English is a hodgepodge of lone words and adaptations from many different languages and it can sometimes be a bit difficult to know where many English phrases originate from. Today we are going to look at some words that came directly from Japanese!


Up until recently, this word has held negative implications in Japanese. The stereotypical view of an otaku is someone unhealthily obsessed with something. With that said, the word “otaku” does not hold quite as much stigma as it used to, with more people in Japan positively identifying as such, especially in urban areas. Outside of Japan, the word is usually equivalent to “geek” or “nerd”.


Unlike Westernized futons, which tend to be couch / bed hybrids, Japanese futons are sleeping mats that are easily rolled up and stored in the closet during the day. Futons are especially useful for small homes and apartments, where a lack of sleeping space is a real issue.


Literally meaning “Finger Pressure”, Shiatsu is a type of pressure point massage originating from traditional Chinese medicine.


Ttranslated to mean “Single Digit”, this popular number puzzle game quickly rose to popularity in the Western world around 2004. Amusingly enough, while Westerners refer to the game using the Japanese word, Japanese refer to the game using an English name: Nan-Pure (shortened from Number Place).


Meaning “a little bit”. Skosh originates from the Japanese word “sukoshi”, which means the same thing. Example: Just a skosh for me, thank you.

Koi Fish

Koi might sound special in English, but in Japanese, it simply means “common carp”. “Nishikigoi” refers specifically to the colorful patterned carp that most Westerners are familiar with. Because Koi can also mean “love” in Japanese, the fish are used in Japan to symbolize love or friendship.


Meaning “Change for the better”, this also happens to be Hitachi’s English motto in Japan. Kaizen is a popular Japanese business philosophy regarding constant improvement.


Although not as common these days, this word was used to mean leader or chief, such as “the head honcho”.


Meaning “picture character”, emojis are the ideograms or smileys commonly used in social media and emails to represent emotion through text.


Karate is translated to “Empty Hand”, which is why karate style fighting does not involve weaponry. Incidentally, the “kara” from “karate” can also be found in “karaoke”, meaning “empty orchestra”.


Tycoon originates from the Japanese word “taikun” and entered the English language in 1857 partly thanks to Commodore Perry. Who was the first man to be referred to as “Tycoon” you might ask? None other than Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States!


A single portion lunch meal, or lunchbox, that are popular on trains (the only socially acceptable way to eat on public transportation) as well as in schools and offices.


Ginkgos are large trees, originating from China, bearing yellow fruit most famous for their health benefits. Ginkgo biloba is the only living species of the Ginkgophyta division, and is also referred to as a “living fossil”.


Umami is part of the five basic tastes and is used to describe food that is savory. Translated directly, “umami” means “delicious taste”.

Do you know of a Japanese loan word that wasn’t mentioned on this list? Leave a comment below!

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