In many articles we’ll be using phrases and words that are common in Japan but may not be familiar to our readers overseas. So here’s our glossary of terms – every day’s a school day with TokyoDesu.
NOTE: This list will grow as time goes on. If you’ve noticed a term we’ve used but failed to include, disagree with any of our definitions, or have any suggestions, let us know!
AKB48 – The biggest pop group in Japan and gods of Akiba, the part of Tokyo they’re named after. Due to the strange exploits of their members, such as getting topless with small boys and shaving their heads to apologise for dating, they’re featured pretty regularly on Tokyo Desu.
Akiba (アキバ） – Shortened name for Akihabara. We sometimes throw it out there because we’re cool like that.
AV – Adult Video. Very different from the ‘Alternative Vote’, our British readers may have assumed. This is how porn is commonly referred to in Japan.
Bento (べんとう) – A packed lunch.
Bounenkai (忘年会) – An end of year party, formed rather more poetically with the kanji ‘forget’, ‘year’ and ‘party’. Usually ending rather less poetically like this.
Bukkake (ブッカケ）- Literally ‘splash’ in Japanese. Refers to ejaculating onto another person in pornography. A common curtain closer in Western porn; a whole genre of its own in Japan. There’s also a dish named bukkake soba, don’t get the two confused.
Cat Cafe – A place people go to pet cats. See our review of an Akihabara cat cafe here.
Conbini (コンビニ) – Convenience store. For a look at some of the bizarre offerings of Japanese conbinis click here.
Cosplay (コスプレ） – Costume play. Dressing as characters from popular culture. See a gallery of cosplay from Tokyo Comiket here.
Cuddle cafe – A brothel without the sex. A place where men can pay a fee to sleep with a girl – but only in the most literal sense, sexual activity of any kind is forbidden.
Futon (布団） – Traditional Japanese bed. Imagine lying on a relatively thick quilt – that’s a futon.
Ganbare (がんばれ) – “Hang in there.” In Japan this is the solution to all problems life may throw at you.
Harajuku girl – Girls dressed in the latest, and often most ostentatious, fashion from the Harajuku area of Tokyo. Brought to global attention by American musician Gwen Stefani.
Hentai (変態) – Pervert. Best illustrated by the Hentai Woody toy
JSDF (自衛隊）- Japan Self-Defense Force. Since the end of WWII Japan’s constitution hasn’t allowed for a regular ‘army’, just a collection of ‘members’ and weaponry under a peaceful name. Occasionally referred to as JSF or SDF.
Karooshi (過労死）- Death by overwork, usually caused by a heart attack or stress related illness. Symbolic of Japan’s working culture.
Katakana (カタカナ) – The Japanese writing script used for foreign loan words. For example バ = “ba” and ナ = “na” so バナナ = “banana.” It doesn’t always work so well though.
Kawaii (可愛い）- Cute. Squealed by young girls throughout the streets of Tokyo an estimated seventeen million times a day. Click here for the ultimate example of kawaii.
Kimoi (きもい) – Shortened version of “Kimochi warui,” feels bad or, more commonly, “Eeeeeeew!!”
Kyaa (きゃあ) – “Aah!” or, as a 1980’s comic book character might say, “Yikes!”
Manga (漫画）- Literally ‘comic’ in Japanese, though most commonly used to refer specifically to Japanese comics. Click here for a strange example.
Manga kissa (漫画喫茶） – A comic cafe where customers pay by the hour to read manga until their heart’s content/sleep overnight relatively cheaply.
Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) – A disc-shaped Japanese food often compared to pizza and pancakes but doesn’t taste anything like either. See pictures from an okonomiyaki restaurant review here.
Onigiri (おにぎり) – Rice ball. Usually with some kind of filling, and often wrapped in seaweed. Also sandwiched between two Chicken fillets for KFC’s novelty Kentucky Chicken Rice Sandwich.
Otaku （オタク）- The most common translation is ‘geek’. Described by sci-fi author William Gibson as “The passionate obsessive, the information age’s embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects.”
Pachinko (パチンコ） – A vicious assault on the senses. A loud pinball-style gambling game housed in giant, glaring neon buildings next to every train station in Japan. The name comes from the Japanese word for “slingshot.”
Pika Pika (ピカピカ) －To sparkle.
Salary man (サラリーマン）- Put simply an office worker, but there’s more to this term than that. ‘Salary man’ represents the employee whose every inch is devoted 100% to his company until he inevitably succumbs to karooshi.
Tanuki （タヌキ）- Raccoon-dog. Defined by Will Ferguson in Hitching Rides With Buddha as “Creatures of folklore in Japan: raccoon-dogs with huge bellies and gigantic testicles who roam the forests drinking sake and trying to seduce young maidens by passing themselves off as noblemen.” Also refers to the non-mythological species of the same name, sans elephantiasis.
Yakitori (焼鳥) – Meat skewers.