Japan Glossary

Glossary of Japanese Words & Phrases

A glossary of Japanese words and phrases from Aikido to Zen. See a list of important Japanese cultural words and terms with an explanation in English. Also listed are common Japanese acronyms (NHK, MITI etc) and historical words. Further information on many of the listed terms is available via accompanying links, plus information on related Japanese products.



Japan Glossary.

Aburatorigama - "oil removing paper" first used by geisha and kabuki actors now widespread female skin care.

Aikido - martial art.

Aimai - vague.

Ainu - indigenous people of northern Japan & Hokkaido.

Akari - Japanese paper lamps and lanterns. akari products

Akiba - abbreviation for "Akihabara," Tokyo's famous electronics, gaming, and nerd culture district.

Amae - an attitude of expecting indulgence and ongoing support from others without having to justify those expectations or reciprocate for the sake of them. Identified as a supposed Japanese national trait by the psychoanalyst, Takeo Doi, in 1971.

Amakudari - lit. 'descent from heaven', the practice of former civil service bureaucrats taking up executive posts with the companies they had overseen in government.

Amaterasu Omikami - according to Japanese myth, Amaterasu Omikami is the sun goddess, the guardian of the nation and the protector of the Imperial family. Read more on Amaterasu

Ama-zake - sweet sake.

ANA - All Nippon Airways

Anime - a shortened form of the English word 'animation' referring to Japanese cartoons.

Arigata meiwaku - when someone does you an unasked for favor.

Arubaito - part-time work from the German word for work Arbeit.

Asagao - morning glory flowers.

Atariya - "staged crash" or other such incident, where a scammer feigns injury to obtain financial gain.

Ateji - "called upon characters" - kanji used phonetically to represent words with little or no regard to the underlying meaning of the characters.

Awamori - strong alcohol from Okinawa.


Baka - epithet for "stupid".

Bakufu - lit. 'tent administration', the name given to the shogunal Tokugawa government in the Edo Period.

Bakumatsu - the end of the Bakufu government roughly 1853-1868.

Banto - archaic term for administrative "fixer" between upper management and staff.

Banzai - traditional cheer lit. "10,000 years".

Bakuto - an illegal, underworld gang of gamblers - see Yakuza.

Batto-kannon - horse-headed statue of kannon to protect horses.

Benten - folk goddess.

Bento - a boxed meal of rice, pickles and small portion of, typically, fish, poached egg, sausage, beans, etc., served in restaurants, train stations or prepared as a packed lunch for school children.

Bigaku - sense of beauty.

Biru Bochi - roof top cemeteries.

Biwa - four-stringed, traditional lute.

Bonenkai - lit. "forget the year party" - end of year workplace party usually involving lots to drink.

Bonkei & Bonseki - three dimensional scenery in miniature created on a tray using gravel, sand and moss.

Bonsai - the art of raising miniature potted plants. bonsai products

Boryokudan - lit. 'violence syndicate' - see Yakuza.

Boso-zoku - motorcycle gang.

Bugyo - Tokugawa-appointed magistrate.

Buke - (or bukke) is a style of architecture associated with the samurai warrior class, characteristically simple and practical.

Burakumin - lit. 'village people'. A euphemism for descendants of the eta class of social outcasts in the Edo period. The group's origins are unclear, although, due to social discrimination, they engaged in professions condemned by Buddhism such as executions, slaughter and leather work. An invisible minority against whom covert discrimination continues even today.

Bushi - warrior class.

Bushido - the way of the warrior, samurai spirit.

Butsudan - Buddhist altar kept in homes.

Byobu - traditional Japanese folding screens. Often painted and decorated with gold leaf. byobu products


Capsule Hotel - (aka cabin hotels or "pods") cheap accommodation often found near railway stations consisting of a small, almost coffin-like, space for sleeping and shared bathing facilities.
Read more on capsule hotels
; See a listing of capsule hotels in Tokyo

Chanoyu - the artistic and aesthetic discipline of tea ceremony. tea ceremony products

Chikan - 'pervert': a male groper or flasher, common on subway trains. Many municipalities now operate women-only carriages at rush hour to combat the practice.

Chikuwa - a tubular roll of boiled or grilled fish paste. Literally 'bamboo ring' from the method traditionally used to mold it.

Chindonya - A chindonya troupe consists of usually three lavishly attired and heavily made up men or women who perform with percussion and wind instruments to advertise new businesses. Read more on chindonya

Chinmoku - silence.

Chin-suru - to microwave something (the "chin" being onomatopoeia for the ringing sound signalling the end of the process)

-Cho - suffix used for area in a city.

-Chome - suffix used for area in a city smaller than -cho.

Chochin - colorful paper lanterns found in temples, shops and outdoor market stalls. chochin products

Choju-giga - Heian era forerunner of modern manga.

Chonmage - top-knot worn in the past by samurai and now by sumo wrestlers. chonmage products

Chozuya - water fountain at Shinto shrines for ritual purification of hands & mouth.

