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Languages & Cultural Blog

10 English Words That Are Borrowed From Japanese

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We often assume that languages are unique and different from each other, and this (false) assumption leads to our fear of learning new languages. We overlook the fact that there are several 'Borrowed Words' in every language, which makes learning a new language easier and a fun thing to do.
If you already speak English fluently and interested in learning Japanese, you will be glad to know that there are several words in English that have been borrowed from the Japanese language. Here we take a look at a few words that you will recognize already in English.

1) Tsunami

In English, it means a long, high sea wave caused by an earthquake or other disturbance. The word ‘Tsunami’ comes from the two kanji words 津 (tsu) meaning "harbor" and 波 (nami), meaning "wave".

2) Sake

In English, it means, for the purpose of or for the interest of in order to achieve something. However, in Japanese, it means something completely different. In Japanese sake 酒 (さけ) literally means “alcohol.”

3) Typhoon

In English, it means a tropical storm. The word ‘Typhoon’ comes from the two kanji words 台 (たい) means “table” or “pedestal,” and 風 (ふう) means “wind.”

4) Origami

In English ‘Origami’ folding paper into decorative shapes and figures. While in Japanese 折 (おり) means “to fold,” and 紙 (がみ) is “papers”.

5) Zen

According to Cambridge dictionary, the exact English meaning of the word Zen is “not to worry”. While the Kanji Meaning: 禅 (ぜん) literally means “silent meditation".

6) Emoji

In English “emoji” is a small digital image used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication. The Kanji Meaning: 絵 (え) means “picture” and 文字 (もじ) is “character” or “letter".

7) Futon

This word is originally a Japanese word, which has the same English meaning as well. In English, it means a type of mattress that can be rolled up or a bed or seat made from such a mattress. Kanji Meaning: 布 (ふ) means “linen” or “cloth” and 団 (とん) is “group".

8) Rickshaw

People often think the word Rickshaw came from China, however it was first used in Japan in 1869, which literally meant “human-powered vehicle.” In English there is a slight change in meaning, it means a light two-wheeled passenger vehicle drawn by one or more people.

9) Tofu

English meaning of Tofu is, a soft white substance made from soya beans. While the Kanji Meaning: 豆 (とう) is “beans” and 腐 (ふ) means “ferment” or “rot".

10) Haiku

It’s a Japanese way of writing a poem of seventeen syllables. Kanji Meaning: 俳 (はい) means “poem”. The meaning of the word doesn’t change in English.


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