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?
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!
So, you want to learn Japanese. That’s great. The Japanese language is a beautiful one. Learning it opens you to understanding aspects of the Japanese culture that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.
But the thing is, it’s no easy chore. I’ve bet you’ve heard that one before. Some say that Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn. There’s three writing systems. The sentence structure is different from English. There are various levels of formality. If you have a plan to go to Japan some time in the future and want to be familiar with the language first, you’ve got to plan in advance.
And the question in your head right now is: how long is it going to take to learn Japanese? Some websites will tell you that you can converse easily within a few months using their special tools. But the thing is, there are so many factors you need to consider before even getting a timeline. Here, we highlight five of them.
Learning Goals: Why are you learning Japanese?
The first one is your goal. Why are you learning Japanese? What’s your purpose for learning Japanese? Are you going to Japan for travel, business or to live? Will you be using Japanese for everyday purposes or for work? It’s important to clearly define your purpose and goals for learning the language. That’s because various goals require different durations of time.
There are four main skills involved in a language: speaking, listening, writing and reading. Does your purpose involve all skills or just a few? If you’re aiming to master them all at a high level, you’d need more time than someone who’s aiming to get by with speaking and listening.
Especially with reading and writing, you’d need to have a good grasp at kanji (漢字), one of the writing systems that uses Chinese characters. This is going to take a lot of time. Even local Japanese people struggle with that.
Proficiency: What level of Japanese do you want to achieve?
The next thing to think about is how fluent you want to be in the Japanese language. Are you fine with being able to use the language just at conversational level or are you aiming for fluency?
Conversational Japanese includes being able to give and receive information. You basically can hold a conversation casually. This level of Japanese can be used in day-to-day activities like shopping, watching movies and enquiring about things.
Fluent Japanese is a step up. It involves more complex grammar and technical skills. Everything from casual to formal Japanese, you have it covered. Instead of thinking in your native language and translating it to Japanese, you are able to think in Japanese.
Depending on the level of fluency you want to achieve, it’s going to affect the time it takes to learn the language. You first have to decide how high up a mountain you want to climb before knowing how long it’s going to take to get there.
Time: How long can you commit to studying Japanese?
After that, think about how much time you can commit to studying Japanese. Not everyone can commit a large set of hours each day. Look at your own schedule and decide for yourself. But the key here is to practice every day. The more you practice, the faster you’ll reach your goal. Someone who sets aside four hours a day is going to learn more and faster than someone who sets aside two hours a day.
It doesn’t have to be sitting with a textbook for three hours a night. There’s also passive learning. Whether it’s watching anime and J-drama or listening to podcasts and music, it still counts. If you’re actively learning throughout, you’re getting your mind accustomed to the language.
Generally, if someone studies Japanese a few hours every day, they’ll be able to reach JLPT N2 in two to three years.
Experience: Have you ever learned a new language before?
This next point is not as direct, but it’s really important. Ask yourself if you’ve ever learned a new language. How long it takes to learn a new language does depend on whether you’re bilingual already or not. It’s been proven that learning a third language is much easier than learning a second language.
If you’ve learned a language before, your mind is more adjusted to absorb linguistic information. If it’s going to be your first time, it might be a bit of a struggle at first. It’s especially so with Japanese since there are three writing systems to begin with.
Your native language is going to play a part into the learning process as well. If English is your native language, sentence structure can be difficult. The Japanese language has a different grammar structure than English, and it can take a while to get used to.
Motivation: How driven are you?
Last but not least, ask yourself: how motivated are you to learn Japanese? Are you psyched and excited to start this journey, and maintain this enthusiasm throughout? Are you going to lose that positive attitude halfway through? The mindset you put yourself in during this learning journey is crucial.
If you find yourself losing interest, it will take longer for you to reach your Japanese language goal. If you can maintain your motivation, it will be faster than you think. Someone who wants to learn the language as a hobby is going to learn faster than someone who has to learn the language for work.
Keep your eyes on the prize. All your intentions and efforts to learn the language have to be aligned. Your mind can only absorb what you let it to.
How long does it take?
So, exactly how long does it take to learn Japanese before visiting Japan? As you can tell, it really varies depending on the individual. Some people are faster learners than others as well. But there is a general guideline.
