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10 Only-in-Japan English Words That You Should Know

Japan is known in the internet as a country of unique, convenient or even out-of-this-world inventions that surely attract the interests of foreigners. Whether they are useful or not in everyday living, these things have made a mark on how the Japanese are seen in the outside world as a country of endless possibilities and creations.

But did you know that aside from these inventions, The Land of the Rising Sun also has a set of interesting Japanese-made English vocabulary? That is right! Just as how you use the words, “sushi”, “anime” or “manga” in your home country, the Japanese have also adopted a lot of English words which are commonly heard in daily conversations in Japan. This time though, with a twist!

Coined as “wasei-eigo” which literally means, “made-in-Japan English” by the Japanese , these words and expressions have already formed part to the Japanese’ everyday living. Although based from English, the meaning of “wasei-eigo” words can be quite different from their native origins. This often leads to confusion to English-speaking visitors in Japan, but at the same time arise interest and amusement as its existence only proves how language can be so adaptable.

Brace yourself. You are now about to begin your journey in discovering Japan’s play of words!

1. Fried Potato (furaidopoteto)

Photo : Hideya HAMANO on Flickr

If you are one of the people who could never ever resist the smell of freshly cooked french fries seasoned with salt and you are planning to visit Japan anytime soon, then get yourself ready to let go of the term we are all used to because “fried potato” is the new french fries in Japan!

The term, “french fries” is never seen in menus or heard among customers in fast-food chains in Japan as it is unfamiliar among the Japanese. Instead, the term, “fried potato” is widely used unless they have been overseas or have foreign influence.

Make sure to keep this in mind, so you’ll know what password to say!

2. High-touch (haitacchi)

Photo : Allie Kenny on Flickr

“Give me five!”

This may be a famous idiom among English speakers, but not when you get to Japan! It is very uncommon for the Japanese to use the term, “high-five” when greeting or expressing joy since “high-touch” is the trend.
“High-five” may not be familiar among the Japanese, but an accompanied gesture would definitely give them a hint!

3. Consent (konsento)

Photo : Wade Morgen on Flickr

And now we are down to the wasei-eigo that blows the mind of every single native speaker who has ever heard of it!

Consent does not refer to “permission” nor a “parent consent” as you would have probably thought of it. Can’t seem to guess what it is? Well, it refers to none other than but an “electrical outlet”. Yes! Truth can be hard to accept sometimes. But before you freak out, let me tell you the history behind it.

The word, “consent” is believed to have originated from the English, “concentric plug” which was widely used during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). For the ease of speaking, the term, “concentric plug” was shortened and therefore became, “consent” from then on to now.

4. Skinship (sukinshippu)

Photo : Petras Galigas on Flickr

Sounds controversial? Not really.

Skinship may sound naughty to some, but it just actually refers to physical contact like holding hands, cuddling or hugging. This could be evident among platonic friends, or a mother and a child and so does not necessarily involve romance.

Skinship may not be disturbing among the Japanese, but it definitely makes any foreigner raise an eyebrow the first time it is seen. However, they usually get used to it after getting to know more of the Japanese way of life.

Which is really cool.

5. Don’t mind. (donmai)

Photo : Quinn Dombrowsky on Flickr

In case you play basketball with your Japanese friends and you could not shoot the ball right, get ready to hear the Japanese version of “Don’t mind it”, “That’s okay!” or “No worries!” because you would definitely hear someone shouting, “Donmai!”. And once you do, be relieved and just continue to have fun!

6. Cooler (kura)

Photo : rockriver on Flickr

Japan is known to have a killer summer. The temperature can reach up to 41 degrees Celsius or even more on some parts of the country. So during this season, everyone’s getting their coolers ready. Yes cooler.

Cooler refers to an “air conditioner” in Japan. Others abbreviate it as, “AC” to make it easier to say but their coolers are never where they cool their Coca-cola. Don’t forget that, okay?

7. Stove (sutobu)

Photo : pika1935 on Flickr

A stove is where we cook our self-proclaimed delicious meals, but a “stove” is something that warms you up on a winter night for the Japanese.

Although the Japanese use this term, the words, “kerosene heater” or simply “heater” are still used and understandable, but not common.

Please make sure not to cook on a stove!

8. Base-up (besuappu)


Do you ever think you need an increase, but you do not have the guts to say it to your boss? Why not try it in “wasei-eigo”? Who knows?

When the Japanese gets a salary increase from their companies, the term, “base-up” gets overused. It is derived from the words, “base” which refers to the basic pay, and “up” which obviously means to “increase”.

Base-up please!

9. High-tension (haitenshon)

Photo : skycaptaintwo on Flickr

For English speakers, the word, “high-tension” may sound anything related to danger or harm but for the Japanese, it is the opposite.

Are you always hyper and energetic? If you are, then you are high-tension! High-tension basically refers to people who are very active and exert much energy than the usual. This term is very common anywhere in Japan and even evident in schools. You’ll know there is a new teacher when kids start saying, “high-tension” all day long.

10. Guts Pose (gattsu pozu)

Photo : arima0208 on Flickr

Have you ever felt so victorious that you pump your fists like a champion and exclaimed, “I did it!”? If yes, then you have just done the guts pose!

There was a professional boxer and a WBC lightweight champion named, “Guts Ishimatsu” in the mid 60s that influenced the world of wasei-eigo.

His unique pose where he would pump his fists in celebration when being declared victorious in fights was the basis of the term, “guts pose”. It became an expression among the Japanese and from then on became a part of the “wasei-eigo” vocabulary.

So, there you go! You have just seen a glimpse of the world of wasei-eigo. The meanings of these words may be different from their native origins, but they undeniably contribute to the richness and colors of the Japanese contemporary speech. Wasei-eigo may not be the best English one would prefer, but as long as the joy of communication is present as it is being used, then I guess nothing else matters.

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