What English words come from Japanese?

This page lists some examples of English words which have origins in Japanese. In some cases, the English word has a different meaning, spelling, or pronunciation from the original Japanese.

Adzuki

From azuki (小豆)

A kind of bean. In Japanese, the word is pronounced a-zu-ki without any "d" sound. The "d" in "adzuki" is a relic of a non-standard system of romanization where づ is romanized as "dzu". See What is the "kwa" in "kwaidan"?

Anime

From anime (アニメ)

Anime is a contracted form of animēshon (アニメーション) (from English "animation"). The word "anime" is now used in English to mean "Japanese animation". See also What are contracted words like

Bokeh

From boke (ぼけ)

A photographic term meaning deliberately out of focus. The "h" at the end of "bokeh" is used to indicate the pronunciation "boh-keh" rather than "boak". See also What does mean?

Bonsai

From bonsai (盆栽)

The art of growing miniature trees.

Bukkake

From bukkake (ぶっかけ)

A sexual practice. In Japanese, this just means "splash on", without necessarily any sexual connotations. See What does mean?

Edamame

From edamame (枝豆)

Soy beans. See also soy.

Emoji

From emoji (絵文字)

Literally "picture characters".

Futon

From futon (布団)

The Japanese term means either a foldable mattress (shikibuton (敷き布団) or a duvet (kakebuton (掛け布団). The wooden framed sofa-bed called a "futon" in Western countries is not related to the Japanese futon, which contains no wood at all, and is usually laid on the floor on top of tatami.

Ginkgo

From ichō, ginnan (銀杏)

A kind of tree and its nut. "Ginkgo" was given to this plant by German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer in the seventeenth century based on a Japanese source. "Ginkgo" may have been a mistaken transcription of an alternative pronunciation ginkyō of the kanji word 銀杏 with a g for the y.[1]

Go

From igo (囲碁)

A game played with black and white stones.

Haiku

From haiku (俳句)

Although "haiku" has become a kind of poetry in English consisting of seventeen English syllables, the meaning in Japanese is a seventeen-syllable poem which contains a seasonal word or phrase, kigo (季語). The meaning of "syllables" is also different from English, since the seventeen "syllables" are moras ("beats") rather than true syllables. See What is the difference between a mora and a syllable?

Hibachi

From hibachi (火鉢)

A kind of grill.

Honcho

From hanchō (班長)

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary[2]:

Origin of HONCHO
Japanese hanchō squad leader, from han squad + chō head, chief
First Known Use: 1955

Ikebana

From ikebana (生け花)

A style of flower arranging. Ikebana literally means "living flowers".

Kabuki

From kabuki (歌舞伎)

A form of humorous drama.

Kaizen

From kaizen (改善)

A business practice. The Japanese word just means "improvement".

Kanban

From kanban (看板)

A business practice. The Japanese word just means "sign", as in a road sign or advertising hoarding.

Karaoke

From karaoke (カラオケ)

The word "karaoke" in Japanese means the backing track for a singer. It originates from kara (), "empty" and oke (オケ), an abbreviation for "orchestra" (see What are contracted words like ). It is usually written all in katakana.

Kimono

From kimono (着物)

A "kimono" is usually made of silk and worn with an obi. The dressing gown called a kimono in the west is closer to the Japanese yukata (浴衣) than a Japanese kimono.

Kombu

From kombu (昆布)

A kind of seaweed.

Kombucha

From kombucha (昆布茶)

In Japan, this is a tea made from kombu (昆布), a kind of seaweed. The English meaning has broadened to include other kinds of teas.

Kudzu

From kuzu (葛)

The English word is used for the root of the plant. The Japanese word means the plant itself, a kind of climbing vine which grows as a weed. Like "adzuki", the "d" in kudzu is a relic of a former romanization system, see What is the "kwa" in "kwaidan"?

Manga

From manga (漫画)

Manga just means "comics" or "cartoons" in Japan, but has come to mean "Japanese comics" in English.

Mirin

From mirin (みりん)

A flavouring.

Miso

From miso (みそ, 味噌)

A flavouring.

Mizuna

From mizuna (水菜)

A vegetable. The Japanese name literally means "water vegetable".

Moxa, moxibustion

From mogusa (艾)

This form of acupuncture-related therapy is usually called kyū () in modern Japanese.

Nashi

From nashi (梨)

A fruit which is shaped like an apple and tastes like a pear.

Noh

From (能)

A form of drama.

Origami

From origami (折紙)

The art of paper-folding.

Rickshaw

From jinrikisha (人力車)

A taxi pulled by a human.

Sake

From sake (酒)

Rice wine. This is sometimes styled saké in English with an acute accent above the e to indicate the Japanese pronunciation, "sah-keh". See also What is the "kwa" in "kwaidan"?

Sashimi

From sashimi (刺身)

Fish served raw. See also What are the origins of the for ?

Satsuma

From Satsuma (薩摩)

In English this means a kind of citrus fruit. However, this orange is called mikan in Japanese. The English name "satsuma" comes from the name of the province of Japan where the oranges were grown. The province "Satsuma" no longer exists. It was located in present-day Kyushu. Japanese people associate the word "satsuma" with a kind of sweet potato, satsuma-imo (薩摩芋), rather than oranges.

Satsuma-ware is also the name of a kind of pottery.

Sensei

From sensei (先生)

"Teacher", often used in karate and other martial arts classes.

Shiatsu

From shiatsu (指圧)

A finger massage technique. "Shiatsu" literally means "finger pressure".

Shiitake

From shiitake (しいたけ
椎茸)

A kind of mushroom.

Shoji

From shōji (障子)

A paper and wood partition.

Sika

From shika (シカ
鹿)

A kind of deer. The word is usually pronounced like "seeker" in English, although the Japanese word is pronounced "she-ka". See What are the systems of romanization of Japanese?

Soy bean

From shōyu (醤油)

The English word "soy" originates from the Japanese name of soy sauce, shōyu (醤油), rather than the bean itself, which is called daizu (大豆), literally "large bean".

Sudoku

From sūdoku (数独)

See What is the origin of the name of the number puzzle "sudoku"?

Sushi

From sushi (すし)

A Japanese food consisting of rice mixed with vinegar. See also What are the origins of the for ?

Tempura

From tempura (天ぷら, 天麩羅)

The Japanese word tempura originates from Portuguese. See Which Japanese words come from Portuguese?

Teriyaki

From teriyaki (てりやき)

A form of cooking with a glaze.

Tofu

From tōfu (豆腐)

Bean curd made from soy beans.

Tycoon

From taikun (大君)

Merriam-Webster dictionary[3] gives

Origin of TYCOON
Japanese taikun
First Known Use: 1857

Umami

From umami (うまみ)

A flavour.

Yakitori

From yakitori (焼き鳥)

Grilled chicken.

Zori

From zōri (草履)

Flip flops, a kind of sandal with an upper part which fits through the gap between the big toe and the other toes.

References

  1. On Engelbert Kaempfer's "Ginkgo" [PDF], W. Michel, Kyushu University, 6 December 2005
  2. Merriam-Webster page on Honcho, retrieved 2015-08-28.
  3. Merriam-Webster page on Tycoon, retrieved 2015-08-28.

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