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Glossary of Japanese terms


For food, culinary and cooking terms, check the Japanese Food Glossary


For historical terms and people, including terms related to samurai, check the Japanese History Glossary


For terms related to Japanese Buddhism, Shintoism and religious traditions, go to the Japanese Religion Glossary

Traditional Culture

For terms related to traditional Japanese culture besides food, religion and history, visit to the Japanese Culture Glossary

Modern Culture & Society

  • AEON
    One of the largest foreign language school in Japan. Known as one of the "big 5" Eikaiwa school, along with GEOS, NOVA, ECC and Berlitz. Also the name of a famous supermarket (AEON JUSCO).

  • ANA
    All Nippon Airways

  • Asobu
    "To play". Does not refer only to games, but to any form of entertainment or amusment, including sex.

  • AV
    Adult video (not "audio video" !)

  • Baikingu
    Smorgasbord or buffet. The word comes from "viking", the name of the first Swedish restaurant in Japan offering smorgasbord.

  • Berlitz
    One of the largest foreign language school in Japan. Known as one of the "big 5" Eikaiwa school, along with GEOS, NOVA, AEON and ECC.

  • Combini
    24h/7days convenience store, such as 7 Eleven, Family Mart or Circle K-Sunkus.

  • ECC
    One of the largest foreign language school in Japan. Known as one of the "big 5" Eikaiwa school, along with GEOS, NOVA, AEON and Berlitz.

  • Eikaiwa
    English Conversation (School). The 5 biggest "Eikaiwa schools" in Japan are : NOVA, GEOS, AEON, Berlitz and ECC.

  • Enjo Kōsai
    Literally "compensated dating". It stands for teenage girl who give sexual service to older men, typically in exchange for brand bags or clothes or for money. It is in other words voluntary teenage prostitution and is saddly relatively common in Japan.

  • Enkai Kibun
    "Party mood".

  • GEOS
    One of the largest foreign language school in Japan. Known as one of the "big 5" Eikaiwa school, along with AEON, NOVA, ECC and Berlitz.

  • Hanshin Tigers
    Japan's second largest baseball team, representing Ōsaka and Kōbe.

  • Heisei
    Current Emperor of Japan since 1989, also known as Akihito.

  • Ijime
    Bullying or teasing, usually at school or at work.

  • Izakaya
    Restaurants serving various kind of food and where people usually go to drink alcohol.

  • JAL
    Japan Airlines

  • Jimintō
    "Jiyu-Minshu-to" (Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP). The largest Japanese political party, in power since 1958. (See Japan's Political System)

  • Jitensha

  • JNTO
    Japan National Tourist Organization

  • JR
    Japan Railway

  • JTB
    Japan Travel Bureau (Japan's largest travel agency)

  • JYHA
    Japanese Youth Hostel Association

  • Kabakura
    Japanaese abbreviation for "Cabaret Club", i.e. a kind of hostess bar with usually younger girls than in other hostess bars.

  • KDDI
    Kokusai Denshin Denwa International (International Telegraph & Telephone)

  • Keiretsu
    Industrial conglomerate. Another term for "zaibatsu".

  • Kinki
    Literally, region "near the capital (Kyoto)", referring to the prefecture surrounding Kyoto. Another term for Kansai.

  • Kōban
    Police box keeping only a few (sometimes only one) police officer. They were created to ensure public order, but are used mostly by people to ask their way around.

  • Kombini
    See "combini".

  • Komeitō
    Clean Government Party. Third largest political part in Japan, affiliated to the "new religion" Soka Gakkai. (See Japan's Political System)

  • Kotatsu
    Low, heated table with a quilt covering it to keep one's body warm. Note that central heating and thermic insulation are still a rarity in Japan.

  • Kyakusan
    Term with a broad meaning in English, meaning guest, customer, passenger, patron, buyer, shopper, regular, clientele, etc.

  • LDP
    See "Jimintō "

  • Manga
    Japanese comics

  • Mazakon
    Japanese abbreviation for "mother-complex" (Oedipus complex).

  • Minshūtō
    Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Second largest political party in Japan. (See Japan's Political System)

  • MITI
    Ministry of International Trade and Industry

  • Nampa
    A playboy or playgirl. Someone who is looking for a sexual partner in the street or in a nightclub.

  • NHK
    Nihon Hoso Kyokai (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). The Japanese equivalent of the BBC.

  • No pants shabu-shabu
    "Shabu-shabu" restaurant where waitresses do not wear underwear and perverted customers are allowed to peep under their skirts. Also exist with other kinds of restaurants than "shabu-shabu".

  • NOVA
    The largest foreign language school in Japan. Known as one of the "big 5" Eikaiwa school, along with AEON, GEOS, ECC and Berlitz.

  • NTT
    Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp.

  • OL
    Office lady. Usually unmarried women with non career jobs reserved for women, such as receptionist, secretary or clerical work. It oftens involves serving tea in the office or accompanying male co-workers to karaoke or izakayas after work.

  • Pachinko
    Vertical pinball game found everywhere in Japanese cities. Pachinko parlours are very noisy, but it doesn't prevent them from being the most common form of gambling in Japan. It is also a major source of yakuza funding, tax evasion, etc.

  • Pasokon
    Japanese abbreviation for Personal Computer (PC).

  • Passnet
    Train/Metro Card sold in amount of 1000yen, 3000yen or 5000yen, in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.

  • Remokon
    Japanese abbreviation for Remote Control.

  • Salaryman
    Businessman, typically employed by a big company and wearing a black or grey suit.

  • Sento
    Public bath

  • Shinkansen
    Japanese bullet train. The main line runs from Nortern Kyushu to Northern Honshu and reaches 280km/h.

  • SM bar
    Sado-masochist bar

  • Soapland
    Euphemistic term referring to bathhouses offering sexual services. It replaced the term "Turkish bath" after the Turkish government complained.

  • Soroban
    An abacus

  • Suika Card
    Rechargeable card providing fast payment that can be used on JR trains and in some shops.

  • Sumo
    Japanese wrestling.

  • Tarento
    "Talent". Refers to TV celebrities and entertainers, although they typically lack the so-called "talent".

  • Terebi geemu
    Video game(s)

  • Tramp (or torampu)
    Playing cards (the word comes from "trump"). Not a homeless person, nor a promiscuous woman.

  • Yakuza
    Japanese mafia

  • Yomiuri Giants
    Most popular Japanese baseball team (from Tokyo), supported by about 50% of the Japanese.

  • Zaibatsu
    Industrial conglomerate, such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi or Sumitomo.

Regions of Japan

  • Chūbu
    Region of central Honshū, between the Kantō and Kansai. It includes the Koshin'etsu and Tōkai areas.

  • Honshū
    Japan's main island. It includes the region of Tōhoku, Kantō, Chūbu, Kansai and Chūgoku.

  • Kansai
    Literally, region "West to the barrier", referring to the major population centre of Western Japan around Kyōto and Osaka. Another term for Kinki.

  • Kantō
    Large plain and geographical area surrounding Tokyo.

  • Koshinetsu
    Subregion of the Chūbu region. It includes the prefectures of Yamanashi, Nagano and Niigata.

  • Okinawa
    Japan's southernmost group of islands, between Kyushu and Taiwan.

  • Tōhoku
    Northern Honshū (lit. North-East).

  • Tōkai
    Subregion of the Chūbu region. It includes the prefectures of Shizuoka, Aichi and Gifu, and sometimes also Mie.

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