Chushingura are the re-enactments in Japanese movies, novels, and stage plays of the real-life story of the Forty-seven Ronin (master-less samurai) and the successful revenge of their feudal lord, Asano Naganori.

C-mail - the short message service (SMS) provided by the mobile carrier, au.

Cosplay - cosplay (costume play) is the fetish for dressing as Japanese anime or manga characters. Read more on cosplay


Daikon - giant white oriental radish.

Daikoku - one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan. See Shichifukujin

Daimyo - provincial feudal lords in the Edo Period. See Han.

Danchi - public housing blocks.

Dango - balls of Mochi (pounded sticky rice) served on bamboo skewers or slang term for rigged bid.

Daruma - good luck doll. Read more on daruma

Dashi - fish and seaweed stock; a key ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Read more on dashi

Dekasegi - (Dekasegi Nikkei Burajirujin) the name given to Brazilian Japanese migrant workers and their families in Japan. Brazilian Japanese make up sizeable minority communities in Aichi and Shizuoka prefectures.

Dojin - (Doujin) refers to a group with shared interests.

Dojinshi - are works, often anime, manga, hentai etc, published by dojin groups.

Dojo - practice room.

Dokyosei - classmates.

Dokyun - (DQN) a term for urban louts similar to "chavs" in the UK.

Donabe - lidded ceramic pots.

Doro - street.

Doryo - colleagues.


Ebisu - one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan. See Shichifukujin

Edo - the former name for Tokyo until the capital moved from Kyoto in 1868. Read more on Edo

Edokko - lit. 'Edo child' - a person born in downtown Tokyo.

Eiga - the Japanese word for film or movie. Read more on eiga

Eikaiwa - the Japanese word for English conversation classes - a national obsession. Read more on eikaiwa

Ekiben - lunch box bought at train stations. Read more on ekiben

Ema - an ema is wooden board or plaque bearing a written wish or prayer hung in Shinto shrines.

Engawa - a plain wooden strip of flooring like a small veranda surrounding a traditional Japanese house.

Engimono - lucky charms.

Enjo kosai - 'compensated dating'; a euphemistic term for schoolgirl prostitution with older men.

Enka - folk songs.

Enryo - restraint.

Ero-kawaii - erotic kawaii, a mix of sexy and cute.


-Fu - urban prefecture.

Fude - calligraphy brush.

Fufu - husband and wife.

Fuhai - corruption.

Fukushin - trusted friends.

Fundoshi - loincloth.

Fureta- - "freeter" - part-time worker drifting between jobs.

Furin - wind chime.

Furo - bath.

Fusuma - sliding paper doors found in traditional housing and temples.

Fugu - a blowfish; poisonous fish eaten as a delicacy in Japan.
Read more on fugu

Fujisan - Mount Fuji, Japan's highest peak at 3776m.
Read more on Mount Fuji

Furigana - hiragana script to aid pronunciation of kanji characters.

Fusuma - sliding paper and wood screen.

Futon - traditional mattress laid out on the floor for sleeping.

Futsugo - ordinary speech.


Gagaku - ancient court music.

Gaijin - 'foreigner', made up of the characters for 'outside' (gai) and 'person' (jin). A rather abrupt term generally replaced with the more elaborate gaikoku no kata in politer parlance.

Gaisensha - sound trucks, equipped with public address systems, used for advertising or by the right wing to broadcast their propaganda.

Galapagos Syndrome - originally refering to Japanese 3G mobile phones which were widespread and successful in Japan but not taken up elsewhere.

Gals - urban fashion tribe.

Gaman - endurance.

Ganguro - fashion tribe that favors a heavily tanned look.

Garakei - a compound word from Galapagos Syndrome and keitaidenwa and referring to old style mobile phones (flip-phones).

Gashapon (gatchapon) - capsule toys bought from a machine. Read more on Gashapon

Gei-no-jin - TV "talent" or star.

Geisha - young women trained in traditional Japanese social arts to serve clients in tea houses. Training includes dance, musical instruments, song, flower arrangement (ikebana), and the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu). See Maiko.
Read more on geisha

Genkan - the genkan is the entrance area to a Japanese home where people remove their shoes.

Geta - wooden sandals.

Giri - social duties or obligations, hence giri-ninjo - duty and humanity.

Go - board game with black and white counters.

Gokaido - the five principal highways of the Edo Period.

Gokudo - gangsterism.

Gomagi - piece of wood in which Shinto prayers are written.

Goza - the woven straw covering of a tatami mat. tatami products

Green Car - Green Car is equivalent to First Class on European trains or Business Class on airlines on Japanese trains.

Gundam - legendary Japanese animated science fiction phenomenon.


Hachimaki - headband.

Hagoita - battledore associated

Haikyo - literally "ruins" in Japanese but also referring to "urban exploration" in English where people visit abandoned buildings and photograph them. Gunkanjima in Nagasaki is an example.

