emi” (笑み). The same kanji is used for the verb “to laugh” (笑う). Those are the common ways to express those feelings, but why not try a new word for “smile”? “Niko niko” (ニコニコ) is a cute alternative to refer to your or someone else’s smile in Japanese.
6. Utsukushii (美しい)
So we have a word for “cute” and a word for “pretty”. What if you want to take it up another notch? The Japanese word “utsukushii” (美しい) translates to “beautiful”. I think it’s such a lovely way to compliment your girlfriend or friends. When said, the word sounds extremely cute. It’ll melt her heart more than it’ll melt yours!
7. Momo (もも)
This next cute Japanese word is quite common to use as a nickname for someone. In fact, some people have their real names as this, too! “Momo” (もも) in Japanese means “peach”. Because it’s such a cute and endearing word, a lot of Japanese people would name their children or pets as “momo”.
8. Mago mago (まごまご)
Have you ever been confused, it’s like your head is spinning trying to process the information? “Mago mago” (まごまご) is the Japanese word to mean “confused”. Similar to dizziness, being confused is not the most pleasant thing. But at least the word is cute to say. Who knows, the pleasantry of it might even help with your confusion!
9. Bara (ばら)
There’s a word in Japanese that translates to “scattered” or “disperse” and that is “bara bara” (バラバラ). However, if you only take half of the word, “bara” (ばら) actually is referred to a rose. You might want to be careful when referring to the beautiful flower a couple of times. If you say “rose, rose”, which is “bara, bara”, you might actually be conveying a whole different meaning!
10. Hoshi (ほし)
I find this next word extremely cute. “Hoshi” (ほし) is the Japanese word for “star”. I think it’s adorable because, not only is the pronunciation itself is cute, but it’s also because it’s close to the word for “desire” which is “hoshii” (欲しい). Try saying “hoshi ga hoshii” (ほしが欲しい): “I want a star”.
11. Momonga (モモンガ)
In Honshu, Japan, you can find flying squirrels in the forest. If you’ve ever seen one before, you know that they’re incredibly cute animals! And so is their name: momonga (モモンガ). This word can refer to flying squirrels in general, but it’s more commonly used to refer to the Japanese dwarf flying squirrel. I don’t know about you, but that extra fact just made this Japanese word even cuter!
12. Gaki (ガキ)
If you have a young sibling or any little kids around you, call them this when they’re whining: gaki (ガキ). This word has the meaning of “brat”, but in an endearing way and not too negative. It’s best to only use it with someone you’re familiar with and not a stranger.
13. Koneko (子猫)
Can anything beat the cuteness of kittens? Except for puppies, not really. “Cat” in Japanese is “neko” (猫), so what about kittens? We add the kanji for “young” or “child” at the start and that is “ko” (子), to make “koneko” (子猫). Even the Japanese word for “kitten” is cute. Very befitting.
14. Chou Chou (蝶々)
Whether big or small, butterflies are super cute. What’s even cuter is the name for it: chou chou (蝶々). You can even shorten it to just “chou” when referring to them. Either way, it’s still a cute word, especially if you see a kid pointing to a butterfly and saying “chou chou!”
15. Kisu (キス)
I don’t know about you, but I like the word “kiss”. In Japanese, they also use the word but in katakana form: “kisu” (キス). When someone asks their partner for a kiss, they would say: “kisu shite” (キスして), which is like saying “let’s kiss”. Isn’t that the cutest?
Do take note that this word should be used with only your partner. It can be quite inappropriate otherwise.
16. Tamago (卵)
One of the first few words in Japanese that we learn is “tamago” (卵), which means “egg”. And it really does just mean “egg” most of the time. However, in Japanese culture, it can be used to have a different meaning. On its own, it can have the meaning of “rookie” or “noobie”. If you attach it to something else, it can mean that you’re a beginner of that skill. “Dezainā no tamago” (デザイナーの卵) means that you’re a rookie designer.
17. Bigaku (美学)
One of the most popular words that people like to use in English is “aesthetics”. The Japanese equivalent is “bigaku” (美学), but this word has a cuter connotation to it. When you describe someone as “bigaku”, it’s describing their love of cute and adorable things. It’s common for people who are into Harajuku fashion to describe younger people dressing up in cutesy styles.
18. Aikyou (愛郷)
Not only is this word cute but it’s also quite heartwarming. “Aikyou” (愛郷) translates to “love for one’s hometown”. Literally, it means “love town” but when used, it’s always to describe the feeling of homesickness of the place you grew up in.
19. Koi (恋)
Nothing can make your heart melt more than the word for “love” itself: “koi” (恋). I think it’s beautiful in meaning and in the kanji used. But not only that, it has a cute pronunciation that you can’t help but to smile when it’s said.
