Are you an intermediate or fluent Japanese speaker? Do you want to impress your Japanese friends with modern slang expressions in your everyday conversation? Today, we are introducing 20 of the frequently used modern Japanese slang terms that you might have heard from your Japanese friends or might have read online and in magazines.
Most of these expressions are either “wasei-eigo (和製英語)” or “Internet yougo (インターネット用語).” Wasei-eigo refers to Japanese expressions that appear as if they were borrowed from English words, when in fact, were not. These terms were originally loanwords but have taken on slightly or completely different meanings. Some of them do not even make sense to native English speakers. On the other hand, Internet yougo refers to language that is used online and does not necessarily exist in daily conversations. So let’s take a look at 20 of the most used slang terms nowadays in Japan!
Pronounced as “enuji” and it means “no good.” It is used to express that doing something is not good or not okay.
Pronounced as “furi–ta–” and can be translated to “freelancer” or “part-time employee.” What makes a freeter different from someone who does “baito (バイト)” is that baito workers can be students or housewives because consistency is not necessary. In other words, “baito” usually refers to any type of part-time job whether it is a short-term job for a day or two, or a consistent part-time job that one is committed to during summer holiday, after school, or on weekends. On the other hand, a freeter is more like a person who either chose not to or couldn’t become a full-time company employee and just accept jobs depending on availability or personal likings. Unlike baito, freeters may have more than one job at the same time.
Pronounced as “o–eru.” If you are studying Japanese for some time, then you probably heard the expression “salaryman (サラリーマン)” which refers to a full-time male employee. So what do you say if the employee is a female? That’s when the expressions “OL” or “office lady” come in handy.
If you read Japanese fashion magazines or websites, you probably have wondered what “arasa” actually means. “Arasa” is another Japanese-made English expression that refers to a lady around her thirties. This expression is based on the English expression “around thirties (アラウンド サーティーズ)” to refer to a lady who is about to enter her thirties or who is a bit more than thirty. But this is not the only term used in Japan to describe someone’s age. Take a look at the following list:
- Around 20 → “aratoue (アラトゥエ)” or “arahata (アラハタ),” “hata” coming from “hatachi (二十歳)” which means 20 years old
- Around 30 → “arasa (アラサー)”
- Around 40 → “arafo (アラフォー)”
- Around 50 → “arafifu (アラフィフ)”
- Around 60 → “arakan (アラカン)” based on the Japanese term “kanreki (還暦)” which means one’s 60th birthday
- Around 70 → “arasebu (アラセブ)” or “arakoki (アラコキ)” from “koki (古希)” which means one’s 70th birthday
- Around 80 → “araei (アラエイ)”
- Around 90 → “aranai (アラナイ)” or “arasotsu (アラソツ)” based on the Japanese term “sotsu (卒寿)” which means one’s 90th birthday
“Ahiru-guchi” and “ochobo-guchi” represent the act of pouting lips or pushing them together while taking a photo which is known as making a “duck face” in English. Just like everywhere, the duck face trend was big in Japan, too! But the pose is slightly different in Japan that’s why there are 2 different terms to describe it:
- “Ahiru-guchi” literally translates to “duck mouth” and it means posing with pouted lips to make them look bigger and similar to duck lips.
- “Ochobo-guchi” literally translates to “puckered mouth” which can be achieved by buttoning the lips together and is closer to the duck face pose we are familiar with.
“Tarako-kuchibiru” can be divided into 2 parts: the first part, “tarako,” literally refers to a “cod roe,” and “kuchibiru” is “lips” in Japanese. So basically, “tarako-kuchibiru” can be translated to what is known as “fish gap” in English. If you are a fan of the attractive Japanese model Mizuhara Kiko (水原希子), then you probably noticed that this is one of her most favorite photographic poses.
Pronounced as “toruso,” but not the human trunk! It is the modern word to refer to a “mannequin.” If you find it odd to use the expression “torso” to refer to something that is worn on the lower part of the body such as shorts and skirts, then we recommend using the expression “display sarete iru (ディスプレイされている)” which means “the displayed clothes.”
Borrowed from English and can be translated to “rough.” This is the expression used to refer to an initial plan or a draft. But nowadays, you can use the expression “rafu” to refer to how someone is “casually dressed.” For example, expressions such as “rafu na kakkou (ラフな格好) or “rafu na fukusou (ラフな服装)” can be used to describe someone’s attire as casual.
“Suru” is another wasei-eigo expression that was born from the English word “through.” It is often used in a way to mean to pass through something or to ignore something (“mushisuru [無視する].”)
Pronounced by saying the English letters K and Y. It is very common for Japanese people to abbreviate words. Some good examples of this are “suma–toho–n (スマートホーン)” for “smartphone” which is then shortened to “sumaho (スマホ),” and “famiri resutoran (ファミリレストラン) for “family restaurant” which is shortened to “famiresu (ファミレス).”
The expression “KY” is not very different from this as it is short for “kuuki yomenai (空気読めない)” which can be literally translated as “can’t read the air.” It is one of the many ways to describe someone who can’t act properly in a given situation. So when you find someone who is very bad at reading situations, “SKY” or “super kuuki yomenai (スーパー空気読めない)” comes in handy.