Hakimono - footwear: tabi, sandals, slippers, geta, setta, zori.

Hakko Ichiu - "the eight corners of the world under one roof" - militarist slogan of the early Showa Period.

Haiku - Japanese poem consisting of three lines arranged in a syllable count of 5-7-5.
Read more on haiku

Han - name for feudal territories in the Edo Period.

Hanami - flower viewing.

Hanko - personal seal/stamp.

Hanten - a padded cotton worker's coats. hanten products

Hanto - peninsula.

Haori - short kimono coat.

Happi coat - colorful thin cotton jackets usually worn on festive occasions. happi products

Haragei - "belly art" or mutual understanding.

Haramaki - are traditional Japanese cotton belly warmers.

Hashi - chopsticks (箸).

Hashi - bridge (橋).

Heya - stable of sumo wrestlers, many of which are located in Tokyo's Ryogoku district. Read more on heya

Hibakusha - survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Read more on hibakusha

Hihokan - a Japanese sex museum.

Hikari - express shinkansen train.

Hikikomori - a term for young people (mostly men) who become recluses and refuse to leave their homes to interact with society at large.

Hinomaru or Nisshoki - the Japanese national flag, literally 'sun disk'. Used first in the 8th century, it was revived as a flag for ships in the 19th. After a post-WWII lull, it regained popularity during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Made the official flag of the nation in 1999, along with Kimigayo.
Read more about the Hinomaru

Hiragana - Japanese syllabary of rounded characters Read more about Hiragana

Hoji - Buddhist memorial service.

Honjin - Edo Period lodging for important feudal lords (daimyo) and top government officials. Read more about honjin

Hori-kotatsu - sunken place in a tatami room covered with a kotatsu table.

Hosuto - "host," a man who entertains women at a club for that purpose.

Hosutesu - "hostess," a woman who entertains men at a club for that purpose.

Hotei - god of happiness, derived from China.

Hotto - "hot," meaning "hot coffee," a staple of kissaten.


Ichirizuka - earthern mounds denoting the distance of 1 ri (3.9km or 2.4 miles)

Ikebana - the art of arranging cut flowers.

Ijime - bullying.

Ikigai - the concept of "a reason for being" or the search for self-fulfillment.

Ikki - downing a drink in one.

Ikuji - child-rearing.

i-mode - wireless Internet developed by NTT for its mobile phones and based on a compact version of HTML, not compatible with WAP.

Inemuri - "to be asleep while present" - napping in public places such as on trains, meetings and classrooms.

Irezumi - tattoo.

Irori - traditional fireplace or hearth.

Ishidatami - (lit. "stone tatami) stone paving on Edo period roads.

Izakaya - Japanese pub serving food and drink in an informal, often lively, atmosphere. Read more on izakaya


JAF - Japan Automobile Federation.

JAL - Japan Airlines.

japan - in lower case means lacquerware, or urushi
Read more on japan

J-League - the professional Japanese soccer league formed in 1993, now consisting of 2 divisions: J1 & J2.
Read more on J-League

JNTO - Japan National Tourist Organization

-Jo - suffix meaning "castle" as in Osakajo - Osaka Castle.

J-pop - Japanese pop music often featuring young idol singers, boy-bands and girl-bands such as Morning Musume.

Jidai geki - samurai dramas on TV.

Jidoh-hanbai-ki - Automatic vending machines. There are over 5 million such machines in Japan dispensing mainly soft drinks, alcohol and cigarettes, but also batteries, confectionary - even porn.

Jika-tabi - split-toe rubber boots.

Jimmu - mythical first emperor of Japan.

Jinja - shrine.

Jisatsu - suicide. As of 2007, Japan's suicide rate is the eighth highest in the world with over 80 Japanese committing suicide daily. Read more about suicide in Japan.

Jitensha - bicycle.

Jizai Kagi - hearth hook.

Jizo - Bodhisattva and protector of travelers.

Joshi-buka - boss-subordinate relationship in Japanese companies.

Joshi kosei - high school girls.

Joyato - Edo-era stone lantern lit after nightfall to guide travelers.

JR - Japan Railways.

JTB - Japan Travel Bureau.

Juku - cram-school.

-juku - suffix meaning post town on one of Japan's ancient highways such as the Tokaido and Nakasendo.


Kabuki - highly-stylized traditional Japanese theater developed from the 17th century onwards. Read more on kabuki

Kaiseki ryori - Japanese haute cuisine made up of many small courses. Read more on Japanese food & Kaiseki ryori

Kaisha - company, firm.

Kaishaku - a second who delivered the coup de grace to a samurai committing seppuku.

Kaisoku - rapid train.

Kaitenzushi - Japanese sushi restaurants where the sushi revolves on a small conveyor belt.

Kagura - kagura is a type of traditional music and dance approaching pantomime associated with the founding myths and gods and goddesses of Japan. Buy kagura masks from Japan

Kaki - persimmon.

