Japanese Words

Japanese words have been steadily permeating the English language over the years, and many people may not even realize the origin of some of these words. This subtle integration has led to the seamless incorporation of Japanese terms into everyday conversation. Whether it is due to popular culture, technology, or societal trends, Japanese loanwords have now become an essential part of the English lexicon.

In this page, we will explore some of the most commonly used Japanese words in English, providing insights into the cultural backgrounds and etymologies that shape their meanings. Understanding the origins of these words not only enriches one’s vocabulary but also deepens the appreciation for the richness and vastness of language as a whole.

By learning about the influence of Japanese words on English, readers will gain a broader perspective on the interconnectedness of languages and the global nature of communication. As language continues to evolve, it will be fascinating to see how more Japanese terms may be further woven into the fabric of English in the future.

Common Japanese Words in English

Japanese Words

Food and Drink

Japanese cuisine and beverages have become popular around the world, resulting in many Japanese words entering the English language:

  • Sushi: Traditional dish consisting of vinegared rice, fish, seaweed, and other ingredients.
  • Ramen: Japanese noodle soup dish with Chinese origins.
  • Tofu: Soybean curd, commonly used in Japanese cooking.
  • Sake: Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice.
  • Tempura: Deep-fried seafood or vegetables coated in a light batter.
  • Teriyaki: A cooking technique where food is glazed with a mix of soy sauce, sugar, and other ingredients.
  • Wasabi: A spicy, green condiment made from Japanese horseradish.

Arts and Culture

In the arts and culture sphere, Japanese words have made a significant impact on the English language:

  • Anime: Japanese style of hand-drawn or computer-animated films and TV shows.
  • Manga: Comic books and graphic novels originating from Japan.
  • Haiku: A form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines with a 5-7-5 syllable pattern.
  • Karaoke: An entertainment activity where people sing along to popular music tracks.
  • Origami: The traditional Japanese art of folding paper into decorative shapes.
  • Geisha: Female entertainers in Japan who perform classical music, dance, and other cultural arts.
  • Kimono: Traditional Japanese clothing worn on special occasions.

Nature and Environment

Japan is famous for its natural beauty and unique environmental features, leading to some Japanese words becoming commonplace in English:

  • Tsunami: A large, destructive ocean wave caused by an underwater earthquake or volcanic eruption.
  • Koi: A domesticated variety of the common carp, often kept in decorative ponds.
  • Bonsai: The art of cultivating miniature trees in small containers.
  • Zen: A school of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation, mindfulness, and simplicity.

Sports and Martial Arts

Japanese sports and martial arts have gained international popularity, and many related terms have entered the English lexicon:

  • Karate: A martial art emphasizing striking, kicking, and knee strikes.
  • Judo: A martial art focusing on throws and grappling techniques.
  • Sumo: A traditional Japanese sport where two wrestlers try to force each other out of a designated area or to touch the ground with anything other than their feet.
  • Ninja: A covert agent or assassin in feudal Japan, skilled in the art of espionage and stealth.
  • Sensei: A teacher or instructor, typically in martial arts or other areas of Japanese culture.
  • Dojo: A training hall or school for martial arts.

These are just a few examples of Japanese words that have made their way into English, testifying to the widespread influence of Japanese culture, cuisine, and arts around the world.

Influence of Japanese Words in English and Global Context

The Japanese language has significantly influenced English over the years, contributing to a rich and diverse linguistic landscape. This impact is evident not only in English-speaking countries but also in various aspects of global culture, including cuisine, arts, and technology.

The influence of Japanese words in English dates back to the 16th century when Portuguese traders arrived in Japan and began integrating several Japanese words into their language. This early phase of contact introduced words like “arigatou” (thank you) and “sayonara” (goodbye), which would eventually find their way into English. As globalization accelerated, and more countries established trade relationships with Japan, other European languages like French and Italian also adopted Japanese words.

World War II marked a turning point for the interaction between Japanese and English languages. During this period, many Japanese words entered the English lexicon, and some of them are still widely used today. For instance, words like “kamikaze” (suicide attacker), “bonsai” (miniature tree cultivation), and “haiku” (a form of poetry) became well-known in English due to their historical and cultural significance.

Additionally, the rapid growth of Japan’s economy in the second half of the 20th century resulted in the worldwide adoption of Japanese technology and products. This led to the introduction of numerous Japanese words in English, including “karaoke” (singing with recorded music), “emoji” (pictorial characters), and “ramen” (a type of noodle dish). These words show the immense impact of Japanese culture on the global stage.

While Japan’s influence on English is more pervasive, it is worth noting that Japan has also borrowed words from other cultures. For instance, the Japanese language has integrated several loanwords from Chinese, often as a result of the importation of Chinese literature, religion, and philosophy. The French language has also left its mark on Japanese through the introduction of loanwords in fields like gastronomy, fashion, and the arts.

In conclusion, the influence of Japanese words in English and the global context has grown progressively over time, shaping a unique linguistic and cultural experience for speakers of both languages. This mutual exchange and interaction reflect the dynamic nature of languages as they evolve and adapt to changing circumstances, highlighting the importance of maintaining an open, curious attitude towards linguistic diversity.


The influence of Japanese words on the English language has increased significantly over the years, resulting in a unique blend of words that convey ideas and concepts from Japan. This shows the cultural significance and growing global impact of the Japanese language.

In many cases, these words have been adopted into English due to a lack of direct translation, or because they express a concept or idea that is uniquely Japanese. For example, words like “karaoke” and “emoji” have become popular and widely recognized worldwide. Moreover, words like “bonsai” and “haiku” have enriched the English language by introducing new artistic and poetic concepts.

Additionally, the fields of technology and animation have brought a wealth of new vocabulary to English speakers. Terms such as “anime” and “manga” have gained widespread acceptance as they represent a specific style of Japanese art, while words like “otaku” and “kawaii” have entered the vernacular to describe certain cultural phenomena.

Overall, the incorporation of Japanese words into the English language continues to grow and diversify, reflecting both an appreciation of Japanese culture and a deepening connection between the two languages. As global communication continues to evolve, it is likely that the influence of Japanese on English will only continue to expand, further enriching our linguistic landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common Japanese loanwords in English?

There are numerous Japanese words commonly used in English. Some of these include sushi, karaoke, tsunami, and emoji. These loanwords have been incorporated into the English language over time, often due to their cultural or technological significance.

How do Japanese and English languages influence each other?

The Japanese and English languages have influenced each other primarily through the exchange of loanwords. English has borrowed words from the Japanese, often related to culture, technology, and society. Conversely, Japanese has borrowed words from English, particularly in the realms of science, business, and pop culture. This linguistic exchange has been facilitated by globalization and the spread of information.

What are some popular Japanese slang words used in English?

Some popular Japanese slang words used in English include otaku, a term for people with obsessive interests, particularly in anime and manga; kawaii, meaning ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’; and sensei, which refers to a teacher or mentor.

What is the origin of some Japanese words found in English?

The origin of some Japanese words found in English can be traced to historical events or cultural exchanges. For example, the word sushi originated from a traditional Japanese method of preserving fish with vinegar and rice. The word karaoke is a combination of “kara”, meaning ’empty’, and “oke”, short for ‘orchestra’, indicating the concept of singing along to a prerecorded backing track.

Where can I find a list of Japanese-English words that are commonly used?

NHK’s “Easy Japanese” and FluentU both offer resources to learn Japanese-English words that are commonly used. The “Easy Japanese” website provides vocabulary lists and quizzes, while FluentU’s article “32 Cool Japanese Words We All Use in English” offers a comprehensive list of Japanese loanwords commonly found in English.