If you’re looking to be able to hold a basic conversation in Japan, it’ll take only a few months for that. If you want to use Japanese to read manga (漫画) or other Japanese books, it might take you over a year. Higher level of fluency can take up to 3 or 5 years. Roughly, a student has to attend 2200 class hours to be able to achieve Japanese fluency. That’s about 88 weeks (1 year and 10 months).
On top of that, you have to be using the language every day.
Our online learning system is the perfect tool to assist you in your daily practice. Try our free trial to jumpstart your Japanese learning journey. Ganbatte ne! (Good luck!)
You’ve mastered hiragana (ひらがな). It took you a while to learn katana (カタカナ), but at the end, you did it. Now, for the next step in learning Japanese. There are three writing systems in the Japanese language. The third one is kanji (漢字). This writing system is made up of Chinese characters. If you’re familiar with the Chinese language, memorizing the characters won’t be hard for you at all. Because you already know them.
Not all of us are as lucky. We’ve got to learn kanji from scratch. And let me tell you, from personal experience, it’s extremely difficult. Even some of my Japanese friends find kanji hard!
But hard doesn’t mean impossible. With a couple of tips, you can learn kanji easier. In this article, we list 6 ways to help you master the kanji writing system!
Learn the Radicals
Radicals are a big part of how kanji characters are set up. Radicals are a piece of kanji that gets tacked onto a bigger kanji. There are a total of 214 radicals in Japanese. If you learn all of them, you’ll cover the base characters. From there, you can build up towards your kanji characters. Radicals are also handy for using kanji dictionaries, like the one on Nihongo Master.
When you combine two or more radicals together, even without knowing the big kanji character, you can basically guess what it means. However, radicals change shape when you combine them with another kanji. For example, 水 (mizu, water) changes to 氵 when you see it in the word 海 (umi, ocean).
When you start learning radicals and the ways they change, soon you’ll be able to recognise bigger kanji characters. Over time, you’ll build your kanji vocabulary, just from learning the radicals!
Learn Jouyou Kanji
There are over 50,000 kanji in the Japanese language! That’s a lot, even for a Japanese person. So, how do you know which kanji to learn and which not to?
The answer is simple: learn Jouyou kanji (常用漢字). This refers to the commonly used Chinese characters. Younger Japanese kids start off by learning this type of kanji first. If you can memorize Jouyou kanji, you’ll be able to read at least 80% of the Japanese language already!
You can’t beat the age-old technique of repetition and drilling. This is also known as the traditional way to learn kanji. It uses a lot of paper with square boxes and pen ink. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have those kanji characters locked in your brain.
Take one kanji character that you really want to learn. Then, look at how the strokes are. A lot of people say it’s important to learn the strokes in order. It’s true, because it really helps to memorise the character. Follow the strokes of the characters on paper for yourself.
Copy the stroke order until you’ve locked it in your brain for the day. Then the next day, try recalling it without referring to anything. Do it every day until you can remember it. Then, when you stop drilling that kanji character, wait a few weeks before testing yourself again. If you pass your own test, you’ve mastered that kanji character.
Do that practice for all the kanji characters you want to learn. Learning to draw kanji will help you remember as well as make your Japanese writing more fluent looking!
Use Flash Cards
Accompany the previous method with this one: flashcards. Not everyone can learn from constantly repeating the same strokes over and over again. Some are more visual learners than others. This means that they need to see a visual reference to learn better.
I learn better with writing things down, but I know some people prefer visual aids. The flash cards can be of the stroke orders or a picture of what the kanji character looks like. Whichever works best for you, opt for those flashcards.
They’re great for learning on-the-go, as well. Flashcards are small and can be carried around with you. They barely take up any space! Whether you’re commuting or waiting for your dish at a cafe, pop them out and learn!
Take Up Reading
I know not everyone is a fan of reading. If you’re not, you might want to reconsider. Reading can really help you learn kanji characters. That’s because reading solidifies the kanji characters that you already know. When you are faced with the characters you’re familiar with a lot of times, it’s going to stay permanent in your head.
This method is great when you already know a lot of kanji characters. It shows you the kanji you know in action, reinforcing them, but also showing you new kanji and different usage of the ones you know. Keep a kanji dictionary handy and highlight or take note of what you don’t understand. You’ll be learning new words and kanji in no time!
On top of that, you get to read a new story and see the kanji characters you learn in context!