Kami - Shinto 'gods' or spirits that may reside in animals, rocks, trees and other natural phenomena.

Kamikaze lit. 'divine wind' referring to the storm that destroyed the invading Mongol fleet in the thirteenth century, used again to describe the suicide pilots of the Japanese forces in the closing stages of World War II. (These, however, are usually referred to as tokkoh-tai-in by the Japanese.) Read more on kamikaze

Kampo - Chinese herbal medicine.

Kanji - the Chinese pictograms used in Japanese writing. Read more on kanji

Kannon - Buddhist goddess of mercy. Read more on Kannon

Kansai - western Japan including Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe. Read more on Kansai

Kanto - eastern Japan including Tokyo and the surrounding area. Read more on Kanto

Kanzashi - ornate Japanese hairpins used in traditional Japanese hairstyles, often depicting flowers or animals.

Kappa - mythical frog-like evil sprite.

Karakuri - automated, mechanized puppets, automata.

Karaoke - lit. 'empty orchestra' - singing along to to your favorite tunes on a mic often in karaoke boxes. Read more on karaoke

Karoshi - death from overwork, see Salaryman.

Kashu - singer.

Kashiwade - ringing the bell and clapping 3 times to arouse the gods in a Shinto shrine.

Kasuri - Japanese style double ikat woven textile Read more about Kurume kasuri

Katakana - Japanese syllabary of angular characters Read more about Katakana

Katorisenko - mosquito repelling incense coils.

Kawaii - (可愛) cute, loveable, adorable and the appreciation of cuteness in Japanese society and fashion. Read more on the culture of cute.

Kayokyoku - popular songs.

Keigo - honorific language.

Keiretsu - conglomerate, cartel.

Keitai (denwa) - the Japanese term for mobile, or cell, phones. keitai rental

Kempeitai - Japanese military police first established in the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

Ken - prefecture - the generic suffix meaning "prefecture" used in 43 of Japan's 47 prefectures. Japan's Prefectures

Kendama - Japanese game of "cup and ball". kendama products

Kendo - martial art using a sword.

Ki - life force.

Kiku - chrysanthemun - the imperial flower.

Kimigayo - a 10th century poem set to music in 1880 and adopted as the virtual national anthem of Japan in 1888. Past post-war controversy about its imperialistic associations has largely subsided, and in 1999 its use was finally codified in law, along with the Hinomaru.

Kimo-kawaii - gross-cute typified by the character Gloomy Bear.

Kimono - traditional Japanese dress worn by both men and women. kimono products

Kisha - reporters' clubs.

Kissaten - a small, neighborhood, Japanese-style coffee shop, now being overtaken by cafe chains.

Kiyome no shio - salt stacked in a cone to purify an entrance way.

Koan - Zen riddle or fable.

Koban - or polibox - neighborhood police boxes. Read more on koban

Kodo - the cultivation of mental composure by burning incense.

Kodomo - child.

Kogal - Shibuya-based fashionistas.

Koinobori - carp streamers - colorful, fish-shaped flags flown outside houses to celebrate Boy's Day in Japan - symbols of manliness, strength and perseverance. koinobori products

Kokki - national flag.

Koku - an ancient measure of rice used to determine wealth in the Edo Period (1603-1868) equivalent to around 150kg, calculated to be sufficient to feed one person for a year. Japanese rice

Komainu - lion dog guardians seen at temples and shrines. Read more on komainu.

Kombu - kelp or sea tangle used as a basic ingredient for stock. See Dashi.

Konbini - convenience stores - open 24/7 - sell just about everything as well as offering banking and postal services. Read more on konbini

Kone - (konneh) abbreviation of "connection," i.e., being in favor with an insider.

Koppori - (also known as okobo, bokkuri or pokkuri) are the platform clogs or geta worn by maiko (apprentice geisha). The raised clogs prevent the maiko's expensive kimono from touching the floor. The color of the thongs represents the status of the wearer.

Koshu-Kaido - historic highway from Shimo-suwa to Edo.

Kostatsuba - Edo period notice board.

Kotatsu - kotatsu are low heated tables covered with a futon.

Kote-e - plaster relief art, colored reliefs found most commonly on storehouses, though also found on homes and temples.

Koto - 13-stringed musical instrument.

-Ku - suffix meaning administrative district or ward as in Kita-ku (North Ward)

Kudokushi - so-called "lonely deaths" people dying alone.

Kunaicho - Imperial Household Agency.

Kura - thick-walled storehouse.

Kusari-doi - rain chains on traditional Japanese buildings.

Kuyakusho - ward office.

Kyogen - short, traditional plays associated with Noh.

Kyoiku mama - "education mother."

Kyokusui no utage - the Heian Period tradition of combining drinking sake with writing and reciting poetry. Read more on Kyokusui no utage

Kyoshitsu - a private room, often at a restaurant or izakaya, that be be reserved for a group.

Kyudo - Japanese archery. A martial art that emphasizes the balance between action and tranquility.

