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English words of Japanese origin



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Words of Japanese origin have entered many languages. Some words are simple transliterations of Japanese language words for concepts inherent to Japanese culture, but some are actually words of Chinese origin that were first exposed to English via Japan. The words on this page are words which are listed in major English dictionaries and whose etymologies include Japanese. The reverse of this list can be found at List of gairaigo and wasei-eigo terms.

Contents

Arts

anime 
アニメ, Japanese animation; refers to animation in general in Japanese (derived from either the English "animation" or French "dessin animé")
bonsai 
盆栽, "tray gardening"; the art of tending miniature trees (see the unrelated word "banzai" below)
bokeh 
(from ぼけ, boke), subjective aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas of an image projected by a camera lens
bunraku 
文楽, a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre, performed by puppeteers, chanters, and shamisen players
chanoyu 
茶の湯, Japanese tea ceremony
haiku 
俳句, a very short poem consisting of three lines of 5, 7, and 5 morae (not syllables as commonly thought) each; see also tanka below
ikebana 
生花, flower arrangement
imari 
伊万里, Japanese porcelain wares (made in the town of Arita and exported from the port of Imari, particularly around the 17th century)
kabuki 
歌舞伎, a traditional form of Japanese theatre
kakemono 
掛け物, a vertical Japanese scroll, of ink-and-brush painting or calligraphy, that hangs in a recess on a wall inside a room
kakiemon 
柿右衛門, Japanese porcelain wares featuring enamel decoration (made in Arita, using the style developed in 17th century by 酒井田 柿右衛門 Sakaida Kakiemon)
karaoke 
カラオケ, "empty orchestra"; entertainment where an amateur singer accompanies recorded music
katsuramono 
鬘物, in Noh, the 3rd Category play (三番目物 sanbanme mono) of a 5 Category play series (五番立 goban date), where the leading role (仕手 shite) is a beautiful woman
kirigami 
切り紙, similar to origami, but involves cutting in addition to folding
koto 
箏, a traditional stringed musical instrument from Japan, resembling a zither with 13 strings
kutani 
九谷, Japanese porcelain wares, made originally in the town of Kutani of the ancient Kaga Province (current day Ishikawa)
makimono 
巻物, a horizontal Japanese hand scroll, of ink-and-brush painting or calligraphy
manga 
まんが or 漫画, Japanese comics; refers to comics in general in Japanese
netsuke 
根付, a toggle use to tie the sash of a kimono also to attach small items such as inro and kinchaku: sometimes beautifully carved.
noh 
能, a major form of classical Japanese music drama
origami 
折り紙, artistic paper folding
otaku 
オタク or おたく or ヲタク, a geeky enthusiast, especially of anime and manga
renga 
連歌, "renged poetry"; a form of Japanese collaborative poetry
Satsuma 
薩摩焼 satsuma-yaki pottery from southern Kyushu
senryu 
川柳, a form of short poetry similar to haiku
shakuhachi 
尺八, Japanese bamboo flute
shamisen 
三味線, a three-stringed musical instrument, played with a plectrum
shunga 
春画, erotic pictures
sumi-e 
墨絵, Japanese black ink painting
taiko 
太鼓, a big drum
tanka 
短歌, "short poetry"; an older form of Japanese poetry than haiku, of the form 5-7-5-7-7 morae (not syllables; see also haiku above)
ukiyo-e 
浮世絵, a type of woodblock print art or painting
waka 
和歌, a genre of Japanese poetry, often refers to tanka