20. Mamoru (守)
Last but not least, we have “mamoru” (守). Other than the word sounding cute itself, the meaning is simply magnificent. “Mamoru” means “to protect” or “to cherish”, and if someone says to you that they want to “mamoru” you, you’re definitely going to feel like your heart skipped a beat (or “doki doki”).
Which word is the cutest?
There are definitely loads more cute Japanese words. The list is endless. But hopefully, these 20 highlighted ones are more than enough to make your heart melt for now. Which do you think is the cutest Japanese word? Let us know in the comments if you plan on using any of these words in the near future!
I can feel the humidity and heat coming in quick! Summer is just around the corner. How confident are you with your summer vocabulary? If you’re familiar with kigo (季語), your summer seasonal words list should be a long one. Kigo refers to seasonal words used in Haiku to describe the seasons.
If you’re not all too happy with your list, don’t worry. You’ve come to the right place to build that up. We’ve compiled a list of common and unique summer seasonal words for you to lock into memory!
Of course, the first on our list is “natsu” (夏). This translates to “summer”. The days leading up to summer are usually bright and warm. This phase of time is called “natsumeku” (夏めく). “Meku” is a suffix that loosely translates to “becoming like”. When you combine it with the Japanese word for summer, it means “beginning to look like summer”.
On the first day of summer (known as rikka, 立夏), everyone welcomes it with open arms. We’re past the cold and dry. Hello, heat and humidity. I don’t know about you, but I’m half-and-half when it comes to summer.
Anyway, after a few weeks into summer, we’ll feel natsubate (夏ばて). This is the fatigue and exhaustion you feel from the summer heat and humidity. “Bate” comes from the verb “bateru” (ばてる), which means “to be exhausted”. Combat natsubate with bottles of water and a sensu (扇子, folding fan).
Let’s not forget the natsumatsuri (夏祭り). The summer festivals are what keeps the spirits up during this humid season. You get everything from music and camping festivals to traditional street marches and food stalls.
For the students, you have natsuyasumi (夏休み) to look forward to! We all need that summer holiday, don’t we?
Come summer, you’ll hear chiming everywhere. That’s all because of the fuurin (風鈴). They are glass wind chimes that symbolises summer in Japan. Fuurins are made of glass bells with a string and a piece of paper hanging down underneath them. You’ll see these glass wind chimes on doors, windows and gates all throughout summer.
Sometimes, people write wishes on the piece of paper as well. When you hear the chimes of the glass bells, you’ll know there’s wind in the air to help with the humid heat!
Before we get the hot sun, we get tsuyu (梅雨). Tsuyu is the rainy season that comes at the start of summer in Japan. Usually, it’s around the start or middle of June and lasts till the middle of July. They’re not heavy rain and it’s usually mild showers in general. However, Japan does get heavy rainstorms as well as typhoons.
You won’t get the humidity as much during this time. Instead, you get tsuyuzamu (梅雨寒), which is the chill from the rain.
Japanese people combat the Japanese summer with kakigoori (かき氷). This is a type of Japanese dessert made from shaved ice and topped with syrup and condensed milk. It’s really sweet, so those of you who have a sweet tooth will absolutely love it!
When summer comes, pop up stalls selling kakigoori appear everywhere! You can have your pick from street kakigoori to ones from specialist shops. Get an ice-shaving machine yourself and try it at home!
Remember when we said there are summer festivals? What’s a festival without fireworks. Hanabi (花火) is one of the highlights of Japanese summer. Every town in the country throws some sort of event for a firework show. Couples, friends and family would bring their mats and find a spot to watch the show.
We’ve been mentioning “humid” a couple of times. What is it in Japanese? It’s “mushiatsui” (蒸し暑い). When the air is moist and damp (or shimetta, 湿った) during the hot weather, that’s when you know it’s peak Japanese summer. I don’t think I’ve experienced a hotter and more humid summer than in Japan. So brace yourselves!
According to the old calendar, there’s another way to refer to the month of June. It’s called “minazuki” (水無月). If you look at the kanji’s used, it combines the word for “water” (水) and “month” (月). The “mu” (無) character doesn’t hold any meaning. If you combine the other two, it translates to “the month of water”.
June is the start of the rainy season, after all. Minazuki is an appropriate name for the month.
There’s a type of soda that comes in glass bottles. They’re called “ramune” (ラムネ). These bottled sodas have curved necks and a glass ball in the middle, referred to as bidama (ビー玉). This type of soda is so popular during the season of summer that it has now become a symbol of the season.
