It’s somewhat natural for a native English speaker to throw in a bit of Japanglish when practicing Japanese. But is it really used in day-to-day conversations? Do native Japanese speakers use these words? Well, what is it anyway, you might ask? This article is here to clear the air around the topic.
Here, we define the term, put it in some context with sentences, and add some benefits it gives Japanese students. Let’s get started!
What are borrowed words called in Japanese?
In Japanese, all borrow words, or loan words, are termed がいらいご (gairaigo | 外来語). This literally translates as “words coming from outside.” Just as in any other language, these are pretty much 1-to-1 exact copies of a foreign word, perhaps with a slightly different pronunciation. Also, sometimes, the word is cut short for that infamous Japanese convenience.
In order to truly understand today’s topic, first, we have to clarify a few things. Every language on the planet uses borrowed words. These foreign words are so popular and convenient to use that they become a normal part of a language. And they’re easy to find in English – think about having a deja vu, hearing about an incoming tsunami on the news, or yelling hasta la vista to your best buds.
Japanese society hosts a variety of がいらいご (gairaigo) from Dutch, Chinese, English, and other languages, shaping modern Japanese.
Some common word examples of がいらいご (gairaigo) are:
- デパート(depaato) – Department store
- マイクmaiku) – Microphone
- メーク(meiku) – Make-up
- タクシー(takushii) – Taxi
- パソコン(pasokon) – Personal Computer
- レストラン(resutoran) – Restaurant
- ホテル(hoteru) – Hotel
- ルール(ruuru) – Rule
Now, let’s take a look at sample sentences of がいらいご (gairaigo):
- ホテルにいきました (hoteru ni ikimashita | ホテルに行きました)
I went to the hotel.
- にほんにはタクシーりょうきんはたかいそうですよ (nihon ni ha takushii ryoukin ha takaisou desu yo | 日本にはタクシー料金は高いそうですよ)
I heard that the taxi fare in Japan is expensive.
- このゲームでとくべつなルールがあいます (kono geimu de tokubetsu na ruuru ga arimasu|このゲームで特別なルールがあります)
There are some special rules in this game.
These are just a few examples that scratch the surface of the many, many loan words found in Japanese, reflecting the influence of various cultures on Japanese culture. Also, notice that all of these words are written in カタカナ (katakana), as all words of foreign origin are always written in this Japanese alphabet!
The Technical Term for “Japanglish”
The technical term for Japanglish in Japanese is わせいえいご (wasei eigo | 和製英語), which literally means “English words originating from Japan.”
These words (as the name implies) do not exist in English but are words created by the Japanese using English as a base. Usually, these words are simple English combinations, but don’t let that fool you – their meanings can be very specific and contextual!
Moreover, you can think of this vocabulary as any other Japanese vocabulary, which may or may not take some time to remember. The use of English in わせいえいご (wasei eigo) will probably help you remember the context, but it can also add confusion to a world of mostly exclusive Japanese words!
Pro-Japanese Tip: In case you didn’t know, the character 和 (wa | わ) means “harmony” in its standard definition, but it is also often used to indicate and represent Japan as a country in other definitions. Definitely something to remember, as this won’t be the last you see of 和 (wa)!
Wasei Eigo vs. Gairaigo
It can be really easy to mix up these two distinctive types of Japanese words. They both use カタカナ (katakana), they are both derivatives of English, and they both have words that are English sounding but not quite English words.
In short, just remember that gairaigo are attempts at stealing English words as they are, while wasei-eigo are completely original Japanese words using already-known English words to create original meanings. Even when a Japanese-English word sounds exactly like an English word, they are used in different ways to create different meanings. They can also be idiomatic. Interesting, right?
On a final note, there is no limit to these words since they are and can be created at any time if enough people agree to use them (just like slang). New words like these are created all the time, so be on the lookout!
Commonly Used Japanglish Words
Japanese-English loan words can be broken up into a few different categories, but for the most part, they are not so different from one another categorically. Therefore, for the sake of simplicity, this list contains just some of the more popular Japanglish words you may want to master as a Japanese student.
Remember that these phrases may sound like English, but they don’t usually follow the same grammatical structure as they would natively. For example, what is usually a noun phrase may now be a verb or adverb, and so on.
Take a careful look at the phrases and sentences below to get a good grip on how each behaves in the Japanese language.
Some will be straightforward, some will be relatable, some will be very bizarre… let’s take a look!
サラリーマン (sarariiman) – Salary Man
Perhaps the most famous of all Jap-Eng mixed words, this describes a very specific type of businessman, usually an office worker, pictured in a simple black business suit with a white shirt. The サラリーマン (sarariiman) culture can be said to be a culture in its own right!
あにはサラリマンでいつもいそがしいよ (ani wa sarariiman de itsumo isogashii yo | 兄はサラリイマンでいつも忙しいよ)
My older brother is a salaryman, and he’s always busy.
