Japanese Words that Americans Use in Everyday Life

Today I’d like to share with you a few Japanese words that I hear a lot even in America. Join me on a journey to figure out their meanings by decoding the Japanese words!

Number One: Emoji

“絵” (E) means “picture”, and “文字” (moji) means “words”. So literally, this compound word means “picture words”, showing that they can express ideas or feelings with little pictures.

Number Two: Head Honcho

People in America use this often as “Head-honcho”, but actually the second kanji in the word, “長” (cho) already means “head”, or “high”. “班” (hon) means “area”. So honcho is the head or leader of that area.

Number Three: Karaoke

First I will clarify that the Japanese version of karaoke is different from the American way of saying it. In Japanese, instead of saying “kareeokee”, it is pronounced just as it is spelled (kara-okay). Notice that this word (カラオケ) isn’t in kanji. It isn’t in hiragana, either. Then it would look like からおけ. This is because there is a foreign word mixed into it. The “オケ” part (pronounced “okay”) is part of the word “orchestra”.  The “カラ” part means “empty”, making the meaning of the word, “empty orchestra”.

Number Four: Karate

空 (kara) or カラ(remember what it means?), as I told you before, means “empty”, and 手 means hand. Altogether, it is “empty hand”, showing that they fight with open hands, not holding any weapons.

Number Five: Anime

Image from flickr.com

This is the second word in our list that is only in the language form katakana, meaning the word came from a foreign language. アニメ is the start part of the English word “animation”.

Number Six: Typhoon

台 (tai) means “table” or “stool”, and “風” (fu) means wind. This makes the meaning of the word, “wind like a giant table”, expressing the remarkably strong wind caused by the typhoons.


As you can see, you are actually using Japanese words everyday, and maybe you didn’t know it! It is interesting to sometimes look at Japanese words, and decode their original meaning by the kanji in it.

So, what did you think of this post? Were there some meanings or origins you didn’t know or some you already knew about? Tell me in the comments.

Now as usual, bye and God bless!

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