Shochu mimai (暑中見舞い)
Japanese people love sending greeting cards to friends and family during occasions. In summer, they send shochu mimai (暑中見舞い) to check in on their loved ones’ health and wellbeing. They can also send gifts, too!
If you send a greeting card at the end of summer, it’s then referred to as zansho mimai (残暑見舞い).
Summer calls for the sun, sand and sea! If you love going to the beach, you’ve got to brace yourself for the hiyake (日焼け). Hiyake translates to sunburn. Make sure you put on a lot of sunscreen with high SPF content! The sunlight in Japan is no joke!
Has your summer season vocabulary expanded? Prepare for summer with not only bikini bodies and new swimsuits but also a load of new Japanese vocabulary!
I love anime and I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this article, you at least have a passing interest in it as well. Learning to speak Japanese via any form of popular media can be quite daunting and challenging. However, it can also be very rewarding as you can learn some great new vocabulary from it as well as formal and informal uses of those same words.
That being said, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t use anime, manga, or any other form of pop culture as a strong basis for learning by itself but rather as a supplement to your regular learning habits. It should also be noted that viewers are encouraged to watch their pop culture actively complete with taking notes on new vocab words rather than passively since it won’t do you any good to only catch the gist of what the characters are actually saying.
Most of the anime on this list were chosen because they have simple sentences and words that are suitable for learners who aren’t as advanced in their studies yet. For that reason, I’m not guaranteeing that you’re going to find the titles on this list to be masterpieces of the medium.
While many experts feel that learning from pop culture should be reserved for intermediate learners, I know that there are plenty of you out there who are itching to jump right in and start learning from the media that you’re actively consuming anyway. With all, that out of the way here are some titles that you can watch right now to help you master Japanese!
Bottom Biting Bug (Oshiri Kajiri Mushi – おしりかじり虫
Aimed at a MUCH younger audience, this series of shorts (each episode only lasts about 5 minutes) originally started airing in 2012 and features a young bottom biting bug who helps people feel better both physically and emotionally by — you guessed it — biting them on the bottom. This is going to give you very basic vocab and grammar lessons but don’t expect any significantly deep plots.
Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat (ぱにょぱにょ デ・ジ・キャラット)
Another series of shorts aimed at a younger audience (though not quite as young as the first entry on this list), this adorable series first started airing in 2002 and ran for 48 episodes. Featuring very easy to understand plots, this is a good series to watch so long as you remember that Dejiko and her friends don’t always speak normal, everyday Japanese.
Polar Bear Cafe (Shirokuma Cafe – しろくまカフェ)
The first entry on this list that isn’t a short but rather made up of full-length episodes, this 50 episode series first aired in 2012. What makes this series so good to watch isn’t just that the characters are adorable and stories are simple but the puns! Every so often, Polar Bear will break out a string of Japanese puns which are not only hilarious but also great for picking up new vocab that comes complete with visual cues.
Chi’s Sweet Home (チーズスイートホーム)
A cute seinen (a genre aimed at adult men) series about a kitty cat? Sign me up! First appearing in anime form back in 2008, this title features many short sentences that are easy to pick up on so even beginner Japanese learners should be able to pick up valuable new words from this series.
Lovely Muuuuuuuco! (ラブリームービー いとしのムーコ)
Not a cat person? Got you covered! This series is all about an adorable pet dog named Muco. Originally airing in 2013, this anime is similar to Chi’s Sweet Home in that it has a lot of simple, short dialogue.
Chibi Maruko-chan (ちびまる子ちゃん)
This slice of life comedy series has been running almost solidly since 1990! A family series, it follows the daily life of elementary school student Maruko-chan. Conversational Japanese is what you’re going to get from this series the most so be sure to jot down those notes with this one.
Non Non Biyori (のんのんびより)
Another relaxing slice of life series from recent history (it first started airing in 2013), this is a series that has become pretty popular among fans of the genre. Featuring a group of young girls of various ages who live far out in the country, this is another series to pick up light-hearted conversational Japanese.
Pretty Cure (Futari wa PreCure – ふたりはプリキュア)
No list is ever complete without at least one mahou shoujo (magical girl) series and this is one of the most popular in Japan! First airing in 2004, this series has spawned literally over a dozen sequels and movies. Aimed at young girls (though it’s famous for appealing to older fans as well), this might not provide you with tons of useful new vocabulary words (unless you plan on moving to Japan to become a crime-fighting magical girl. No judgment.) this is still a good series to pick up some basic conversation skills.
There you go, learners! Eight titles that you can go forth right now and check out for yourselves! Have a fantastic rest of your month everyone and join me again next month when I reveal even more anime titles that you can use to supplement your studies.