The Japanese language isn’t new to most people – they’ve at least heard of it. But while not a lot of foreigners know how to speak it fluently, there are a few Japanese words that are more popular than others. We have Google to thank for that. They’re used in English conversations – heck, they might even be used in other languages’ conversations, too.

So, what are the most popular Japanese words? We’ve shortlisted the top 10 for you in this article. If you can get all 10 of them right before reading, you’re a tensai (天才)!

1. Anime (アニメ)

Who is surprised that the first Japanese word on this list is “anime” (アニメ)? It’s, without a doubt, one of the most popular Japanese words. Anime refers to Japanese animation or cartoons that originated from Japan. This genre of animation has become so popular that the Japanese word for it also caught on. I don’t think I know anyone that doesn’t know the meaning of this word as soon as they hear it instantly. I wouldn’t be surprised if the word “anime” becomes an official word in the English dictionary! 

2. Otaku (オタク)

The next popular Japanese word is “otaku” (オタク). It’s considerably less popular than the word “anime”, but those who are an actual otaku would know what it means. “Otaku” is a Japanese term to refer to those who have obsessive interests, particularly in Japanese culture, anime or manga (漫画), Japanese comics. Usually, this word is regarded as offensive and has a negative connotation. However, in recent years, it’s becoming a more neutral term.

3. Karaoke (カラオケ)

Who doesn’t like singing their hearts out? Karaoke (カラオケ) is not only popular in Japan but also abroad, too. Karaoke places are everywhere in Japan. You can find a karaoke box on almost every street, fully equipped with state-of-the-art karaoke systems, comfy sofas and an extensive food and drinks menu. 

Karaoke in Japan might be different from karaoke elsewhere, but it’s a word popularly used to refer to any type of singing openly or with a group of friends. 

4. Ramen (ラーメン)

It would be unbelievable if this word isn’t on the list. Ramen (ラーメン) is undoubtedly one of the most popular Japanese words. This noodle dish has become a signature dish of Japanese cuisine around the world. Even those who’ve never been to Japan would consider ramen as one of their favourite dishes. 

5. Teriyaki (照り焼き)

Another food-related Japanese word that’s one of the most popular words is “teriyaki” (照り焼き). This word refers to the style of cooking in the Japanese cuisine where the meat is grilled or cooked glazed in soy sauce. Chicken is commonly used in this type of cooking. 

Teriyaki-style dishes are so popular worldwide. I’m convinced that some people wouldn’t even know that teriyaki is a Japanese word!

6. Sushi (寿司)

Who doesn’t like sushi (寿司)? This is also another type of Japanese cuisine. The word “sushi” has become so popular – just as popular as the actual food itself. This rice and seafood combination has stolen the hearts of many all around the world. There are even variations to the original version of the Japanese sushi – a lot can agree that the sushi in America is vastly different from the ones you get in Japan itself.

7. Sudoku (数独)

Anyone who’s into puzzles and a slow burn game would love sudoku (数独). Heck, even those who don’t like it would know about it. This puzzle game is a great way to give your brain a good workout. There are nine boxes of nine boxes in them. Each row and column has to contain numbers from one to nine. Each box also has to have one of each number. It’s not a game for the weak, and definitely if you don’t have the patience. But it’s undeniable that it’s a popular game, and so is the Japanese word.

8. Sakura (桜)

One of Japan’s most iconic look is its spring cherry blossoms known as “sakura” (桜). People all over the world travel to The Land of the Rising Sun during this season to witness the beautiful pink blooms that take over the landscapes of the country. Because cherry blossoms are so popular and closely associated with Japan, the Japanese word for it also becomes extremely popular!

9. Kawaii (かわいい)

Whether or not you watch anime, Japanese dramas or movies, you probably have heard the Japanese word for “cute”, and that is “kawaii” (かわいい). It really is a cute way to compliment your friend or girlfriend. Just the sound of the word is cute in itself. Maybe that’s the reason why this word is so popular – so many people who don’t even know Japanese know the meaning of this word!

10. Mottainai (もったいない)

Last but not least, one of the most popular Japanese words is “mottainai” (もったいない). This is an adjective that has the meaning of “wasteful”. This word also has a different meaning, to mean “reduce, reuse, recycle”. I guess, in general, this word can be used to describe anything that could go to waste, so why not practice the three R’s? It’s used among a lot of gaijins (外人) to talk about giving away their furniture when they move out – talking from personal experience. 

Which is the most popular Japanese word for you?

There are actually a long list of Japanese words that are popular. I might argue that more than half of them are food-related, but who could argue against Japanese food being amazing? Anyway, the Japanese language has countless words that are underrated in meaning and popularity – what Japanese word do you think should get more attention? And what Japanese word is the most popular, in your opinion?