Languages borrowing words, particularly from English, is nothing remarkable. However, Japanese has taken the practice to new heights with Wasei-eigo (“Japanese-made English”), a sort of pseudo-English constructed within Japanese, from a very Japanese perspective, to fill a very Japanese niche. Here are five fantastic examples of Wasei-eigo; see whether you can guess the meaning of each one before reading the definition.
1. One-mile wear（ワンマイルウェア）
Nick on Flickr
We’ve all been there: it’s Sunday. You just want to buy chocolate or visit your best friend three doors down. But that requires being dressed, and that takes energy. Enter “one-mile wear”, the kind of comfortable, but not unfashionable, clothes that you can throw on for minimum-effort presentability. Nobody’s going to be wowed, but nobody’s going to complain, either — think simple cardigans, outsize jumpers and mute-grey jogging bottoms. Walk into any UNIQLO or MUJI store in Japan and this is what you’ll find.
Alexandre Prévot on Flickr
Quite simply, locking your keys in your car. By far the most famous in-key incident is a segment from Suiyō dō deshō (How Do You Like Wednesday?), in which host Takayuki “In-key Man” Suzui manages to derail a crossing of the USA by doing precisely this.
A segment of Suiyō dō deshō https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLWtgnPhhQI
3. Paper driver （ペーパードライバー）
JR East E231 on Wikimedia Commons
Continuing the automotive theme, a large number of young Japanese have a driver’s licence but (almost) no experience of driving. These are so-called ‘paper drivers’, and they usually hold their licence merely as ID. Motorbike licence holders in the same situation are instead known as paper riders.
Thad Zajdowicz on Flickr
Ever since a boom in the late 1990s, there’s been a peculiar new section in most Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores. In the fridges, between the teas and the tooth-rotters, is an array of almost imperceptibly flavoured soft drinks. Known in the industry as near-waters, they’re pitched squarely at health-conscious young women who crave something just a little more exciting than plain old water.
5. Parasite single (パラサイトシングル)
Juanedc on Flickr
Japan is an expensive country, so it should come as no surprise that many single Japanese choose to continue living with their parents through their twenties and thirties. Young Japanese people’s willingness to defer marriage and independence in exchange for more disposable income has been blamed for everything from the declining birth rate to the economic recession, with sociologist Masahiro Yamada going so far as to coin the term parasite singles to describe them. While this phenomenon is far from unique to Japan — in Italy, for example, virtually the same group are known as bamboccioni (“big babies”) — there is high general awareness of the problem due in large part to Yamada’s best-selling book The Age of Parasite Singles (パラサイトシングルの時代).
These are just a few of the many hundreds of wasei-eigo that native speakers use every day. If you’re interested, search the online dictionary WWWJDIC for ‘wasei-eigo’ for a true taste of what’s out there. Happy hunting!