Build Your Vocab
Last but not least, a great way to learn kanji is by building your vocabulary. I used to do this a lot when I was starting out with learning kanji. If you learn the vocabulary word, you’ll naturally learn the kanji characters used for it.
For example, you’re definitely going to learn the word “to eat” (食べる, taberu). Another essential Japanese word is “dining room” (食堂, shokudou). You’ll realize that the kanji 食 can be pronounced as “ta” or “shoku”. You’ll learn more vocabulary and be exposed to more words that use the same kanji character. After a while, you’ll be able to guess the readings and grasp the meaning just from context.
This method is more useful the more words you learn. It definitely gets easier as well. Not only are you building your kanji character book but also your Japanese vocabulary!
Different people study differently. These 6 methods have different approaches for various types of learners. There’s definitely one that’ll be great for your way of learning. Kanji is important in the Japanese language. Try all the ways out and you’ll be a master at it!
Our second season’s second episode of the Nihongo Master Podcast introduces a language series in the mix: Study Saturday! In this series, we bring you a new grammar episode every Saturday — bite-sized and full of vocabulary words. They’re going to be very similar to the lessons Nihongo Master offers, so if you realise you love Study Saturday, you’ll love our interactive online learning system.
The series episode flow goes like this: grammar point, roleplaying scenarios, vocab recap.
And for our very first episode, we looked at one I personally use every day: Have you ever…? Like… Have you ever needed to ask someone if they had ever done something? Or tell someone that you have or have never done something before? Yes? Exactly!
If you missed that episode, go check it out! Here’s a recap of what we covered in that episode, along with a list of vocabulary words that we used.
Have You Ever…ことがある？
Before we get to playing “Never Have I Ever”, we gotta know how to ask the basic question: Have you ever…?
To ask this question in Japanese, all you have to do is add “koto ga aru” (ことがある) / “koto ga arimasuka?” (ことがありますか) to the casual past tense of any verb.
We looked at this example: “Have you ever been to Europe?”
For this question, we’ll use the verb for “to go” which is iku (行く), then change it to the casual past tense: itta (行った). Then, just add the phrase we mentioned before to make “itta koto ga aru” (行ったことがある) / “itta koto ga arimasuka” (行ったことがありますか). So when you have the subject and put it all together, you get: “yoroppa ni itta koto ga aru?” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがある？) / “yoroppa ni itta koto ga arimasuka?” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがありますか？)
In the episode, we gave a few more examples — check it out for more clarity.
We also looked at how to reply. There are two ways to go about this kind of question: “Yes, I have…” or “No, I haven’t…” While you could get away with a simple “hai” or “iie”, but why not up your game a bit?
To say you’ve done something, the formula is pretty much the exact same as the question. Reply the example question with “yuroppa ni itta koto ga aru” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがある) / “yuroppa ni itta koto ga arimasu” (ヨーロッパに行ったのとがあります). As simple as ABC! Or, you could even cut it short to “itta koto ga aru” (行ったことがある) / “itta koto ga arimasu” (行ったのとがあります) — leaving out the subject.
For the negative reply “No I haven’t…”, we gotta make a slight change to the ending — aru (ある) has to be in its negative form, which is nai (ない) or arimasen (ありません). So then it becomes: “yuroppa ni itta koto ga nai” (ヨーロッパに行ったことがない) / “yuroppa ni itta koto ga arimasen” (ヨーロッパに行ったのとがありません). Similarly, you can cut it short by leaving out the subject: “itta koto ga nai” (行ったことがない) / “itta koto ga arimasen” (行ったのとがありません).
In short, the formula to ask “Have you ever…” is:
subject + particle + verb in the casual past tense + koto ga aru/arimasuka (ことがある/ことがありますか).
And for the answer of “I have/have never…”, it’s the same with a slight difference at the end:
subject + particle + verb in the casual past tense + koto ga aru/koto ga arimasu (ことがある/ことがあります) for positive; koto ga nai/koto ga arimasen (ことがないことがありません) for negative.
For the full explanation with everyday examples, head over to Spotify or Apple Podcasts — we even have a few roleplaying scenarios using this grammar language a few times!
