10 Japanese Words You Need To Know
Japanese is a difficult language. Even if you study for years you aren’t likely to become fluent in all aspects. But that doesn't mean you can’t enjoy some wacky words the Japanese have added to their already rich and complicated language.
Here are ten great words you should know…at least for a good laugh.
1. Barcode Hair (bah-ko-do heya-)
Known to you or I as the “comb over,” it is the hairstyle of choice for the follicly-challenged salaraymen of Japan. Their intention is to stave off balding just one more day but when jet-black hair is stretched to it’s limits across a shiny head, the result is something that would ring up for about 99Y at the *Daiso. (*Japanese dollar store)
2. KY (kay –why)
KY stands for kuki yomenai, or “can’t read the air” and is used to describe someone who is unable to follow conversations, or puts their foot in their mouth. Naturally, saying KY in a room full of Americans leads to an awkward explanation of certain brands of products, for certain purposes.
This slang is a bit outdated at this point, and even older people have begun using it on TV, like “raise the roof” or “the bomb.” Not cool.
3. Bimyou (beem-yoh)
There is no direct translation for bimyou. Your dictionary will tell you it means “subtle”, but that’s not quite right. Depending on the situation it can mean “nothing special”, “not bad”, “slightly awkward” amongst other things. The closest might be, “Meh.” As in: “How was the movie?” “Bimyou… (Meh..)” It takes awhile to figure out exactly what someone means by bimyou, but it’s great when you’re stuck for an answer. (You can also use mah-mah or botchi-botchi, which is the same as, “so-so.”)
4. Shibui (She-booee)
Shibui comes from the same Chinese character used in Shibuya, but it doesn’t mean “like Shibuya.” It’s translated as “refined” but “old-school” may be a closer fit. It’s used to describe cool older guys, swanky jazz clubs, retro clothing, and other forms of understated “cool.” Think George Clooney in a smoky bar, drinking scotch and wearing a corduroy jacket with the leather elbow-patches…that’s super-shibui.
5. Nomihoudai (Know-me-hoe-die)
All-You-Can-Drink! Many restaurants in Japan will offer you an all-you-can-drink menu as a part of your dinner which leads us to our next word…
6. Kanpai! (Com-pie!)
Cheers! You'll hear a lot of this in the bars of Japan.
7. Tabehoudai (Tah-beh-hoe-die)
All-You-Can-Eat! Which comes in handy when it's pancakes… not so handy when it's eel.
7. Nanpa (Nahm-pah)
Nanpa is flirting with someone, or approaching a girl on the street for a date. You’ll see young yankees (bad boys) at stations approaching one girl after another in an attempt to get her cell number. Some of them are looking for hostesses to work in clubs and cafés, some are simply trying to get a date.
Of course, some ladies do it too. That’s called gyakunam or “Reverse Nanpa” and it tends to be a bit more subtle, and uh, successful.
8. Chikan (chee-kan)
Pervert! The trains in Tokyo are packed, and they happen to be packed with tons of lonely, drunk, and socially awkward people. So as you can imagine, when the train doors shut and you literally can’t move any parts of your body, some creeps, or chikan will take advantage. Sadly, most cases go unreported.
One chikan case that was reported was a guy named Alex, of the Japanese emo-band “One Ok Rock.” Alex was from San Francisco and living the dream as a Japanese rock star! But one drunken night he groped a girl on a train and was promptly sent packing.
9. Gaman (gah-mahn)
Gaman, means restraint, to hold back, just take it, or not to give in. This is one of the main characteristics of Japanese daily life. Waiting in long lines, working overtime without pay, being squeezed into an over packed train at rush hour, not talking back to one’s superiors, not being able to find a bathroom, or any of the other stresses of Tokyo living. You must bite your lip; take a deep breath and gaman.
10. Shouganai (Show-Gah-Nye)
Shouganai literally means, “nothing can be done” or “it can’t be helped.” Americans are taught that there is always something that can be done, nothing is impossible, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But in Japan, acceptance and patience are a virtue, so even when things are completely unfair, you’ll often hear the phrase shouganai. If someone calls YOU shouganai, they mean to say you are hopeless.
Let’s all study some Japanese!
What other cool Japanese words do you know? Share them in the comments below!