Thursday, April 30, 2015

Everyday English Words That Are Really Japanese

I’ve written before about the English words that have become loan words in Japanese. There are a few Japanese words that have become common English words. (I didn’t think this up myself, I read it on RocketNews24).

Futon, from the Japanese 布団 (futon), first known use in 1876
In English, known as the sofa bed.

Honcho, from the Japanese : 班長 (hanchō), first known use: 1955
Sounds like it came from Spanish, but it actually comes from the Japanese word meaning “squad leader”.

Karaoke, from the Japanese カラオケ (karaoke), first known use: 1979
Not only was karaoke invented in Japan, the name was taken straight from Japanese, kara, meaning empty and ōke, short for ōkesutora (orchestra).

Rickshaw, from the Japanese 人力車 (jinrikisha), first known use: 1887
I thought rickshaws were from China, but they were actually invented in Japan in 1869, and used in China four years later. The word, rickshaw, comes from a corruption of the original Japanese, jinrikisha, which literally means “human powered vehicle.”

Skosh, from the Japanese  少し (sukoshi), first known use: 1952
Skosh, as in “give me a skosh more” or just a little bit more, was created by shortening the Japanese word sukoshi, which means “a little.”

Soy, from the Japanese  醤油 (shōyu), first known use: 1679
There are many possible origins of the word soy, but it’s thought that the term is a corruption of the Japanese word for soy sauce, shōyu. 

Tsunami, from the Japanese 津波 (tsunami), first known use: 1897
A giant sea wave is called a tsunami in English, just like it is in Japanese, although with a slightly different pronunciation. Tsunami literally means “harbor wave” in Japanese.

Tycoon, from the Japanese  大君 (taikun), first known use: 1857
The title of taikun was applied by foreigners to the shogun of Japan in the mid 1800s but the English version, tycoon, is used to describe any wealthy or powerful person in business. 

I find all this word business very interesting!


  1. I do ,too, and I learned a lot from this blog post. Thank you for teaching me!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing! I find this "word business" fascinating.

  3. me too.. any what is more interesting is that most of the Japanese Kanji are established from Mandarin.. I love both languages.. ;)