Tag Archives: 日本語

Japanese in the Oxford Dictionary

21 Aug

I wrote a post last year about Japanese words that are used in the English language (often with a different pronunciation…and sometimes even a different meaning from the original Japanese).

(Click here to read it.)

Well, it seems that this year’s edition of the Oxford Dictionary from England has added three more Japanese words to their dictionary that are supposedly in common usage in the English language now.

The words are: 「引きこもり」 (“Hikikomori“), 「過労死」 (“Karoushi“), and 「オタク」 (“Otaku“).

I know these words of course…but I can’t imagine them being used in English!
How are they used in a sentence in English?

Their definitions as taken from Oxford Dictionary Online:

noun (plural same)
[mass noun]
(in Japan) the abnormal avoidance of social contact, typically by adolescent males
[count noun] a person who avoids social contact

Japanese, literally ‘staying indoors, (social) withdrawal’

[mass noun]
(in Japan) death caused by overwork or job-related exhaustion
Japanese, from ka ‘excess’ + rō ‘labour’ + shi ‘death’

noun (plural same)
[mass noun]
(in Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills
Japanese, literally ‘your house’, alluding to the reluctance of such young people to leave the house

I think there are a few errors in a couple of the entries.
The actual definitions are mostly fine, but the “origins” aren’t quite right.

I think they should change them to:

Japanese, literally ‘staying indoors, (social) withdrawal’
I’d write:     Japanese; literally ‘pulling away’ or ‘(social) withdrawal’

literally ‘your house’, alluding to the reluctance of such young people to leave the house
I’d write:    Japanese; literally ‘you’ or ‘your house(hold)’. Anime fans in Japan began referring to each other by this overly polite term, from which it became the term that they were all referred to by.

Also those pronunciation keys in the entries are difficult to understand.
Does anyone actually use those characters to learn how to correctly pronounce a word?

This is where Japanese kana characters are especially helpful, if you can read it.

Hikikomori is pronounced 「ひきこもり」 (hɪˌkɪkə(ʊ)ˈmɔːri),
Karoshi is pronounced 「かろうし」 (kaˈrəʊʃi),
and Otaku is pronounced 「おたく」 (əʊˈtɑːkuː).

Have you ever used these words in English conversation?


Shiritori Round Two

11 Aug

「しりとり」 (“Shiritori“) is a Japanese word game.

The rules are pretty simple.
To play, the first player would say any (Japanese) noun. It can be any word as long as it doesn’t end with the 「ん」 (“n“) character.
– The next person says any Japanese word that begins with the same character that the previous word ended with.
– And the next player does likewise.
– The game ends when a player loses by either saying a word that has already been used or saying a word that ends with the 「ん」 (“n“) character (because no word in the Japanese language begins with 「ん」).
– When a word end with a character with 濁点 (「゛」) or 半濁点 (「゜」), the next player can use the character with or without it (ie: If a player’s word ends with 「ば」 or 「ぱ」, the next player’s word can start with either that character or simply 「は」).

An example of how the game would go:
「タ」(“Tako“)→「アラ」(“Koala)→「イオ」(Laion (lion)) (The player who said 「ライオン」 (lion) would lose because you can’t choose a word that ends with 「ん」(「ン」).)

Actually, I had written a post a Japanese games, including this one, about a year ago (click here to see it).

In that earlier post, we played Shiritori in the comments section.
It was popular with visitors to my blog, and it was fun.

So, let’s try “round two”!

I’ll start with the first word…「たまご」(tamago (egg)).

Anyone can play. Write the next word (that must begin with 「ご」(“go”)) in the comments section of this post.
Usually this game is played only usuing Japanese words…but we’ll play using both Japanese and English.

Just remember, you can’t use a word that ends with 「ん」(“n”), and you can’t repeat a word that’s already been used.


20 Jun

Here’s a story that I saw on the TV news and the newspaper recently about this turtle:

Someone painted 「カメデス」 ("I'm a turtle") on his back.

I added the original Japanese article here and below it is my translation of it to English.