Kyuko - ordinary express train.

Kyusu - Japanese ceramic tea pots with a handle at 90 degrees from the side. tea products


LDP - Liberal Democratic Party, Japan's ruling political party for much of the post-war period.

Live house - live music venue.

Lost Decade - so called period of economic stagnation in the 1990's after the burst of the "Bubble Economy".

Love hotel - a pay-by-the-hour short-stay hotel for couples.


Machiya - traditional townhouse.

Maiko - the term for a trainee Geisha. Read more on geisha

Majime - serious, earnest.

Mama-san - female bar or club owner.

Mamba - aka yamamba - sub-tribe of ganguro.

Mamushi - poisonous snake.

Maneki Neko - ceramic beckoning cats thought to bring good fortune, especially for businesses, as the cats are believed to attract customers with their beckoning paw. Maneki neko products

Manga - Japanese comic books, as popular with adults as with children. manga products

Manji - swastika symbol.

Manzai - A form of Japanese comic storytelling performed by a duo, largely associated with Osaka.

Matcha - powdered green tea.

Matsuri - a traditional Japanese festival. Read more on matsuri

Matsukazari - pine branches and bamboo wrapped in rice straw as a New Year decoration.

Meido kissa - maid cafe (see Akihabara).

Meiji Ishin - Meiji Restoration of imperial authority in 1869.

Meinichi - anniversary of a death.

Meishi - lit 'name thrust' or 'name stab' - aka business cards.

Men - a Japanese mask either carved from wood or made from a papier-mache base. See Noh. mask products

Miai - arranged date - usually o-miai.

Mikoshi - portable shrine paraded at festivals.

Minpaku - ordinary people renting out their homes to visitors, often online with websites such as Airbnb.

Minshuku - a traditional Japanese inn one rank down from a Ryokan. Read more on minshuku

Mirin - intensified, sweetened sake used in cooking.

Miso - fermented soybean paste ranging in color from yellow to brown. A staple of Japanese cuisine.

MITI - Ministry of International Trade & Industry.

Mizu-shobai - lit. "water trade" - entertainment business.

Mochi - steamed rice pounded into a glutinous cake and used as a staple ingredient in a variety of dishes, including desserts.

Mofu - blanket.

Mon - gate.

Mongen - curfew, often imposed at budget accommodation, such as youth hostels, in Japan.

Mono no aware - "sweet sadness" - cultural concept of the transience of all things.

Mura - village.


Naga Hibachi lit. 'long firebox'.

Nakasendo - ancient mountain route highway between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo).

Nakodo - go-between in the traditional match-making process of 'omiai'. See omiai. Read more on nakado

Namiki - trees plant to provide shade on ancient highway system.

Naruto - popular manga and anime created by Kishimoto Masashi. Also a port town in north east Shikoku famous for its whirlpools.

Natsubate - (na-tsoo-ba-teh) exhaustion from summer heat.

Neko - a bottom, in gay parlance (literally, "cat").

Nemawashi - prior consultation in the business world.

Nengajo - New Year's card.

Netsuke - carved fastener made from wood or ivory.

N'EX - Narita Express train.

NHK - (Nihon Hohsoh Kyokai) - Japan's state TV & radio broadcaster.

Nihonjinron - theory of Japanese 'uniqueness' developed in the 1960's.

Nikko-kaido - historic road from Edo to Nikko.

Ningyo - doll.

Nio - temple or shrine guardians. Read more about Nio.

Ninja - feudal-era master spies and assassins. Read more about ninja

Noh - a masked, highly stylized form of classical Japanese theater developed in the 14th century and subsequently refined to its present minimalism. See Men.

Noren - short curtain often hung in shop doorways indicating that the shop is open for business.
noren products

NTT - Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation.

Nyushi - entrance examination.


Obi - an embroidered sash for a kimono.

O-chugen - gifts given in July for favors or services rendered.

Ohaguro - custom of Japanese women blackening their teeth in the Edo Period.

Oibara - practice of seppuku after the death of your lord.

Ojigi - bowing.

O-josan - lit. "princess" - young woman of conservative taste.

Okonomiyaki - a thick pancake served on a hot plate usually containing meat or seafood. Read more on okonomiyaki

OL - abbreviation for 'Office Lady' - a female office worker.

Omakase - "up to you" or "leave it to you" - often used in restaurants for the chef or waiter's recommendations.

Omikuji - fortune telling by stick divination.

Omiai (miai) - a system of match-making where single individuals are introduced to each other for purpose of possible marriage. See nakodo. Read more on omiai

O-miyage - souvenir.

Omizuko or mizuko (水子) - aborted, stillborn or miscarried children.

Onnagata - man playing woman's role in kabuki.

Oni - demon or devil.

Onigawara - demon roof tile found on temples and private residences. Read more on onigawara

Onigiri - a sticky rice ball wrapped in a seaweed often containing a filling of fish or a pickled plum: umeboshi.

