Mount Fuji

Glossary of Japanese Terms


arigatō thank you
bengoshi attorney at law, lawyer
bōsōzoku Japanese motorcycle gangs who rebel against strict social norms and like to cause a nuisance by removing their mufflers and revving their engines loudly at night
burakumin a social class still suffering discrimination and even ostracism because their ancestors were involved in what used to be considered "unclean" professions, such as those involving the handling of meat or dead bodies
bushidō in feudal Japan, the code of valuing honor more highly than one's own life
chigau different
chikan sexual pervert or molester
chirashi advertising flyer
daimyō feudal lord
Dōjin-kai  "yakuza" crime syndicate based in Fukuoka on the western island of Kyushu
eijūken right of permanent residency
eijūsha permanent resident
eikaiwa English conversation as a skill or the school that teaches it
enkai banquet or dinner party
fugu blowfish (pufferfish) with toxic parts that must be removed by an expert before serving
furosato native place
fusuma vertical sliding panels to separate and extend rooms in a traditional Japanese house
gaiatsu pressure from outside
gaijin foreigner or non-Japanese, literally "an outside person"
gakureki shakai a society based on academic credentials
gaman patience or perseverance
geisha traditional Japanese hostess skilled in classical arts and entertainments
gyōsei shoshi administrative scrivener
gyōza tasty Chinese dumpling with meat or vegetable filling
"Irasshaimase!" "Welcome!" or "Can I help you?"
haiku three-line verse consisting of 17 syllables with 5-7-5 distribution
hanzai crime
hatago inn, tavern
hikikomori those leading an extremely reclusive lifestyle to escape from the demands of society
hiragana one of the two kana syllabic scripts in modern Japanese; primarily used for native words and names (cf. "katakana")
honjin  luxury inn for government officials during the Edo period (1603-1868)
honne the true state of affairs as opposed to the "tatemae" (how things seem)
ichigen kanri unified or centralized management
ijime bullying
ikebana Japanese-style flower arrangement
izakaya affordable Japanese working men's pub and eatery
jigoku hell
juku cram school
jukunen rikon late-life divorce
kachō section chief in a company
kaiseki multi-course Japanese dinner, each course rather small but artistically presented
kaizen business philosophy of striving for continuous improvement
kami gods
kamikaze means "divine wind"
kanji the Chinese ideograms that serve to clarify meaning in written Japanese, a language with relatively few sounds and therefore many homonyms
karaoke means "empty orchestra"
karate means "empty hands"
katakana one of the two kana syllabic scripts in modern Japanese; primarily used for foreign words and names (cf. hiragana)
kawaii cute, adorable, desirable, gorgeous; "cool"
kimchi hot and spicy fermented Korean cabbage or sometimes other vegetable
kokumin citizens of Japan
kokusai kekkon international marriage
kokusaika internationalization
kotatsu low table with a heat source underneath
ku city borough or ward
kyōikuchō head of the local board of education
mama-san female supervisor of a hostess bar
meikaa no aji processed foods
mizu shobai "water trade" — a euphemism for Japan's ubiquitous bars and related entertainments
mochi Japanese rice cakes made from pounded short-grain glutinous rice
mono no aware acute awareness of the transience of everything in this life
"Mottainnai!" "What a waste!"
musumeyaku female actor assigned a female role in the all-female Takarazuka Revue
natsukashii dear old... (referring to something fondly remembered)
nemawashi "root binding" — consensus building ahead of a proposed policy change
Nihon kokuseki Japanese citizenship
ninja in feudal Japan this was a stealthy secret agent skilled at sabotage and assassination
ninjutsu the art of unconventional warfare and espionage practiced by the "ninja"
nomiya watering hole or drinking establishment
obentō packed lunch or other meal in a box with compartments; lunchbox
Obon Buddhist festival held each summer in one's "furosato" to honor ancestral spirits
ocha green tea
ofukuro no aji the taste of Mother's home cooking
omiyage souvenirs
omoiyari sympathetic consideration out of sensitivity to another person's wishes and feelings
origami Japanese art of paper-folding
oshibori hot towel to refresh travelers or restaurant and bar patrons
oshiya "pushers" paid to squeeze passengers into overcrowded trains so the doors can close
otokoyaku female actor assigned a male role in the all-female Takarazuka Revue
pan bread
pan-ya bread shop, bakery shop
rikon divorce
ronin "samurai" with no master, probably following the death or fall of his "daimyo"
ryōkan Japanese-style inn or hotel
ryōtei first-class traditional-style Japanese restaurant usually frequented by the elite
sake Japanese rice wine
samurai retainer of a "daimyo" and one who practiced "bushido" (see above)
sayonara farewell or goodbye, especially when there are no plans to meet again soon
seiza formal sitting posture that involves kneeling straight and sitting on your heels
sensei respectful title given to a teacher, lawyer or other learned person
seshū seijika politicians who have simply stepped into their fathers' shoes like hereditary peers
shamisen traditional Japanese three-stringed instrument that is plucked with a plectrum
shihō shoshi  judicial scrivener
Shinkansen means "new trunk line" — Japan's high-speed rail network or "bullet trains"
shōchū Japanese alcoholic beverage that is stronger than wine but weaker than vodka and distilled from rice, sweet potatoes or barley
shōji wood lattice panels backed with a translucent paper that are used to divide rooms or instead of curtains in a traditional Japanese house
shuriken four-bladed "throwing star" used as a lethal weapon by the "ninja"
soba buckwheat noodles
sugomori those who spend all free time at home and shop online to save money in a recession
tanka unrhymed poem consisting of five lines with a 5-7-5-7-7-syllable configuration
tatami rice-straw mat used as flooring material in a Japanese-style home or room
tatemae a facade that is put up, or how things are intended to appear to outsiders
teijūsha long-term resident
tenjōin tour conductor or guide
tōfu soybean curd
tokubetsu special; a special case
tsūkin jigoku commuting hell, especially getting to and from work in Tokyo
udon thick wheat-flour noodles
Wa the old name for Japan which has become synonymous with "peace and harmony"
wagakuni our country or homeland
waki-honjin a smaller version of the "honjin" (see above), this was a semi-luxury inn where even general travelers with money and status could stay in the Edo period (1603-1868)
yakuza either the Japanese mafia ("the yakuza") or one individual gangster ("a yakuza")
Yamaguchi-gumi the name of Japan's largest organized crime syndicate
zairyū kādo "residence cards" — introduced in 2012, these new-style ID cards must be carried by resident non-Japanese at all times, but they eliminate the need for visas to be entered in a passport, or re-entry permits if absences are less than a year
zazen seated meditation in Zen Buddhism