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Glossary of terms related to traditional Japanese culture

  • Chanoyu (a.k.a. Sadō or Chadō)
    Japanese tea ceremony involving ceremonial preparations with matcha green tea.

    • Fundoshi
      Loincloth used by "sumo-tori".

    • Fusuma
      Sliding door typically made of thick paper or cloth pasted on a wooden frame and used in traditional Japanese houses as room-dividers.

    • Geisha
      Traditional Japanese hostess. Geisha entertain their guests with convresation, games and playing the shamisen, dancing and singing.

    • Ikebana
      Japanese flower arragement.

    • Jigoku
      Hell, as in "jigoku onsen" ("hellish hotspring"). See Beppu

    • Kampō
      Chinese herbal medicines (still commonly used in Japan in addition to Western medicines)

    • Kimono
      Traditional Japanese dress. It is a long, loose robe with wide sleeves tied with a "obi". Kimonos are worn especially for formal ceremonies, mostly by children and women.

    • Maiko
      Apprentice geisha. They usually dress more colourfully and with more hair ornaments than geisha.

    • Miai
      See "o-miai"

    • Minshuku
      Japanese-style hostel or Bed & Breakfast.

    • Miyage
      See "o-miyage"

    • Momiji
      Japanese maples (with smaller leaves than other maples), known for their beautiful red leaves in autumn.

    • Momo
      Peach, peach tree or peach blossom.

    • O-furo
      Japanese bath, consisting of a bath and washing space next to it, forming a separate room in itself.

    • O-miai
      Marriage arranged via a third party who introduces the potential partners. It is still a fairly common practice in Japan.

    • O-miyage
      Souvenir gifts (typically food) which Japanese are expected to give to their family or colleagues after coming back from a trip (even short).

    • O-shibori
      Lit. "wringed (towel)". Hot and wet towel provided in restaurants to clean one's hands (or face) from sweat before eating.

    • Ryokan
      Japanese-style inn, typically with tatami rooms.

    • Sakura
      Cherry tree or cherry blossom.

    • Sento
      Public bath

    • Shōgi
      East Asian version of "chess".

    • Shukubo
      Temple lodging

    • Soroban
      An abacus

    • Sumo
      Japanese wrestling.

    • Tanuki
      Japanese racoon dog, famous for having enormous testicles.

    • Tatami
      Traditional Japanese straw mat used as floor covering. A tatami measure approximately 180cm (6 feet) by 90cm (3 feet). Japanese often count a room's area in number of tatami instead of square metre or square feet. The kanji for tatami is then read "jo". A room containing 8 tatami is called 8畳 ("atchi-jo").

    • Tsubaki
      Camellia. One of the most common flowers in winter in Japan.

    • Ume
      Japanese plum (or abricot). It looks like a big, green apricot and is used principally to make "umeshu" or "umeboshi"

    • Usagi
      Rabbit. One of the most loved animal in Japan. It is used as a mascot by NOVA, and many hostess bar have "bunny girls".

    • Wa
      Concept of harmony and team-spirit. The kanji (和) can also be read as "Yamato", meaning "Japan". It is the 'Wa' used in Wa-pedia.

    • Zabuton
      Flat cushion used for sitting on.

    Language related terms

    • Baka
      Term meaning "stupid" or "idiot".

    • Chan
      Suffix used after a person name to show familiarity.

    • Denka
      Suffix used after a person name, meaning "Your Highness".

    • Dono
      Suffix used after a person name to show respect (more formal than "san" and "sama").

    • Furigana
      Hiragana used to give the phonetic reading of kanji.

    • Heika
      Suffix meaning "Your Majesty".

    • Hiragana
      Japanese phonetic script mostly used for words with no kanji or instead of kanji.

    • Irasshaimase
      Expression used to welcome customers into a shop or restaurant.

    • Itadakimasu
      Polite expression used before eating, drinking or receiving a present. Lit. means "I humbly receive".

    • Kana
      The two Japanese phonetic scripts (hiragana and katakana).

    • Kampai
      "Cheers !"

    • Kanji
      Chinese character(s) used in Japanese

    • Katakana
      Japanese phonetic script used mostly for writing foreign words.

    • Keigo
      Honorific language, used to show respect to superiors or elders when talking about them.

    • Kensongo
      Humble language, used to show respect to superiors or elders when talking about oneself.

    • Kōhai
      Term used to refer to a person who is younger or one's subordinate in the same company, school or organization. (Opposite = "sempai")

    • Kun
      Suffix used after a person name (usually boys or young men) to show respect.

    • O-kaeri (nasai)
      Greeting said to someone who comes back from outside (=> compare with "tadaima").

    • Sama
      Suffix used after a person name to show respect (more formal than "san").

    • San
      Suffix used after a person name to show respect.

    • Sempai
      Term used to refer to a person who is older or one's hierarchical superior in the same company, school or organization. (Opposite = "kohai")

    • Sensei
      Suffix used after a person name or alone with someone who possess superior knowledge or mastery of something, such as Professors, Doctors, Teachers, etc.

    • Shi
      Suffix used after a person name to show respect.

    • Tadaima
      Usual greeting said when one comes back (home, to one's office...) from outside.


Chadō (tea ceremony)
Chadō (tea ceremony)

Sumo-tori wearing fundoshi in Ryogoku, Tokyo
Sumō-tori wearing fundoshi in Ryogoku, Tokyo

Maiko in Gion, Kyoto
Maiko in Gion, Kyoto

Momiji at the Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto
Momiji at the Tenryu-ji Temple, Kyoto

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