「カメデス」と甲羅に落書きされた甲府市の舞鶴城公園のカメが16日、岸に上がっているところを捕獲された。落書きを消そうと、公園を管理する山 梨県が捕獲作戦を展開中だった。

仕事で外出していた山梨県警の男性警察官がカメを発見。近づくと手足を引っ込めたため、簡単に捕まえられたという。“逃走”を続けていたカメだ が、本職の警察官には手も足も出なかったようだ。

県は落書きされた文字を溶剤などで消すことも検討したが、カメはちょうど脱皮の時期。脱皮によって落書きが消える可能性もあるといい、結局、県の 施設で保護して様子を見守ることになった。

In English:

Journal:The “I’m A Turtle” turtle captured at Kofu Maizurujyou Park

A turtle that someone wrote “I’m A Turtle” on the shell was captured on June 16th at Maizurujyou Park in Kofu (Japan).

Government employees who manage the park had been trying unsuccessfully to capture the turtle to clean off the writing on it’s back.

A policeman was passing the park on his way to work and noticed the turtle. When he approached the turtle, it pulled it’s head and legs into it’s shell and the policeman was able to catch it easily.

The park employees were planning to remove the writing from the turtle’s back, but decided there was a risk of injuring the animal with the paint remover. So they decided to care for the turtle and hope the writing eventually wears off.

I wonder how someone could be mean to an animal. We have a pet turtle and I couldn’t imagine harming it (I have a photo of our turtle at the end of this post).


27 Mar

Do you study Japanese?

Japanese なぞなぞ (riddles) are a helpful study tool. The play on words in children’s riddles help expand your vocabulary.

If you don’t understand Japanese, these riddles will probably be difficult to understand because riddles in any language aren’t easy to translate to another language (since riddles usually incorporate a play on words, and different languages don’t often have similar wordplay).

Anyways, probably the most common Japanese riddle:


Do you understand it? Have you heard it before? It’s an old joke that everyone in Japan has heard countless times.

Literally, in English it would be:
“Bread is bread but what bread is inedible?”
Answer: “A frying pan.”

See? It doesn’t make sense in English.
But in Japanese, the word for “bread” is “pan”.

Now does it make more sense?

If you write it in English, but use the Japanese word “pan” instead of “bread”:
Pan is pan but what pan is inedible?”
Answer: “A frying pan.”

Here’s another one:

答え: 「トラック」 (とら食う)

“What kind of vehicle eats tigers?”
Answer: “A truck”

Meaningless in English.
But “tiger” is “tora” in Japanese. And “eat” is “taberu“…or sometimes “kuu“.
“Truck” in Japanese is “torakku”, which sounds similar to “Tora Kuu” (Tiger Eat).

If you want to see more Japanese riddles (and you can read Japanese), go to http://なぞなぞ.jp/.

Do you know any Japanese なぞなぞ (riddles)? Write them in this post’s comments section.
Feel free to write English riddles there too.


2 Jan


Can you read the Japanese above?

It means:

“Restaurants in Japan have a show window with sample food. They’re not real, though. They’re fakes made to look like the actual items. They’re very realistic. It helps customers who don’t know what to order. This can be quite a relief, don’t you agree?”

Besides this, restaurants in Japan usually have photos of each item in the menu itself.
Of course this helps foreign visitors who can’t read Japanese, but it’s also helpful to those of us who can read the menu because it’s easy to decide what you want to eat when you can see the menu items rather than imagining them.

Do restaurants in your country have a system like this?

Japanese for all seasons

28 Dec

A new year is about to begin…in fact a new decade.
It’s almost 2010. I can’t believe how fast time flies…this coming year will be twenty years since I first came to Japan!

So, for the new year, I thought I’d mention a few common seasonal terms in the Japanese language.

— First, this time of year (late December), we say 「良いお年を」 (“Yoi-otoshi-o“). It means “Have a happy new year“.

— On New Years Eve, you can go to a temple in Japan and hear 「除夜の鐘」 (Joya-no-kane), which is a Buddhist traditional of ringing the temple bell by the monk 108 times for a good new year.

— In the first week or so of January, 「明けましておめでとうございます」 (“Akemashite-omedetou-gozaimasu“) is said…it means “Happy New Year“.