Onsen - Japanese hot springs, often developed into resorts. Read more on onsen

O-seibo - gifts given in December for favors or services rendered.

O-shibori - hot towels provided in cafes and restaurants.

Oshu-kaido - northern highway in Edo times to Shirakawa in present day Fukushima Prefecture.

Otaku - nerdy hobbyist obsessed by manga, anime, gaming or other sub-cultures.

O-tsumami - snacks served in bars.

Owan - soup dish with lid.

Ozen - standing tray.

Ozoni - soup with mochi eaten at New Year.


Pachinko - an automated, mechanical game of chance in the form of what is basically a vertical pinball machine. An extremely popular form of gambling in Japan. Read more on pachinko

Paris Syndrome - term for culture shock experienced by Japanese expats at finding reality differs from preconception.

Pasu - a "pass," as in a bus or rail pass.

Pocchiri - the buckle on the obi belt of a maiko often decorated with precious stones.

Pongashi - lit. 'popped snacks' - roasted rice snacks. Read more on pongashi

Puchipura - low affordable price.

Purikura - shortened form of "purinto kurabu" - teenage mug shots. Read more on purikura


Q-chan - the nickname of popular marathon runner and 2000 Sydney Olympic marathon champion (her time 2hr, 23min, 14sec), Naoko Takahashi.


Rakugo - (lit. fallen words) traditional storytelling, often comic.

Ramen - Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a bone and vegetable stock and flavored with soy sauce (also known as chuka soba). Read more on ramen

Remocon - Japanese abbreviation for "remote control."

Retoro - "retro."

Risutora - "restructuring" often meaning down-sizing of financially troubled companies.

Robatayaki - rustic-style izakaya.

Romaji - a system of transcribing the Japanese language in to the Latin alphabet. Read more about romaji

Ronin - masterless, wandering samurai; now used as a term for students re-taking university entrance exams.

Rotemburo - outside open-air bath.

Ryokan - a traditional Japanese inn. Also see Minshuku. Read more on ryokan

Ryoshusho - a receipt for a bill: for example from a taxi, hotel or restaurant.

Ryotei - upmarket Japanese restaurant with private dining rooms.

Ryukyu Islands - or Nansei Islands - are a chain of islands stretching from the southern coast of Kyushu and including the islands of Okinawa. Read more on Okinawa


Sado - tea ceremony.

Sake - Japanese rice wine: a clear drink made from fermented rice, 14-16% alcohol by volume, served either warm or cold. Usually referred to honorifically as o-sake. Read more on sake

Saikeirei - 90 degree bow as sign of ultimate respect.

Sakoku - policy of seclusion adopted during the Edo Period which limited foreign trade and intercourse.

Sakura - cherry blossom.

Salaryman - the Japanese term for a male office worker.

-Sama - polite suffix.

Samue - casual Japanese clothing consisting of a matching loose-fitting jacket and pants.
samue products

Samurai - Japan's hereditary class of feudal warriors, outlawed in 1876 as part of Japan's modernization drive. Word derives from saburau meaning "to serve."

-San - polite suffix, meaning Mr or Mrs.

Sangokujin - literally 'third country person' - an old term for 'foreigner(s)' resurrected infamously in 2000 by the xenophobic governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara. See Gaijin.

Sankin Kotai - system of alternate residence where feudal lords (daimyo) during the Edo Period were required to spend alternate years in the shogunate capital, Edo, as a means of political control exercised by the Shogun.

San-pee - i.e, "three P," a gay Japanese term  for a homosexual threesome, the "P" referring to "penises."

SDF - Self-Defence Forces. Japan's de-facto armed forces.

Seku-hara - sexual harassment.

Sempai - one's elder and therefore superior at school or work.

Senbazuru - 1000 origami cranes to make wishes come true. Read more on Senbazaru.

Senryu - humerous haiku poem.

Sensei - teacher, master.

Sensu - a folding fan, often intricately carved and decorated. sensu 'folding fan' products

Sento - lit. 'penny-bath'; Japanese public bathhouses. Read more on sento

Seppuku - or 'harakiri' - ritual suicide performed by disembowelment with a sword. A form of penance undertaken by samurai warriors.

Seza - kneeling position.

-Shi - suffix meaning "city" thus Kyoto-shi is Kyoto city.

Shachihoko - shachi - mythical creature with tiger head and carp body used to protect Japanese castles.

Shaku - scepter-like, flat, wooden symbol of authority carried by Shinto priests.

Shakuhachi - a traditional Japanese bamboo flute, with the colloquial meaning, especially among gay Japanese, of a blowjob.

Shamisen - lit. "three flavor strings" - musical instrument.

Shibari - rope bondage.

Shibui - austere sense of beauty.

Shichifukujin - the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan.

Shiken - examination, thus shiken-jigoku is "exam hell".

Shimenawa - rice-straw ropes marking off a sacred space in Shinto shrines or other natural places, such as rocks and trees, considered sacred. Read more about shimenawa

Shina - insulting, taboo word for China.

