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Extending Your Vocabulary: Japanese Words in English

Updated: May 10

Japanese woman wearing a kimono and holding a red parasol stands under a flowering cherry tree
Japanese woman wearing a kimono

Introduction - extending your vocabulary with Japanese words

English, as you might be discovering, is a language that is evolving.

Words from many cultures are entering English all the time. Many are well-established and so people accept and understand them.

In this article, I will present to you a list of Japanese words familiar to many native English speakers.

I give the meaning for each word and they are in alphabetical order.

So, it's a good idea for you to get to know them to extend your vocabulary.

Here they are:

Bonsai - The art of cultivating miniature trees or shrubs in containers.

Dojo - A training hall for martial arts.

Futon - A Japanese traditional bedding consisting of a mattress and a duvet.

Geisha - A traditional Japanese female entertainer skilled in various performing arts.

Haiku - A form of traditional Japanese poetry with a specific structure of three lines and 17 syllables.

Harakiri (or Seppuku) - A form of ritual suicide by disembowelment, historically practiced by samurai to restore honor.

Hibachi - A traditional Japanese heating device or a small grill used for cooking.

Kamikaze - A term used for Japanese suicide pilots during World War II, also meaning "divine wind."

Karaoke - A form of entertainment where people sing along to recorded music.

Karate - a mixture of Chinese and Japanese martial arts. It translates to 'empty hand'.

Kendo - also a martial art, fighting with bamboo swords.

Kimono - Traditional Japanese clothing, typically a T-shaped robe with wide sleeves.

Koi - A type of ornamental carp often kept in ponds for their vibrant colors.

Manga - Japanese comic books or graphic novels.

Miso - a fermented paste used in Japanese food. Made from soybeans and grain (barley or rice), it has a taste ranging from very salty to sweet. Miso soup.

Ninja - a person skilled in the martial art of ninjutsu. Used to describe someone who excels in a particular field or activity.

"The course is easy. You don't have to be a computer ninja to apply to study it."

Obi - a broad sash worn with a kimono. Used often as the answer to a clue in English crossword puzzles.

Origami - The art of paper folding to create intricate sculptures.

Ramen and Udon - Japanese noodles

Sake (pronounced: sarky) - a Japanese rice wine.

Samurai - A member of the military nobility in feudal Japan, known for their code of honor and loyalty.

Sensei - A term used to address or refer to a teacher or mentor.

Sumo - Japanese traditional wrestling sport where wrestlers try to force each other out of a circular ring.

Sushi - A traditional Japanese dish consisting of vinegared rice, raw or cooked fish, and other ingredients.

Tatami - Traditional Japanese straw mats used as flooring material in traditional homes.

Tamagotchi - a toy developed in Japan as a virtual pet.

Tsunami - a giant wave created by an earthquake.

Tycoon - a very rich person, usually a man.

Typhoon - A term for a tropical cyclone, derived from the Japanese word "taifu."

Japanese brand names found in English

Many brands, mainly vehicles (cars, trucks, and motorcycles) but also household products have Japanese names.

You will be familiar with car, motorcycle, and truck brands such as Toyota, Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Nissan, Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Hino, Komatsu. (Hyundai and Kia are South Korean makes of cars.)

Others: Sony, Samsung, Sanyo, Toshiba, Nikon, Konica, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Makita.

There are probably others too that I have neglected to mention. Let me know if you come up with other Japanese brand names.


So there you have it: a selection of Japanese words commonly used in English. Some are more common than others.

In fact, I had totally overlooked Japanese brand names. I had to come back and add them. Maybe it's a sign of their total integration into English.

More on this topic ...

I recommend this article to you to read to understand why you should grow your vocabulary.

I give you some tips too.

© Apex English Tutoring January 2024

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About Me

Hello and welcome!

My name is Michael Finemore and I am the owner-operator of Apex English Tutoring. As an experienced English Teacher, I'm passionate about helping people turn their 'poor' English into great English, with easy and effective ways to practice.

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