— Also in early January, people in Japan go to a shrine to wish for a good year. The first visit to a shrine in the new year is called 「初詣」 (“Hatsu-moude“).

— 「節分」 (Setsubun) is a tradition on February third of throwing beans to ward the home of evil. Click here to read my FAQ about this holiday.

— The first warm breeze of Spring is called 「春一番」 (“Haru-ichi-ban“).

— In late-March to early-April, Japanese people love 「花見」 (Hanami)…”Cherry-Blossom Viewing“.
Click here to see some photos and video that I took of Hanami in Tokyo last April.

— Around Golden Week time, 「新緑」 (Shin-ryoku) starts. Shin-ryoku is the new green foliage of spring.

June is Japan’s 「梅雨」 (Tsuyu), or “Rainy season“.

— It couldn’t be Summer in Japan without 「蝉時雨」 (Semi-shigure)…the chirping of Cicadas, and 「花火」 (Hanabi)…fireworks displays.

— The 「赤蜻蛉」 (Aka-tonbo), Red Dragonflies, can be seen in Autumn.

Autumn is known for both 「日本晴れ」 (“Nihon-bare“), “Blue Skies Over All of Japan“, and 「紅葉」 (Kouyou), Autumn foliage.
Click here to see the photos I took in a park last Autumn.

— In Winter, the leaves fall off of the trees…in Japanese, it’s called 「木枯らし」 (Kogarashi).

How many of these words did you already know?

Japanese words in English

2 Aug

Often words or expressions from one language become part of another language. And sometimes the meaning of the word gets changed.

In Japan, alot of words of foreign origin are used in the Japanese language. Many are used quite differently in Japanese than they are in their country of origin.
For example, パン (pan) is Japanese for bread. It came from the Portuguese word “pão“, which means “bread”. And 「カステラ」 (Kasutera) is the Japanese word for a type of cake that was introduced from Portugal called “Castella“.

There are many others. From English, Japan uses words like 「アイスクリーム」 (ice cream) and バスケットボール (basketball)*.
*(Foreign sports usually keep their original name in Japanese. An exception is 「野球」 (“Yakyuu“) for “baseball”. (lit. “field globe (ball)), which isn’t called by it’s English name because it was introduced to Japan during WW2 when America was considered an enemy.)

Some words are shortened. Such as テレビ (Terebi) for “television”. And some words have morphed into something unrecognizable to English-speakers, such as 「スキンシップ」 (skinship) for “bonding”.

But it works the other way too.
America (and other countries as well, I’m sure) have adopted Japanese words into the English language. Some have retained their original meaning. But others are used with totally different meanings than the “real” Japanese meaning.
And many “Japanese words” in English are pronounced so differently that a Japanese person wouldn’t recognize it.
For example,
★ 「アニメ」 (anime: Japanese animation)
★ 「マンガ」 (manga: Japanese comics)
★ 「オタク」 (otaku: is used as “fanatic” overseas, but “a Trekkie” is closer to the Japanese meaning)
★ 「カラオケ」 (karaoke)
★ 「さようなら」 (sayonara: farewell (not used in Japan in cases when you’ll be seeing the person again before long))
★ 「台風」 (taifuu: in English, the pronunciation morphed to “typhoon”)
★ 「きもの」 (kimono)
★ 「寿司」 (sushi: isn’t “raw fish” (that’s sashimi). Sushi is vinegared-rice with a topping (such as sashimi))
★ 「(お)酒」 ((O)-saké)
★ 「すき焼き」 (sukiyaki)
★ 「相撲」 (sumo: Japan’s national sport)
★ 「芸者」 (Geisha: aren’t prostitutes)
★ 「歌舞伎」 (Kabuki)

A promo poster for a Kabuki show

A promo poster for a Kabuki show

★ 「班長」 (hanchou: morphed into the English “(Head) honcho“)
★ 「津波」 (tsunami)
★ 「人力車」 (jin-riki-sha: morphed into the English “Rick-shaw“)

I’m sure there are more. This is all that I could think of off the top of my head.
Do you know some other instances of Japanese words being popularly used in English (or another language)?