Surprising Japanese Loanwords ("Aha!"-Moments)

So, you know how there are some words that originally come from Japanese but are now also used in other languages like English (not that many though, I wish there were more but I presume Japan was quite secluded in the past, so no words made it through).

One of the first “Aha”-moments I had was with 旨味 (probably written as うまみ most of the time) which is one of the basic tastes when said in English: “umami”. This is just the noun form of うまい (can be translated as “good taste”; you always hear this in Japanese cooking shows and I love it) and means something along the lines of “savoriness” or “deliciousness” (maybe?) in Japanese.
And obviously words like “karaoke” or “tsunami” are Japanese as well.

But even more surprising and also the reason why I wanted to make this thread was another word. When I was doing my lessons I just casually got to the next word which had Kanji I already knew: 絵 (え; character for “drawing”), 文字 (もじ; word for “character”). I tried to pronounce it but then it hit me: EMOJI.
I always thought “emoji” was some kind of wordplay on “emotion” but it actually has nothing to do with it. Apparently for some people this was obvious but for me it was an enlightenment. How did I live before not knowing that it was a combination of the Japanese words for “picture” and “character”. This makes so much sense now that I see and know the kanji characters in 絵文字 as well!

So anyway, what were some of you’re “Aha”-moments with Japanese Loanwords in English or even in other languages which surprised you the first time you saw them?


There are a few good ones, and even for the ones you didn’t know before, prepare for the frequency bias to hit hard like hell.

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I love how this gets me every time. If I notice something cool once and then see it everywhere and want to tell someone how crazy it is then it never happens again.

Like once I learned a new Japanese word 幽霊 (yuurei; “ghost”) and saw it everywhere: here and here and everywhere. But when I actually counted the occurences it was really rare to see that word in comparison to other words.


Wait until you get to かいだん, ghost story, it’s actually a relatively common word, once you start noticing it.


Now that I know some Japanese every time I hear someone mention a ‘Kanban board’ I think that it is a very redundant concept.
Kanban comes from 看板 and the second Kanji literally means board.


You learn it on like level 30ish on wanikani, but it only got the store sign meaning. I was actually thinking about making a request in the content updates thread for it.


My two most recent would be typhoon and emoji, I felt quite stupid when I realised this level that I had not connected the dots for emoji. :joy:


Yeah, right? Probably will be a big revelation when I get to tsunami and karaoke and so on because I think I don’t know the kanji for those yet.

At least it makes the vocabulary memorable. :slight_smile:

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This one is usually written in katakana, but it’s a combination of 空 (から, empty) and オーケストラ (orchestra).


You’re kidding! That’s so clever and funny. I hadn’t looked into it before but this is very interesting. I mean, the kanji makers are right, when I sing the room quickly is completely empty :melting_face:


There is something about imported words that’s been on my mind for some time.

Why do all Westerners pronounce 寿司 ‘sOOshi’ ?


Well, we tend to adapt imported words to the stress pattern of English. Just like Japanese adapt words they borrow to the pronunciation of Japanese.


Raising the pitch of the su isn’t even wrong, so the only difference would be the length and volume change which is just characteristic of stress accent.

Wait till you hear not only how japanese people pronounce career, but also how iirc they shift the accent to make it atamadaka. It’s basically unrecognizable, so things go both ways.


熟語じゅくご in Level 33

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Fun fact: typhoon isn’t a loanword from Japanese. It’s Greek. :slightly_smiling_face:


I always liked that when you add just a skosh of salt to a recipe, you’re actually adding すこし(少し)


I did not know that. Makes sense.

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I dunno if it’s taught in wanikani but I did recently learn that “tycoon” is a japanese word!! 大君


My Dad always likes to say “Someone thinks they’re the ‘head honcho’ around here!” Growing up, I imagined it was some kind of cowboy term haha kids!

But now I realise it’s 班長(はんちょう) which means “squad/group leader”

I feel like this happens a lot. Especially in titles/names for anime from the 90’s “Sailor Senshi”, “Master Roshi” :rofl: …and in real life too , again here with “Head Honcho”