The Hitchhiker’s English Guide to Japan

Posted by at 2:31AM

or rather, a fancy title for: “My Favorite English Loanwords in Japanese”


Though English notoriously steals words from almost every language in the world, Japanese also surprisingly takes a ton of words from English. Since I came to Japan in April, I’ve noticed that even if I don’t know a certain Japanese word, its English equivalent is likely a perfectly viable word, too. The catch: of all 46 written script characters in the Japanese language, only one is a pure consonant (an “n” sound). And like Stanford students, the Japanese love to shorten and play with words. So when English words get converted into Japanese, they sometimes become entirely unrecognizable to someone who has never heard Japanese before. Additionally, these words may take on slightly (or even very) different meanings once they’ve been converted.

So on the off chance you find yourself stranded in Japan without any Japanese knowledge and absolutely no English signs to point you in the right direction (a rare chance, I admit), here are some of my favorite English loanwords in Japanese and their meanings. They probably won’t actually help you get around anywhere. But I hope they make you smile. For additional fun, try pronouncing them out loud.

  • Posted in a Japanese hostel lobby; a great example of English produced with Japanese pronunciation in mind.

    Word: スマート; Pronunciation: sumaato; English: smart. This doesn’t mean “intelligent.” It means either “stylish” or “slim.”

  • Word: マーカー; Pronunciation: maakaa; English: marker. This one’s just fun to say.
  • Word: トイレ; Pronunciation: toire; English: toilet.
  • Word: トイレットペーパー; Pronunciation: toirettopeepaa; English: toilet paper. Yup.
  • Word: アップ; Pronunciation: appu; English: up. This handy little word has a bunch of meanings, ranging from “increasing” to “an up-hairstyle.” Combine with another loanword, kyaria, to make kyariaappu, and you’ve just created “career up”: getting promoted.
  • Word: スマホ; Pronunciation: sumaho; English: smartphone. Originally sumaatofon. Nearly unrecognizable in its current form.
  • Word: コミュニケーション; Pronunciation: comyunikeeshon; English: communication. You’d think they’d have a common word for this, but for some reason, this hefty English word is the one most often used to express the idea. The only problem is that “communication” is a noun, so in order to make it a verb, they add “to take.” So the verb “communicate” becomes “to take communication.”
  • Word: 飲みニケーション; Pronunciation: nominikeeshon. This is a slang combination of the Japanese verb nomu (to drink) and the English word “communication.” It loosely means “to conduct business while drinking alcohol.” Example sentence: “I am ridiculously excited to engage in nominikeeshon this summer when I do my internship in Japan.”
  • Word: セクハラ; Pronunciation: sekuhara; English: sexual harassment. This extremely shortened word encompasses not only physical/verbal acts but even extends to not hiring enough women in the workplace, for example.
  • Word: バイバイ; Pronunciation: baibai; English: bye-bye. Used very often.
  • Word: アメフト; Pronunciation: amefuto; English: American Football. They shortened the crap out of this one.
  • ラブラブ; Pronunciation: raburabu; English: love love. It means “head over heels” or “lovey dovey.” Also a great illustration of the differences between English and Japanese pronunciation.
  • Word: パンツ; Pronunciation: pantsu; English: pants. Meaning: underwear. Be careful using this one — you may wind up with unintended consequences.

There you have it. You’re now completely equipped to make it on your own in Japan. If anything bad happens, I’m not legally responsible in any way.

What are your favorite loanwords in English? Other languages? Let the fun continue!


2 Responses to “The Hitchhiker’s English Guide to Japan”

  1. Marielaina Perrone DDS says:

    Love this blog. learn something new every time I stop in here. Great post.

  2. Desy says:

    Very usefull information. Than you for sharing!


Comments are moderated and will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. Please do not be alarmed if your comment does not show up immediately. We will get it posted soon.