Military and martial arts terminology

aikido 
合気道, a "blending" art similar to judo
banzai 
万歳 "ten thousand years"; a blessing for Emperors and in modern usage a word of congratulation (see the unrelated word "bonsai" above)
budo 
武道, Japanese martial arts (lit. "martial way")
bushido 
武士道, "way of the warrior"
Dan 
段, a Japanese mark of level, used in several cultural activities of Japanese origin; in budo arts the dan rank distinguishes which level of black belt one has; dan is also used in go, shogi, ikebana, chanoyu, and other arts
dojo 
道場, a training hall for the martial arts
hara-kiri 
腹切り, ritual suicide (see also seppuku)
honcho 
(from 班長, hancho, team leader or class chairperson) as in "the head honcho." The Japanese term means "squad leader"
judo 
柔道, a martial art, a sport and a philosophy developed from jujutsu (see below), lit. "soft way"
jujutsu 
柔術, a variety of close combat fighting systems (see article), lit. "soft skill" (also commonly called jiu jitsu)
kamikaze 
神風, refers to Japanese World War II suicide pilots in English; in Japanese, refers to strong winds that twice scuppered Mongol attempts to invade the archipelago in the 13th century
karate 
空手, lit. "empty hand": a Japanese weaponless martial art which emphasises striking techniques (i.e. punching and kicking)
kata 
型, detailed patterns of defense-and-attack movements used by many traditional martial arts
katana 
刀, the Japanese longsword (or Japanese swords in general)
kendo 
剣道, the martial art of Japanese swordsmanship, lit. "sword-way"
kuzushi 
崩し, in Judo, a method of unbalancing one's opponent
ninja 
忍者, a stealthy warrior and assassin, lit. "shinobi practitioner" or people who practice ninjutsu (sometimes transliterated as ninjitsu 忍術).
nunchaku 
ヌンチャク, a martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks connected at their ends with a short chain or thong
randori 
乱取り, in martial arts, free-style practice or sparring, often specifically multiple-attacker freestyle, lit. "messy striking"
ronin 
浪人, a name given to masterless samurai during the feudal period of Japan, lit. "wave man" i.e. as if tossed about on a stormy sea
Sai 
釵, a dagger, with two long, unsharpened projections attached to the handle
samurai 
侍, a common term for a warrior in pre-industrial Japan (see also bushi, above)
seppuku 
切腹, ritual suicide by disembowelment (lit. "cutting the abdomen"; see also harakiri, above)
sumo 
相撲, a form of wrestling
wakizashi 
脇差, a traditional Japanese sword, similar to but shorter than a katana, together with which it was often worn

Writing system

  • The 4 Japanese writing systems are comprised of: kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romaji.
hiragana 
平仮名, a Japanese syllabary, one of the four Japanese writing systems
kana 
仮名, a general term for hiragana and katakana
kanji 
漢字, Chinese characters used in Japanese, one of the four Japanese writing systems
katakana 
片仮名, a Japanese syllabary, one of the four Japanese writing systems
romaji 
ローマ字 rōmaji, the Roman alphabet; the writing of the Japanese language in Roman characters (similar to Chinese Pinyin)

Domestic items

fusuma 
襖 or ふすま, sliding vertical rectangles which redefine spaces within a room, and act as doors
futon 
布団, a type of mattress that makes up a Japanese bed (Japanese futons are thinner than the Western variety and do not use frames)
hooch 
(from うち or 家 uchi), a thatched hut
shoji 
障子 shōji, a translucent rice paper screen with a wooden frame, used as a room divider or door
tatami 
畳, traditional Japanese flooring, made of woven straw
tokonoma 
床の間, a small raised alcove in a washitsu (a Japanese style room with a tatami floor) where kakemono (decorative scrolls) are hung, and ikebana may be displayed

Clothing

geta 
下駄, a pair of Japanese raised wooden clogs worn with traditional Japanese garments, such as the kimono
happi (coat), Happy coat 
法被 or はっぴ a traditional Japanese workwear (uniform) overcoat.
inro 
印籠, a case for holding small objects, often worn hanging from the obi; (traditional Japanese wears didn't have pockets)
kimono 
着物, a traditional full-length robe-like garment still worn by women, men and children
Obi 
帯, a wide belt which is tied in the back to secure a kimono
tabi 
足袋, traditional Japanese socks, with a separation between the big toe and other toes
yukata 
浴衣 or ゆかた, a kind of casual kimono, literally "bath clothing", consisting of one big piece of cloth with two wide sleeves
zori 
草履, sandals made from rice straw or lacquered wood, worn with a kimono for formal occasions

