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.
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"?
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 rimokon?
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 boke mean?
From bonsai (盆栽)
The art of growing miniature trees.
From bukkake (ぶっかけ)
A sexual practice. In Japanese, this just means "splash on", without necessarily any sexual connotations. See What does bukkake mean?
From edamame (枝豆)
Soy beans. See also soy.
From emoji (絵文字)
Literally "picture characters".
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.
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.
From igo (囲碁)
A game played with black and white stones.
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?
From hibachi (火鉢)
A kind of grill.
From hanchō (班長)
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Origin of HONCHO
Japanese hanchō squad leader, from han squad + chō head, chief
First Known Use: 1955
From ikebana (生け花)
A style of flower arranging. Ikebana literally means "living flowers".
From kabuki (歌舞伎)
A form of humorous drama.
From kaizen (改善)
A business practice. The Japanese word just means "improvement".
From kanban (看板)
A business practice. The Japanese word just means "sign", as in a road sign or advertising hoarding.
From karaoke (カラオケ)
The word "karaoke" in Japanese means the backing track for a singer. It originates from kara (空), "empty" and oke (オケ), an abbreviation for "orchestra" (see What are contracted words like rimokon?). It is usually written all in katakana.
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.
From kombu (昆布)
A kind of seaweed.
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.
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"?
From manga (漫画)
Manga just means "comics" or "cartoons" in Japan, but has come to mean "Japanese comics" in English.
From mirin (みりん)
From miso (みそ, 味噌)
From mizuna (水菜)
A vegetable. The Japanese name literally means "water vegetable".
From mogusa (艾)
This form of acupuncture-related therapy is usually called kyū (灸) in modern Japanese.
From nashi (梨)
A fruit which is shaped like an apple and tastes like a pear.
From Nō (能)
A form of drama.
From origami (折紙)
The art of paper-folding.
From jinrikisha (人力車)
A taxi pulled by a human.
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"?
From sashimi (刺身)
Fish served raw. See also What are the origins of the kanji for sushi?
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.
From sensei (先生)
"Teacher", often used in karate and other martial arts classes.
From shiatsu (指圧)
A finger massage technique. "Shiatsu" literally means "finger pressure".
From shiitake (しいたけ
A kind of mushroom.
From shōji (障子)
A paper and wood partition.
From shika (シカ
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?
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".
From sūdoku (数独)
From sushi (すし)
A Japanese food consisting of rice mixed with vinegar. See also What are the origins of the kanji for sushi?
From tempura (天ぷら, 天麩羅)
The Japanese word tempura originates from Portuguese. See Which Japanese words come from Portuguese?
From teriyaki (てりやき)
A form of cooking with a glaze.
From tōfu (豆腐)
Bean curd made from soy beans.
From tsunami (津波)
Originally called a tidal wave in English.
From taikun (大君)
Merriam-Webster dictionary gives
Origin of TYCOON
First Known Use: 1857
From umami (うまみ)
From yakitori (焼き鳥)
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.
Maxwell Takaki supplied some word suggestions and corrections.
Copyright © 1994-2019 Ben Bullock
If you have questions, corrections, or comments, please contact Ben Bullock or use the discussion forum / Privacy