Upon arriving on these shores, you realise that you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. The cultural aspects aside, the language differences are a big barrier for most people after stepping off the plane in Japan. While feeling deaf and dumb at first, upon closer inspection, you start to realise that there are actually a lot of English (and other language) sounding words used in daily Japanese.

“Hey, this is not that bad, you think”. Your ears perk up at the promise of familiar-sounding vernacular, only to realise very quickly that a lot of these English-sounding words and phrases don’t actually make much sense upon closer inspection. They are so widely accepted, however, that most people don’t really pay attention to the nonsensical meanings.

Communication Problems

Here are a couple of these words you might hear on a daily basis.

  • マグカプ (Magu Kappu / Mug Cup) – Well, which one is it? A Mug or a Cup? One is used primarily for coffee, the other for Tea.  Make up your mind, Japan!
  • サラリマン (Sarariman / Salaryman) – every able-bodied male who makes a salary is technically a salaryman, is he not?
  • カメラマン (Kameraman / Photographer) – Used to refer to a photographer rather than a videographer. While Technically correct terminology, there is a marked difference between taking photos and filming.
  • ベドタウヌ (Bedotaun / Commuter Town / Suburbs) – Every town and city has beds, right?
  • チェリボイ(Cheri Boi / Male Virgin) – I thought that popping your cherry is usually used to refer to women???
  • ダストボクス (Dustobokkusu / Rubbish Bin) – There’s usually more than just a bit of dust that goes in there (if you can even find one in public in Japan).  Being pretty much banned on city streets, and all underground trains, for fears of Terrorist attacks, like those involving the Serin Gas Attacks in the Tokyo Subway way back in 1995, it is near impossible to find these useful garbage disposal bins in any Japanese City.  You can, however, find them either inside or outside of Convenience Stores.
  • デリバリーヘルス (Deribari hearuthu / Delivery Health (prostitution; call girl service) A healthy prostitute delivered to your front door or hotel?  Will she give you a health check before engaging in some healthy adult behaviour?
  • ファシオンヘルス (fashion hearthu / fashion health; brothel) Does that mean these Ladies look fashionable and healthy?
  • マフラ (mafura – muffler / schaal or scarf) – The first time I heard this, I did a double take.  You want to wrap a (hot) muffler around your neck?  This might be particular to American English, but Muffler is usually a device, affixed to a car, with the sole purpose of reducing the amount of noise emitted by the exhaust.
  • シュウクリム (Shoe Cream / Cream Puff with Custard) I don’t think you’d get the same delicious custard in other countries when saying “I’d like a pastry filled with shoe cream.
  • ウインカ (Wuinka / winker; Turn signal) don’t forget to wink when you turn.
  • バイキング (Vaikingu / Viking).  I always picture a Scandinavian Warrior attacking a Buffet with reckless abandon.

If you’d like to know how that word became associated with all you can eat buffets, please refer to This article.

Still didn’t get enough of these mostly non-sensical English loan words? For a comprehensive list, please check HERE.
How about you?  What words and phrases have you encountered that made you do a double-take.  Let us know in the comments below!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.