Culinary

adzuki, azuki bean 
あずき or 小豆, type of bean grown in eastern Asia and the Himalayas, used in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines, usually served sweet
arame 
荒布, a type of edible seaweed
bento 
弁当, a single-portion takeout meal, box lunch
daikon 
大根, a kind of white radish
dashi 
だし or 出汁, a simple soup stock considered fundamental to Japanese cooking
edamame 
枝豆, soybeans boiled whole in the green pod and served with salt
enokitake, enoki mushroom 
えのきたけ or 榎茸, long, thin white mushrooms, used in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisines
fugu 
河豚 or フグ, the meat of the toxic pufferfish, must be prepared by specially trained chefs by law. Also means pufferfish itself.
ginkgo 
銀杏 or ぎんなん, a gymnospermous tree (Ginkgo biloba) of eastern China that is widely grown as an ornamental or shade tree and has fan-shaped leaves and yellow fruit (the word is derived from 17th Century Japanese 銀杏 ginkyō)
gyoza 
ギョーザ or 餃子, Japanese name for Chinese dumplings, jiaozi (jiǎozi); may also be called pot stickers in English if they are fried
hibachi 
火鉢, a small, portable charcoal grill; used in North America to refer to a teppan or a small shichirin-like aluminium or cast iron grill
hijiki 
ひじき or 鹿尾菜, a type of edible seaweed commonly found on rocky coastlines
kaki 
柿, Japanese persimmon
katsuo 
鰹, a skipjack tuna
katsuobushi 
かつおぶし or 鰹節, dried and smoked skipjack tuna (katsuo), which is shaved and then used in dashi
Koji 
麹, a fungus which is the active agent in the fermentation processes, of producing miso and soy sauce from soybeans, and of producing sake and shōchū from rice.
kombu 
昆布, dried kelp, which can be eaten or used as dashi
matcha 
抹茶, powdered green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony
matsutake 
松茸, a type of edible mushroom, with a magnificently spicy aroma similar to cinnamon, considered to be a great delicacy and the most coveted mushroom in Japan
mirin 
味醂, an essential condiment of the Japanese cuisine, a kind of rice wine similar to sake with a slightly sweet taste
miso 
味噌, a thick paste made by fermenting soybeans with salt
mizuna 
水菜, an edible plant, with flavor akin to the mustard plant
mochi 
餅, the Japanese variant of Chinese rice cake
nappa, napa cabbage 
菜っ葉, Chinese cabbage, (in Japan, it is a generic term for leaf vegetables.)
nashi (pear) 
梨, a species of pear native to eastern Asia, which are juicy, round and shaped like apples
nori 
海苔, food products created from the seaweed laver by a shredding and rack-drying process that resembles papermaking.
panko 
パン粉, Japanese white bread flakes. Panko is made from bread without crusts, thus it has a crisper, airier texture than most types of breading found in Western cuisine.
ramen 
ラーメン, the Japanese version of Chinese noodle soup, not limited to the instant variety
sake 
酒, an alcoholic beverage, brewed from rice. In Japanese, the word can also refer to alcoholic drinks in general
sashimi 
刺身, a Japanese delicacy primarily consisting of the freshest raw seafoods thinly sliced and served with only a dipping sauce and wasabi.
satsuma 
(from 薩摩 Satsuma, an ancient province of Japan), a type of mandarin orange (mikan) native to Japan
shabu shabu 
しゃぶしゃぶ, a meal where each person cooks their own food in their own cooking pot from an assortment of raw ingredients
shiitake mushroom 
しいたけ or 椎茸, an edible mushroom typically cultivated on the shii tree
shoyu 
Japanese soy sauce
soba 
蕎麦 or ソバ, thin brown buckwheat noodles
soy 
from shoyu 醤油
sukiyaki 
すき焼き or スキヤキ, a dish in the nabemono-style (one-pot), consisting of thinly sliced beef, tofu, konnyaku noodles, negi, Chinese cabbage (bok choy), and enoki mushrooms among others
surimi 
すり身 or 擂り身, processed meat made from cheaper white-fleshed fish, to imitate the look of a more expensive meat such as crab legs
sushi 
鮨 or 鮓 or 寿司, a dish consisting of vinegared rice combined with other ingredients such as raw fish, raw or cooked shellfish, or vegetables
takoyaki
たこ焼, たこ焼き, or 章魚焼き, literally fried or baked octopus
tamari 
たまり, liquid obtained by pressing soybeans
tempura 
てんぷら or 天麩羅, classic Japanese deep fried batter-dipped seafood and vegetables
teppanyaki 
鉄板焼き, a type of Japanese cuisine that uses a hot iron griddle (teppan) to cook food
teriyaki 
照焼き or テリヤキ, a cooking technique where fish or meat is being broiled/grilled in a sweet soy sauce marinade
tofu 
豆腐 bean curd. Although the word is originally Chinese, it entered English via Japanese.
udo 
ウド or 独活, an edible plant found on the slopes of wooded embankments, also known as the Japanese Spikenard
udon 
うどん or 饂飩, a type of thick wheat-based noodle
umami 
旨味 or うま味, the taste sensation produced by some condiments such as monosodium glutamate; a basic flavor in sea weed (昆布 kobu)
umeboshi 
梅干, pickled ume
wakame 
ワカメ or 若布, a type of edible kelp, often used in miso soup (Japan), and salads
wasabi 
わさび or 山葵, a strongly flavoured green condiment commonly known as Japanese horseradish
yakitori 
焼き鳥 or 焼鳥, a type of chicken kebab