ハーフ (haafu) – Half
This word is used as an adjective or noun and refers to someone who is half Japanese and half some other ethnicity. It can also be used for someone who is half and half of any ethnic background, but not as commonly. ハーフじん (haafu jin | ハーフ人) can also be said and is used often, too.
まじでけんとさんはハーフじんなのか (majide kento san wa hafu jin na no ka? | まじでケントさんはハーフ人なのか)
Is Kento really (only) half-Japanese?
ベッドイン (beddo in) – Bed In
This phrase means to go to bed… but with someone else. And not to go to bed with friends at a sleepover, but to go to bed after a romantic date, if you catch our drift.
そしてロマンチックなばんごほんをたべたあと、ベッドインしちゃった！(soshite romanchikuna bangohan wo tabeta ato, beddoin shichatta! | そしてロマンチックな晩ご飯を食べた後ベッドインしちゃった！)
So then, after we ate a romantic dinner, we kind of slept together!
マイペース (mai peisu) – My Pace
This word is less about the pace at which you do something but more about how you do something, specifically without regard for what others may think or feel. This word can be seen as a character trait.
かれはマイペースです (kare wa mai peisu desu | 彼はマイペースです)
He lives by his own code.
メール (meiru) – E-mail
Yes. We know the word just says mail… but it is only used to talk about e-mail! And it is the absolute norm to refer to an email as that. The actual word for real “mail” in Japanese is ゆうびんぶつ (yuubinbutsu | 郵便物)
ふつにメイルでつたえていますか (futsu ni meiru de tsutaeteimasu ka | 仏にメイルで伝えていますか)
Do you usually communicate via email?
クッションことば (kusshon kotoba | クッション言葉) – Cushion Kotoba
Literally “cushion words,” this is the English equivalent to what we call “soft words” – they’re words that soften a situation. As you may have guessed, these words are meant to be as soft as a cushion, hence the name. In Japanese, there are a whole host of these kinds of words, and they’re especially useful in business or otherwise sensitive situations.
さいこうけいえいせきにんしゃとしゃべるとぜったいにクッションことばをつかいなさい (saikou keiei sekininsha to shaberuto zettai ni kusshon kotoba wo tsukainasai | 最高経営責任者としゃべれると絶対にクッション言葉を使いなさい)
Definitely use soft and polite words whenever speaking with the CEO.
ブラインドタッチ (buraindo tacchi) – Blind Touch
This Japanese-English expression just means to type without looking – awesome, right?
ブラインドタッチしませんか (buraindo tacchi shimasen ka)
Shouldn’t we type without looking?
アパート (apaato) – Apartment Building
This would otherwise be considered as gairaigo, except that this word refers specifically to apartment buildings no greater than two stories high!
いえよりアパートのほうがせいかつはたいへんなんだ (ie yori apaato no hou ga seikatsu wa taihen nanda | 家よりアパートのほうが生活は大変なんだ)
Life in an apartment building is more inconvenient than life in a house.
マンション (manshon) – Apartment Complex
No, this word does not mean “mansion.” Instead, this is the word used to refer to apartment buildings greater than two stories high.
そのマンションにすんでいます (sono manshon ni sundeimasu | そのマンションに住んでいます)
I live in that big apartment complex.
カンニング (kanningu) – Cunning
While this does come from the English word “cunning,” its Japanese-English usage is more fine-tuned and refers to someone who is cheating on an exam or text. It is probably most closely associated with the English word “cribbing.” As opposed to its English equivalent, this word has no positive connotations in Japanese and is always a negative term.
カンニングすることのせいでかんのじょはついほうされました (kanningusuru koto no sei de kanojo wa tsuihousaremashita | カンニングすることのせいで彼女は追放されました)
She was expelled due to cheating (on the exam).
Why Japanglish is Useful to Learn
There is a reason why the Japanese have developed and adopted these words as a real part of their language–it really eases a load off of communication at times.
The Japanese language is structured in quite the opposite way of the English language. Sometimes, you have to say a lot to get to a quick point – other times, you can convey a large meaning with just a word or two. And that’s the case in every language.
With the widespread use of English around the globe and its standard as the universal language, the Japanese have become more familiar with frequently used English terms than ever before. And so they learned how to create little shortcuts in the exchange of thought between one another with the addition of these words. And the good news is, you can (and should) do the same!
For the same reason that it is helpful for the Japanese, it’s helpful to learners like you, too. It makes it much easier to create sentences at times, for one. It’s also something that isn’t really taught in a language school or Japanese classes, but it’s used pretty often in Japan.
Incorporating Japanglish into your speech is a perfect way to express yourself more naturally and describe your thoughts with greater precision when communicating with your Japanese acquaintances. It can help convey nuanced meanings and emotions, making your expressions more relatable.
The best news is that if and when you make it to Japan, you won’t need to worry about learning these words separately. You’ll gain a ton of knowledge just from listening, as it’s so easy to grasp the meaning of these words through context!
がんばってください (ganbatte kudasai)! ^^