Just like our previous episodes, we wrapped it up with a vocab recap for all the Japanese words we used. Here’s a compiled list of it:
Kouhai (後輩) — people of lower status
Tomodachi (友達) — friend
Senpai (先輩) — people of higher status
Kazoku (家族) — family
Iku (行く) — to go
Yoroppa (ヨーロッパ) — Europe
Taberu (食べる) — to eat
Kankoku (韓国) — South Korea
Ryouri (料理) — cuisine
Kohi (コーヒー) — coffee
Koucha (紅茶) — black tea
Nomu (飲む) — to drink
Nominomo (飲み物) — drink
Tabemono (食べ物) — food
Ichiban suki (一番好き) — literally translates to number one like, but it actually means favourite
Igai (以外) — with the exception of, or except
Suki (好き) — like
Daisuki (大好き) — love
Meccha (めっちゃ) — a casual way to say really
Chuugoku (中国) — China
Ippai (いっぱい) — a lot
Onaka tsuita (お腹ついた) — to be hungry
hyaku pacento (百パーセント) — 100%
Eigo (英語) – English language
Jetto kosuta (ジェットコスタ) — roller coaster
Noru (乗る) — to ride
Muri (無理) — impossible
Kowasou (怖そう) — looks scary
Hitori de (一人で) — alone
Uso (うそ) — a lie
Tanoshii (楽しい) — fun
Issho ni (一緒に) — together
Ikou (行こう) — let’s go. It comes from the word “iku”
Shiata (シアター) — theatre
Pafomansu (パフォマンス) — performance
Miru (見る) — to see or to watch
Majikku (マジック) — magic tricks. you can also call it tejina
Omoshirosou (面白そう) — looks interesting
Chotto (ちょっと) — a bit, but it can also mean “wait”
Tanomu (頼む) — please
Tabun (多分) — maybe
Yakusoku (約束) — promise
And that’s the recap of our very first episode of our language series, Study Saturday. If this recap has been useful to you, perfect! You’ll love the Study Saturday podcast series — so pop open your preferred streaming app and give Nihongo Master Podcast a listen!
People all over the world go on a hunt for the perfect costume, bring out their spooky decorations and RSVP to tons of themed events come October. The month of Halloween unites all the industries, even in Japan. It might as well be in the Japanese blood to go all out for anything and everything. Japan is pretty festive all year round, so why skip out on the Western spooky celebration?
But, just like everything else in Japan, the country has a twist in how they celebrate Halloween. It’s not quite the same as in the West — no houses will be decorated and trick-or-treat is not practiced — but expect the streets and shops to be flooded with Halloween spirit.
Let’s take a look at how Halloween actually came to the country, as well as the present traditions the Japanese have during this festive season.
So, how did Halloween get introduced to Japan? This Western tradition is quite a new holiday in Japan that it’s not even an actual holiday — much like Christmas.
Before Halloween caught on with the locals, this celebration was only celebrated by foreigners. A lot of them dressed up in random costumes, filled up bars and packed the trains with drinks in hand. All these public spaces turned into their very own parties and disrupted the flow of daily life in Japan.
The Japanese people saw no reason to celebrate this Western spooky festival — they have their very own (which we’ll get to in a minute). But Tokyo Disneyland made a move in 2000 by hosting its first Halloween event, just like the other Disney resorts in the rest of the world. More and more people started to visit this attraction in autumn, and with the rising popularity, even Universal Studios Japan caught on!
And so did restaurants and retail stores — Halloween-themed merchandise popped up on the market as well. Everything from orange, black and purple combo decor to pumpkin goodies are scattered around the country.
Not all of the traditions of Halloween made its way to Japan — trick-and-treating is one of them. There’s no such practice here because the idea of knocking on people’s doors randomly goes very much against the Japanese culture. In Japan, doing all of that is considered as bothering others unnecessarily — a big no-no in Japanese culture.
What did actually survive the trip from the West is the dressing up. In fact, the Japanese were more than welcoming with the activity. I mean, Japan is the world of cosplay, anyway. Regardless of age and gender, the locals participate in this tradition.
Another famous tradition of Japanese Halloween — even though it’s more like a weekly event than just on Halloween — is to go down to Shibuya and drink all night long. Locals and foreigners alike are seen mingling and having the time of their lives. This gathering event over the years became more and more chaotic, so much that a truck was overturned during one of the Halloween madness and now, public drinking is banned in Shibuya during the Halloween season.