Shinbutsu bunri - early Meiji Period nationalistic policy of separation of "imported" Buddhism from "native" Shinto.

Shin-jinrui - lit. "new human species" media term for empty-headed, consumer-orientated youth.

Shinkansen - high-speed 'bullet train', originally built for the 1964 Olympics. Read more on shinkansen

Shinnenkai - start of the year workplace party.

Shinrin-yoku - lit. "forest bathing" - fairly new concept from the 1980's of improving health and relieving stress by strolling in the woods or forest. Read more on shinrin-yoku

Shinto - animist native religion of Japan.

Shirouo - small, transparent fish eaten alive. Read more on shirouo

Shitagi dorobo - underwear thief who snatches women's panties from washing lines.
Read more on underwear theft

Shitamachi - downtown area of Tokyo.

Shochu - Shochu is a distilled, clear alcoholic beverage made from a variety of different ingredients such as barley, buckwheat, sweet potatoes and sugar. shochu - Read more

Shodo - calligraphy, lit. "way of writing."

Shogi - chess-like game.

Shogun - military ruler.

Shogunate - military government associated with the Tokugawa regime of 1603-1867.

Shoji - paper-covered screens.

Shuji - calligraphy, lit. "practice of letters."

Shukubo - temple lodgings.

Shunga - erotic wood-block prints. Read more on shunga.

Shugendo - syncretic Shinto-Buddhist sect.

Smapho - abbreviation for "smart phone."

Soapland - bathhouses offering sexual services.

Soba - Japanese buckwheat noodles (resembling spaghetti) served in a soy-flavored, or sometimes clear, broth made from fish and seaweed stock: Dashi. Read more on noodles

Sodai-gomi: discarded items too big for regular municipal trash collection (home appliances, mattresses, etc.), also used to mean a "(useless) husband."

Sonno joi - "Revere the Emperor; Expel the Barbarian" - Bakumatsu rallying call.

Soroban - abacus.

Soto - outside, public space.

Soubetsukai - farewell party for a colleague.

Suikinkutsu - lit. "water koto cave" an upside down buried jar which produces sound as water trickles into it. A suikinkutsu is often found along with a tsukubai in traditional Japanese gardens in temples and castles.

Sumi-e - ink paintings.

Sumiyaki - charcoal burners.

Sumo - traditional Japanese wrestling; two loin-cloth clad wrestlers face off on a compacted, raised, rope-encircled sand ring, or dohyo, with the object of throwing the opponent to the ground or ejecting him from the ring.
Read more on sumo

Suribachi & Surikogi - (ceramic) mortar and (wooden) pestle.

Sushi - bite-sized servings of cooked sticky rice, served cold, flavored with sweet rice vinegar and grated green horseradish, or wasabi, and garnished with strips of raw or cooked fish, other seafood, cooked egg or vegetables. Also called maki-zushi when wrapped in dry seaweed, or nori.
Read more on sushi


Tabako - i.e. "tobacco," meaning "cigarette."

Tabi - split-toe socks.

Tachi - a top, in gay parlance, (literally, "standing, upright")

Taiko - traditional drums.

Taketombo - (lit. 'bamboo dragonfly') traditional flying toy made of bamboo which flies like a helicopter when spun from the hands.
Taketombo products

Tako - kite.

Tameshigiri - test cutting using a Japanese sword. Now this Japanese art is practiced on the top goza part of Japanese tatami mats and bamboo, which replicate human flesh and bone respectively. Read more on Japanese sword-making Okuizumo Tatara Sword Museum

Tanka - traditional form of poetry.

Tanshinfunin - job transfer without one's family.

Tansu - traditional chest of drawers.

Tanuki - racoon-like animal often represented in ceramics.

Tatami - woven straw mats used as flooring in Japanese homes. tatami products

Tatara - forge or furnace for producing steel often for Japanese swords. Read more about tatara

Tawashi - sponge for cleaning such as kamenoko tawashi or hechima tawashi.

Teiki-ken - train pass.

Teineigo - polite language.

Teishoku - a set meal served in restaurants usually including rice, pickles and miso soup.

Tekireiki - the right age for marriage.

Tengu - long nosed, red-faced, mischievous demi-god derived from the Hindu Garuda; often represented in statues and masks. tengu mask products

Tenugui - bath towel in onsen or sento.

Terakoya - Edo Period elementary schools often located in Buddhist temples.

Teshoku - hand held candle stand.

Tobashi a scheme to defraud where a company's losses are hidden by an investment firm moving them between other real or fake companies, such as in the Olympus Scandal.

Togyu - Bull sumo still seen on Okinawa and the Oki Islands among other places.

Tokaido - ancient coastal route highway between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo).

Tokkuri - sake flask.

Toko kyohi - truancy.

