Did you know that you already know a little Japanese? It’s true!
Think of karaoke. Emoji. Karate.
In fact, there are tons of words we use in English that are actually Japanese. That’s why we thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the many Japanese words in English, called loanwords.
But what exactly is a loanword?
Basically, it’s when a language decides that the term another language uses for something will work just fine.
There’s no unique English word for sushi, for example – what would be the point in coming up with a different name? Saying sushi is understandable to more people, makes it clear what you’re referring to, and just… works.
When a language has a pre-existing word for a thing or concept because it existed in the culture or area where the language developed, you’ll have a different word.
For example, just about every language has a word for water or the sun. But something new or unique to another culture will tend to be introduced with its original name. Ramen. Ukulele. Tango.
In fact, English as a language, being more flexible and having no governing linguistic academy, uses a particularly large number of loanwords. (Like, tens of thousands of loanwords!)
How many Japanese words are there in the English language? At latest count, Japanese had roughly a modest 150 words from Japanese roots appearing in the English lexicon, but that number is growing.
That said, we thought we’d showcase the Japanese words we use most in English – and 49 seems like more than enough, don’t you think?
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about our 49 favourite Japanese words in English.
But wait, you already know these words!
Why spend time poring over English words you’re already familiar with when you could start learning new and exciting Japanese words right now with Busuu’s award-winning online language course?
Here are 49 common Japanese words in English
- Anime – fun fact, anime is really a loanword of a loanword! “Animation” became anime (アニメ) in Japanese, which became the English word for Japanese animation. Whew!
- Bonsai – from the Japanese bonsai (盆栽), literally “tray planting”
- Daikon – from the Japanese daikon (大根), literally “big root”
- Dojo – from the Japanese dōjō (道場), literally “place of the Way”
- Edamame – from the Japanese edamame (枝豆), literally “stem bean” or “branch bean”
- Emoji – from the Japanese e (絵, ‘picture’) and moji (文字, ‘character’), originally meaning a pictogram
- Futon – from the Japanese futon (布団), meaning a meditation cushion or Japanese-style bedding set up on the floor; itself a loanword from Middle Chinese bu-dwan (蒲團), meaning “meditation cushion”
- Geisha – from the Japanese geisha (芸者), used to refer to geishas but meaning, more literally, artisan or performing artist
- Haiku – from the Japanese haiku (俳句)
- Hibachi – from the Japanese hibachi (火鉢) coming from hi (火, “fire”) and hachi (鉢, “bowl”)
- Honcho (as in head honcho) – from the Japanese hanchō (班長), meaning ‘group leader’ or ‘squad leader’
- Judo – from the Japanese jūdō (柔道) literally “gentle way”
- Jujutsu (a.k.a. jiu jitsu) – from the Japanese jūjutsu (柔術)
- Kamikaze – from the Japanese kamikaze (神風), literally “divine wind” or “spirit wind”
- Kanban – from the Japanese kanban (看板), meaning “signboard” or “billboard”
- Karaoke – from the Japanese karaoke (カラオケ), from the Japanese kara (空, “empty”) and ōkesutora (オーケストラ, “orchestra”)
- Karate – from the Japanese karate (空手)
- Katana – from the Japanese katana (刀), which simply means “single-edged sword”
- Kimono – from the Japanese kimono (着物) literally, “thing to wear (on the shoulders)”
- Koi (fish) – from the Japanese koi (鯉)
- Manga – from the Japanese manga (漫画), formed from man (漫, whimsical) and ga (画, “pictures”)
- Miso – from the Japanese miso (味噌)
- Mochi – from the Japanese mochi (餅)
- Napa cabbage – from the Japanese nappa (菜っ葉), meaning the leaves of a vegetable as food (the Japanese name for this cabbage is actually hakusai (白菜)!
- Ninja – from the Japanese ninja (忍者)
- Origami – from the Japanese origami (折り紙), from ori (折り, “to fold”) and kami (紙, “paper”)
- Panko – from the Japanese panko (パン粉), from pan (パン, bread – a loanword from the Portuguese pão!) and ko (粉, flour. crumb, or coating)
- Ramen – from the Japanese rāmen (拉麺)
- Rickshaw – from the Japanese jinrikisha (人力車), literally “human-powered vehicle”
- Sake – from the Japanese sake (酒), which in Japanese refers to any alcoholic drink
- Samurai – from the Japanese samurai (侍)
- Sayonara – from the Japanese sayōnara (さようなら), which, FYI, is more of a “farewell” than a casual goodbye
- Sensei – from the Japanese sensei (先生), meaning “elder” or “teacher”
- Shiatsu (massage) – from the Japanese shiatsu (指圧), literally “finger pressure”
- Shiba Inu – from the Japanese shiba inu (柴犬), which means “brushwood dog”
- Skosh (as in just a skosh) – from the Japanese sukoshi (少し), pronounced like “sko-shi”, which means “just a little bit”
- Soy – from the Japanese shoyu (醤油), the Japanese name for soy sauce
- Sudoku – from the Japanese sūdoku (数独), which literally translates to something like “single digit”
- Sumo – from the Japanese sumō (相撲), literally “striking one another”
- Sushi – from the Japanese sushi (寿司)
- Tempura – from the Japanese tenpura (天麩羅), itself likely borrowed from Portuguese or Spanish
- Teriyaki – from the Japanese teriyaki (照り焼き)
- Tofu – from the Japanese tōfu (豆腐)
- Tsunami – from the Japanese tsunami (津波), meaning “harbour wave”
- Tycoon – from the Japanese taikun (大君), meaning a lord, imperial prince, or shōgun
- Umami – from the Japanese umami (旨味), a term coined by a chemist in the early 1900s combining umai (うまい, “delicious”) and mi (味, “taste”)
- Wabi-sabi – from the Japanese wabi-sabi (侘寂)
- Wasabi – from the Japanese wasabi (山葵)
- Zen – from the Japanese zen (禅), which was an adaptation of a Chinese word, which was an adaptation of a Sanskrit word – what a wordy world!
See? You learn lots of Japanese words just speaking English
And get this – it doesn’t end there. There are oodles of English loanwords (and loanwords from other European languages) in Japanese that might surprise you. Here are just a few examples of English words in Japanese:
|コインランドリー||koin randorī||coin laundry|
|ポスト||posuto||post – a mailbox (US), a postbox (UK)|
Learn anything new? We sure hope so! Let us know your favourite Japanese loan words in English (or vice versa!) in the comments.
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of learning Japanese, why not keep this learning train rolling? With Busuu, you get award-winning course content and help from native Japanese speakers at your fingertips.
So what do you say?