There are also tons of other parties, parades and festivals all throughout Japan, specifically Tokyo, with people flaunting their costumes while enjoying the music, food and atmosphere! Japanese companies and schools also have Halloween parties for their workers, faculty and kids!
Another West-imported tradition of Halloween is pumpkin-carving, even though it’s not as popular in Japan. One thing to note: the pumpkins here aren’t orange, they’re purple! If you’re looking to get the whole traditional jack-o-lantern, you might need to fork out a bit more for imported orange pumpkins.
Remember when I said that the Japanese go all out? They do, even for this West-imported holiday. You can literally see their enthusiasm on every corner and street in the country. As soon as October rolls around, expect Halloween-themed everything!
The most common Japanese Halloween decoration is food — every shop will have some sort of Halloween treat. Some will even go all the way and have special Halloween menus using seasonal ingredients like sweet potatoes. Yes, pumpkin too, but in Japan, it’s all about seasonality! Let’s not forget cutely decorated dishes, complete with witch hats and pumpkin carvings.
There are also tons of light decorations on the street lamps, alleyways and neighbourhoods — and it’s different every year!
Celebrating Halloween in Japan: Where To Go?
Don’t panic if it’s your first time celebrating Halloween in Japan. You probably won’t know exactly where to go, but I’ve got you covered. You can easily walk into a local bar in a Halloween costume on Halloween and see others all dressed up too.
But if you want the full experience, there are quite a few spots for that!
Looking for a chill but not so chill space to party, Shibuya is your best bet. It’s the original Halloween spot where the expats go to party, and nowadays, the Japanese people are also joining in the fun with their own wacky outfits!
As soon as you step off the train, you can’t miss the crowd. Surrounding the Hachiko statue and near the Shibuya Scramble, you’ll see everything from zombies and spooky ghosts to bloody doctors and animal onesies.
On Halloween night, it gets extremely packed — so packed that you take one step every two seconds and it takes you at least five minutes to get to the other side of the Shibuya Scramble. What does that say about this popular Halloween location?
Pop in and out of bars and clubs to celebrate your Halloween night. Restaurants, however, can get booked up fast, so make a reservation in advance if you want to have a nice Halloween dinner with your group of friends.
The best place to celebrate Halloween in Japan is where it all began: Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. If you want to read up some more on these Disney Resorts, check out our article, “A Guide To Tokyo’s Disney Resorts”.
At these famous amusement parks in Japan, you’re guaranteed an extremely fun time; the rides are already thrilling on normal days, but when it’s Halloween, most of them switch it up and have a spooky theme.
You might even be greeted by characters walking around dressed in costumes (on top of their actual costumes — how cute), and every corner is propped even more with webs and pumpkins. If you think the original Disney treats are tasty, wait till you have a bit of the Halloween treats.
Visitors come all dressed up too — but of course, expect tons of Disney costumes. But anyway, you’re lucky enough to be able to snag a ticket for Disneyland or DisneySea on Halloween, a time with numerous exclusive entertainment. Who would ever say no to that?
Not in Tokyo? Don’t worry, Kanto has their own Halloween spot: Universal Studios Japan. It’s just as amazing, full of fun and attractions that are also themed for Halloween!
USJ has the whole amusement park turned upside down for the season and you’ll get exclusive entertainment that only comes around that time of the year. Don’t be bummed that you can’t get to the Disney Resorts, because USJ is even more spooky on Halloween, because they have Halloween Horror Nights! If you’re looking for a bit more of a scare than usual, this is a safe bet.
Halloween pales in comparison to Japan’s own spooky season, Obon. Some say that compared to Obon, Halloween is like the kid’s version of it.
Obon happens in the hot August summer and it’s one of the most famous festivities in the whole year. During this holiday season, the Japanese believe that the dead visit the household shrines and the families visit as well as clean the graves of the deceased. Similar to Halloween, ghost stories are being told and people visit haunted attractions all throughout the whole traditional spooky month.
While Obon is still strongly practiced, the fact of the matter is that Halloween now also has a foothold in modern Japanese culture — dressing up in dramatic costumes, drinking all night long in Shibuya and devouring spooky-themed treats. While it’s not as traditional as the other, it’s still an annual practice to go all out to get the best Halloween experience they can ever imagine.