Tokonoma - ornamental alcove often decorated with a scroll and/or flower arrangement. Read more about tokonoma

Torii - shrine gate lit. "bird perch". Read more about torii

Tosa - Edo Period province in Shikoku now known as Kochi. Also a breed of Japanese dog which was traditional breed as a fighting dog.

Tsuba - sword guard.

Tsukiai - salarymen's after work drinking, companionship.

Tsukubai - stone water basin found in traditional Japanese gardens.

Tsumagawa - rain cover for geta.

Tsuru - crane - symbol of long life.

Tsuya - wake at a funeral.


Ubasute - (aka obasute) the legendary practice of taking old people to the top of a mountain or remote spot to die.

Uchi - belonging, one's own house; compare soto.

Uchikake - white wedding kimono with a white headdress. The headdress is big and bulky and is said to hide the bride's "horns" as a symbol of submission to her husband.
Read more on Japanese weddings

Uchimizu - spraying water outside a house or shop often in the summer to cool down the local area.

Udatsu - often ornate plaster upper wall extensions that protrude out from beneath the eaves to act as fire breaks between traditional wooden houses. Read more about udatsu.

Udon - thick Japanese buckwheat noodles.
Read more on udon

Ume - plum.

Umeboshi - sour, pickled plums often eaten with rice.

Unten-menkyo - driving licence.

Ukiyo-e - lit. 'pictures of the floating world'; traditional Japanese woodblock prints dating from the Edo period (1603-1867).

Usu - a mortar for pounding rice to make mochi.

Utai - Noh chant.



Wa - harmony also prefix to denote Japanese.

Wabi Sabi - a basic concept of Japanese aesthetics, stressing unpretentiousness, plainness, earthiness, and satisfaction with imperfection.

Wabori - Japanese-style tattoo (see Yakuza).

Waka - 31 syllable poem.

Wakame - a type of seaweed, usually found in Miso soup.
Read more on wakame

Waki-Honjin - Edo Period lodging for lesser feudal lords (daimyo) and their retainers.

Waraji - woven straw sandals.
waraji products

Waribashi - disposable chopsticks.waribashi - Read more

Warikan - share the bill.

Wasabi - green horseradish, often eaten with Sushi.

Washi - Japanese rice paper. washi paper products

Washo - chant of encouragement at Shinto festivals.



Yabai - can be translated as dangerous or risky but often used by youth in the sense of "dodgy" or "weird."

Yamabushi - mountain ascetics, hermits and followers of Shugendo - mostly "part-time" nowadays. Read more about yamabushi

Yabusame - Japanese mounted archery, horse-riders dressed in medieval costume fire arrows at three stationary targets. Began as a form of military training for samurai.
Read more on yabusame

Yaki-imo - baked yam (sweet potato) often sold by vendors from mini-vans with a distinctive call.
Read more on yaki-imo

Yakitori - charcoal-grilled chicken on skewers.
Read more on yakitori

Yakuza - collective name for the Japanese mafia or underworld crime syndicates. Yakuza movies have been a popular genre in Japanese cinema since the war, portraying gangsters as modern Japan's answer to the Samurai.

Yakyu - (lit. field ball) Japanese baseball - often associated with the ideals of team play and hard physical practice.
Read more on yakyu

Yamato - historic word for Japan.

Yamato-damashii - Japanese spirit; word with militarist associations.

Yatagarasu - three-legged crow and helper to Jimmu.

Yatai - stall.

Yatate - ink well for traditional Japanese brush.

Yofu - Western style as opposed to wafu, Japanese style.

Yokozuna - 'Grand Champion' - the highest rank in sumo wrestling.
Read more on sumo

Yosakoi - Yosakoi is group formation dancing to fast-paced modern electronic music, but is based on earlier folk dances from Kochi in Shikoku.
Read more on yosakoi

Yoshokuya - Western-style restaurants.

Yuino - gifts from prospective husband to prospective bride.

Yukan - preperation for burial.

Yukata - thin cotton gown.

Yuru kyara - lit. "soft or loose characters" often adopted by a town or city as their mascot or "character" such as the hugely popular Kumamon in Kumamoto.

Yuzen - a dyeing technique invented by Yuzensai Miyazaki (died in Kyoto in 1758) using rice-paste that made possible the economic production of sumptuously decorated textiles. yuzen products


Zabuton - floor cushions, 'za' meaning 'sitting' and 'buton' being Futon.

Zaibatsu - conglomerates.

Zainichi - second or third generation Koreans living in Japan. Read more on zainichi

Zazen - Zen meditation.

Zen - a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that first appeared in China in the sixth and seventh centuries and later spread to Japan.
Read more on zen

Zenekon - building contractors.

Zentai - full body Cosplay suits.

Zoen - Japanese garden landscaping. Read more on zoen

Zoni - rice-cake soup.

Zori - flat bottomed straw-woven sandals worn by both men and women.
zori products

Zoto - gift-giving.

Japanese Food Glossary
Japanese Acronyms & Abbreviations
Kawaii Glossary
Korean Glossary

Books on Japanese Culture