This is another way to say “kuuki yomenai” in wasei-eigo. “TPO” is pronounced by individually saying the English letters T, P, and O, and they stand for “time,” “place,” and “occasion/opportunity,” respectively. It is then followed by the Japanese expression “wakimaeru (弁える)” which can be interpreted as “to bear in mind.”
If you are into fashion magazines, business manners, and social etiquette, you probably heard this expression before. For example, if someone is attending a funeral with improper garments, they would be called “TPO wo wakimaenai.” Or if someone is wearing excessive perfume at work, they might receive the comment “TPO wo wakimaenai.”
An abbreviation for “dotanba kyanseru (土壇場キャンセル)” which consists of 2 parts: “dotanba” which can be translated to “last moment,” and “kyanseru,” the Katakana form of “to cancel.” Thus “dotakyan” can be interpreted as “last minute cancellation.”
A good example of how to use “dotakyan” in a conversation is “Kyou tomodachi to no yakusoku dotakyan shimashita. (今日友達との約束ドタキャンしました。)” which roughly translates to “I canceled the plans I had with my friend today at the last minute.”
“Riajuu” is the abbreviation for “riaru juujitsu (リアル充実)” and the expression means “to be satisfied with one’s real life” aka “offline life.” It’s not unknown to many of us that we are living in a world where our virtual lives on the Internet might combine with our daily life routine.
A person who is trying to look satisfied with their offline life or real life is called “riajuu apiiru suru hito (リア充アピールする人),” and a person who is trying or wants to be satisfied with their real life is called “riajuu ni naritai hito (リア充になりたい人).” On the other hand, a person who is not happy with their offline life is called “hi riajuu na hito (非リア充な人).”
This is an Internet slang and another way to describe someone who wants to appear interesting to others, especially on social media networks. “Ishiki takai kei” consists of 3 words: “ishiki (意識)” means “conscious,” “takai (高い)” means “high,” and “kei (系)” means “system.” Combine them together and you get “someone who is overly self-conscious with their image” or “attention seekers.”
How to use it? Here is a good example: “Ano ko ishiki takai kei yo ne~ (あの子意識高い系よね～)” which roughly translates to “This girl is overly conscious about appealing online.” However, before using this expression, bear in mind that you might hurt someone by describing them with this. So always consider the TPO before saying such things and hurting someone’s feelings.
“Dantotsu” is a wasei-eigo idiom that means “far and away the best.” The expression is an abbreviation for “danzen toppu (断然トップ)” wherein “danzen (断然)” can be interpreted as “absolute” or “definite,” and “toppu (トップ)” is the Katakana for the English word “top.” So combine them together and you get “the absolute top” or “the best of the best.” A good example is “Boruto wa dantotsu ni hayai desu. (ボルトはダントツに速いです。)” which roughly translates to “Bolt is the fastest man ever.”
If you are into ramen, you will be pleased to know that there is a popular ramen shop in Okayama called Dantotsu Ramen (ダントツラーメン). You can check their page on the Tabelog website here.
“Mazakon” refers to a person who is overly attached to their mother. It is another wasei-eigo term that was borrowed from the expression “mother complex (マザーコンプレックス).” It can be used to describe a girl or a guy. For example, if you know an adult who has to arrange their plans according to their mother’s schedule or someone who needs to consult their mother before taking any step, then that person might be described as “mazakon.”
“Kuri botchi” is an expression to describe someone who is spending Christmas alone (without a partner, family, or friends). It is a combination of 2 words: “Kurisumasu (クリスマス)” which means “Christmas,” and “hitori botchi (一人ぼっち)” which means “alone.” And as we are used from Japanese, to make it short and easier to say, it has been abbreviated to “kuri botchi.” Christmas is considered a romantic event filled with presents and proposals. Being single in Christmas is something many would like to avoid and that is how this expression was born.
A popular Internet slang on Twitter that is borrowed from the English word “now.” So, for example, you can say “Tesuto nau! Ganbarimasu! (テストなう！がんばります！)” which roughly translates to “I am having a test now! Will do my best!”
“乙” is another popular Internet slang that means “otsukaresama (お疲れ様)” or roughly “thank you for your hard work.” Although the Kanji of “otsukaresama” is very different from “乙,” its popular reading as “otsu (おつ)” made it eligible to become the Internet slang and the shortcut form of “otsukaresama.”
If you use websites like Niconico or 2chan, you might be familiar with this one. It’s often used by Internet geeks or otaku and is seen after a person’s name like “Ema△ (エマ△)” or “Taro△ (太郎△).”
Basically, this is a way to describe someone as “cool” or “kakkoi (カッコイイ),” or “kakke~ (カッケ～)” in slang language. The triangle shape (△) is called “sankakukei (三角形)” in Japanese, so when you try to insert this after a person’s name such as “Ema△”, it is read as “Ema sankakukei (エマさんカクケイ)” which sounds very similar to “Ema-san kakke~ (エマさんかっけ～).”
Bear in mind, however, that this way of saying “kakkoi” is associated with Internet geeks, especially male geeks, so I would advise to be wise when you use this slang word.
How did you like these expressions? Do any of them seem familiar? Impress your friends and try to use some of these words in your daily conversation! But always keep in mind the TPO (time, place, and occasion) before you start using any of these terms!