Business

karoshi 
過労死, "death from overwork"
kaizen 
改善, literally "improvement"
kanban 
看板, literally a "signal" or "sign" signals a cycle of replenishment for production and materials and maintains an orderly and efficient flow of materials throughout the entire manufacturing process. Part of Six Sigma
keiretsu 
系列, a set of companies with interlocking business relationships and shareholdings
salaryman 
サラリーマン (derived from English salary + man), a Japanese term for a white-collar worker
tycoon 
(from 大君 "taikun"), "great prince" or "high commander", later applied to wealthy business leaders
zaibatsu 
財閥, a "money clique" or conglomerate
zaikai 
財界, the grand combination of the business circle (jitsugyōkai 実業界), the economic circle (keizaikai 経済界), and the financial circle (kin'yūkai 金融界) of Japan; controlled by Tycoons with large capitals, who have big influence on the political circle (seikai 政界) and the society as well

Government and politics

daimyo 
大名, "great names"; the most powerful Japanese feudal rulers from the 12th century to the 19th century
genro 
元老, retired elder Japanese statesmen, who served as informal advisors to the emperor, during the Meiji and Taisho eras
mikado 
帝, a dated term for "emperor"; specifically for the Emperor of Japan
shogun 
将軍, the title of the practical ruler of Japan for most of the time from 1192 to the Meiji Era
tenno 
天皇, the Emperor of Japan

Religion

bonze 
(from 凡僧 bonsō), a Buddhist monk
kami 
神, the Japanese word for any sort of god or spirit
koan 
公案, a paradoxial story or statement used during meditation in Zen Buddhism
roshi 
老師, lit. elder master; an elder master or spiritual leader who leads a school of Zen Buddhism
satori 
悟り, enlightenment in Zen Buddhism
shinto 
神道, the native religion of Japan
torii 
鳥居, traditional Japanese gates commonly found at the gateway to Shinto shrines
zazen 
座禅, sitting meditation; literally "seated concentration"
zen 
禅, a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism

Other

akita 
秋田 (from 秋田犬, akitainu or akitaken), the Akita Inu, a large breed of Japanese dog
aucuba 
(from 青木葉 aokiba, lit. "blue tree leaf"), a genus of flowering plants, (in Japanese aucuba translates to aoki-zoku アオキ属)
domoic acid 
(from ドウモイ doumoi in the Tokunoshima dialect of Japanese: a type of red algae)
gaijin 
外人, a foreigner (Gaikokujin 外国人 is a more polite form)
geisha 
芸者, traditional Japanese artist-entertainers
go 
碁, a strategic, two-player board game based on capturing territory
hanami 
花見, lit. "flower viewing"
hentai 
変態, Western usage: pornographic cartoons, usually either Japanese in origin or drawn in a Japanese style; Japanese usage: metamorphosis, transformation, abnormality, or perversion
juku 
塾, cram schools
katsura (tree) 
桂, large deciduous trees, native to eastern Asia
keirin 
競輪, a type of track cycling competition which originated and continues in Japan; keirin has also become a Summer olympics event and a world championships event sanctioned by the UCI
koi 
鯉, Western usage: ornamental varieties of the common carp (but in Japan this just means "carp" -- the ornamental variety are called "nishikigoi" 錦鯉)
kudzu 
葛 or クズ, a type of Japanese vine; cultivated in Japan, viewed as a weed in the West
matsu 
松, pine tree
matsuri 
祭り, a local festival, typically sponsored by a local shrine or temple in Japan
medaka 
めだか or 目高, a small fish found in fresh waters of Japan
moxa 
もぐさ or 艾, mugwort or cotton wool or other combustible material, burned on skin during moxibustion
moxibustion 
(from moxa + (com)bustion), an oriental medicine therapy which involves the burning of moxa (see above)
pachinko 
パチンコ, a device used for gambling and is related to pinball machines
rickshaw 
(from 人力車, jinrikisha), a human-pulled wagon
sakura 
桜 or サクラ, cherry blossom
sayonara 
さようなら the Japanese term for "goodbye" (note, though, that in Japanese, it has formal and final connotations: you wouldn't say it if you expect to meet again soon)
sensei 
先生, the Japanese term for "master", "teacher" or "doctor". It can be used to refer to any authority figure, such as a schoolteacher, professor, priest, or politician.
shiatsu 
指圧, a form of massage
shiba Inu 
柴犬, the smallest of the six original and distinct Japanese breeds of dog
shinkansen 
新幹線, high speed rail in Japan
shogi 
将棋, a Japanese strategic board game similar to chess, sometimes called Japanese chess
Shōjo 
少女, girl(s).
sika (deer) 
(from 鹿 shika), a type of deer native to East Asia, which are widespread in Japan, and at one time regarded as sacred in Japan
skosh 
(from 少し, sukoshi), a small amount
soroban 
そろばん or 算盤, the Japanese abacus
sudoku 
数独, a number placement puzzle, also known as Number Place in the United States.
tanuki 
狸, the Japanese name for the animal, Nyctereutes procyonoides, known as a raccoon dog in English
tsunami 
津波, literally "harbour wave"; Large wave caused by earthquakes or other underwater disturbances.
tsutsugamushi 
("insect disease" = scrub typhus)
urushiol 
(from うるし, a plant that gives a skin rash on contact) a chemical substance found in poison-ivy, used to make "Japanned" lacquer ware
yagi (antenna) 
八木, a type of directional antenna, often mounted on the rooftop to be used for TV reception; its official name is the Yagi-Uda Antenna, named after Yagi Hidetsugu (八木 秀次) and Uda Shintaro (宇田 新太郎) who were its coinventors in 1926
yakuza 
やくざ, Japanese organized crime groups

See also






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Published - January 2009


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