Everyone knows some Japanese. You probably have heard or know these Japanese words and meanings; kamikaze, keisha, kimono, karaoke, samurai and so on. Many Japanese words and phrases have deep cultural significance which can make it hard for students to learn Japanese. However, Japanese words aren’t always deeply culturally rooted – there are some wacky words. While living in Japan I came across some ridiculous Japanese words that could only exists in Japan. The Japanese have a knack for stealing foreign words and giving them new meanings. Let’s learn a few.
Funny Japanese Words and Meanings
My pet hate Japanese word is juice, in katakana ジュース. In Japanese “juice” basically means soft drink. It can even mean canned coffee. How could they get this word so wrong. So if a Japanese offers you “juice” in Japan don’t be surprised if you are giving a glass of coke.
Snack, スナック, is an other word Japanese give new meaning to. Instead of relating to eating food the word is all about drinking. In Japanese snack means bar. But not just any bar. Snack bars are small drinking places usually for the older generation where Japanese can drown their sorrows with whisky or beer and belt out some enka. These places are very popular with men as they are sort of a hostess bar where you’re charged quite a lot to drink with female company. Enka is traditional Japanese music- songs about lots love. These places are probably the most depressing places you could ever visit in Japan.
Viking is one of my favorite’s. It is pronounced “Bye -king” and written in katakana バイキング. Japanese most likely wouldn’t know who the Vikings were. Yet, at least one Japanese picked up on their eating habits and coined the phrase to mean buffet. Viking means “all-you-can- eat” . It can also mean ”all-you-can-drink”.
Ice comes close. It means ice cream. In katakana アイス. This is an example of how Japanese will take English words and shorten them or abbreviate them. Japanese generally like to communicate with the least amount of words. They will take a foreign word shorten it, give it a new meaning, and eventually it slips into main stream vocabulary.
When you first learn or discover these words you will feel dumbfounded . You will either feel amused or annoyed. It is quite hard to believe that the words I just taught you are meaningful and common words in the Japanese language. It certainly took me a while to accept and use them. One of the most frustrating things is many Japanese believe that they are speaking English when using these loan words. Good reason enough not to even consider teaching English in Japan……just joking.