Loanwords In Japanese: 27+ Interesting Terms To Keep An Eye On

Temple-sea-loanwords in japanese

Have you been learning the Japanese language for a while? If so, you might have noticed that some words are not entirely Japanese. What I mean by that is when you look at words like アルバイト (arubaito, part-time job) or エステ (esute, esthetic salon), you notice some resemblance with other languages, but you’re not sure. Don’t worry! You are not hallucinating—those are loanwords in Japanese. Words of foreign origin that, over time, have been adopted and made part of today’s Japanese language.

However, the question is… where do these words come from? Do they all come from English? In this article, we’ll respond to those questions by introducing you to the basics of Japanese loanwords and some of the most common ones used frequently. 

Definition Of Loanword

A loanword or 借用語 (Shakuyō-go) refers to a word that is directly imported or borrowed from another language. Sometimes, the borrowed word may also be refined further to fit the Japanese phonological system. For example, the brand Mcdonald’s is not pronounced in the same way as it is in English but is rather pronounced as マクドナルド or “Makudonarudo.”

Where Do Japanese Loanwords Come From?

temple-figure-loanwords in japanese

The origins of Japanese loanwords date back to the fourth century when the Chinese language was introduced to Japan. During this time, Japanese intellectuals began learning the Chinese language and gradually adopted words that were incorporated into the Japanese language.

Then around the 16th century, when Japan first began to end its isolation, diplomats from foreign countries started to establish relationships with the Japanese authorities and slowly introduced the first Japanese loanwords into the language.

Since Japan’s first contact with western countries was through the Netherlands and Portugal, some of the first loanwords came from there. Later on, Japan established relationships with Germany and consequently adopted words from the German language.

Eventually, with the country’s opening, diplomats from English-speaking countries gradually entered Japan, influencing its culture considerably and incorporating many English words that remain in the Japanese language today.

Types Of Japanese Words

Wago 和語

These types of words could be considered pure Japanese. They come from ancient Japan’s language and do not have any foreign influence. These words are also known as Yamato kotoba, these native Japanese words that are still used in everyday life.

Examples:

  • 食べます (tabemasu, eat)
  • 今日 (kyō, today)
  • 友達(tomodachi, friend)
  • ご飯(gohan, meal/rice)

Kango 漢語

As mentioned above, the Chinese language greatly influenced the Japanese language, so the term Kango is used to describe words of Chinese origin that have been adopted/assimilated into the Japanese language.

Examples

  • 友人 (yūjin, friend)
  • 言語(gengo, language)
  • 食事(shokuji, meal)
  • 切腹(seppuku, suicide by disembowelment)

Gairaigo 外来語

Many Japanese learners believe that the term Garaigo only refers to words of English origin, but this is not the case. Garaigo refers to all words of foreign origin, excluding Chinese. So we could say that within this group of words are included: Dutch, Portuguese, German, French, English, etc.

Examples:

  • エアコン (eakon, air conditioning)
  • イクラ     (ikura, salmon roe)
  • アベック  (abekku, romantic couple)
  • ドイツ  (doitsu, Germany)
english loanwords- foreign word

Wasei Eigo

This is where the confusion begins for most Japanese learners, especially native English speakers. Wasei eigo belongs to a group of terms known as pseudo Anglicisms, i.e., words that originate in English that sound like English but are not used in English-speaking countries. So it turns out that you may be using a Japanese word that sounds like English, but its meaning is totally different from the term from which it originated.

Examples:

  • メイク ⁠( meiku, makeup)
  • コンセント⁠( konsento, electrical Outlet)
  • ハイテンション⁠ (haitenshon, excitement)
  • マンション⁠ ( manshon, apartment)

Most Common Loanwords In Japanese

EnglishJapaneseRomajiSound
SpoonスプーンSupūn
KnifeナイフNaifu
TaxiタクシーTakushī
Part time jobアルバイトArubaito
Personal computerパソコンPasokon
EnergyエネルギーEnerugī
ThemeテーマTēma
ButtonボタンBotan
QuestionnaireアンケートAnkēto
ContestコンテストKontesuto
UnderwearパンツPantsu
HotelホテルHoteru
BeerビールBīru
ElevatorエレベーターErebētā
CalendarカレンダーKarendā
WineワインWain
ShirtシャツShatsu
CameraカメラKamera
Chewing gumガムGamu
TelevisionテレビTerebi
ServiceサービスSābisu
NecktieネクタイNekutai
SunglassesサングラスSangurasu

Using Loanwords In Japanese

Loanwords are not an aspect of the Japanese language that you should be intimidated by. On the contrary, these types of words are naturally integrated into the vocabulary so that you will learn them the same way as other words. Therefore, we recommend that you do not constantly try to replace purely Japanese words with anglicisms, even if it is possible. In the long run, this may affect your understanding of the vocabulary, as native words are still a fundamental part of the language.

An exercise that could be very useful for you is to make a list of Japanese words adopted from abroad and their pure Japanese version. In this way, you will learn both and not be inconvenienced when one or the other is mentioned in a conversation.

Learn More Japanese Loanwords With Ling

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Are you ready to learn more loanwords in Japanese? Bid chunky textbooks and boring classes goodbye because Ling got you covered!

Ling offers a unique experience with a user-friendly interface where you can access hundreds of activities that will allow you to learn Japanese while having fun. You will find grammar notes with practical examples and high-quality lessons adjustable to phone and tablet devices. Short lessons that you can complete anywhere! Ready to try it out? You can download it for FREE from the App Store or Play Store

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