japanese slang

24 Japanese Slang Phrases You Should Know to Sound Like a Local

Wanna just let loose, relax and really have fun with the Japanese language for once?

To do this, you’ll need to know what the kids are saying these days and what Japanese sounds like on the streets.

If you’ve already learned how to infer subjects, then now is the time to level up your casual speaking skills through slang!

Your Japanese language skills will improve overall, and you’ll end up sounding much more natural.

Contents

Top 24 Japanese Slang Phrases

1. おっす! (What’s up?)

Want to surprise your Japanese friends? Just say おっす to them next time you meet. おっす used to be a military greeting and was considered highly formal. It’s still commonly used among martial artists.

Nowadays it means “what’s up?” among young people. Not that many people actually use it, so it can be considered kind of quirky—but that’s all right if you’re already standing out as a foreigner.

For a more conservative approach try こんちはー, a shortened form of こんにちは, which means “good day” / “hello.”

2. よー! (Hey!)

This is the usual way of saying “hey!” as a friendly greeting.

You can also use おい!, which sounds like the British oi! and has the exact same meaning. It’s not very polite, so I don’t recommend using it with strangers.

If you’re saying “hi” to some close friends and you want seem cool, then use よー、お前ら!(よー、おまえら!— Hey, guys!) This is part greeting, part friendly insult. It’s more like saying “‘sup dorkface,” which can be a friendly greeting if spoken to a close friend, but a bit too much with anyone else.

As a side note, the personal pronoun お前 (おまえ) is conventionally reserved for enemies. It’s extremely impolite except when used by close friends.

3. 調子どう? (ちょうしどう?— How’s It Hanging?)

This simply means “How’s it hanging?” Next time you’re at a social gathering with friends, just ask everyone this question! And be prepared for a variety of responses.

You can also use おげんこ?, which is a shortened version of お元気ですか ?(おげんきですか?), Japanese for “how are you?”

4. 相変わらずだよ (あいかわらずだよ — Same as Always, Man)

This isn’t that commonly used, since Tokyo people are more likely to just say まあまあだよ meaning “so so.”

As far as 相変わらずだよ goes, the ending particle, よ, of that sentence asserts a sort of confidence in the same way that the English word “man” does when used as slang.

5. ごめんちゃい / ごめんくさい / めんごめんご (Slangy Apologies)

These are all slangy forms of ごめんなさい (I’m sorry). Really, if you want to apologize properly then you should say ごめんなさい, but if what you did wasn’t that serious—or if you want to sound cute—then the slangier forms will work.

ごめんちゃい and ごめんくさい are sort of fun and light-hearted.

めんごめんご will make most people cringe when they hear it. They might just forgive you out of embarrassment.

Of course, there’s also a “cool guy” way to apologize. Just say わりいーね, which means “my bad.”

6. またねー! (Later!)

There are a few options here.

またねー and じゃーね are the most common ways of saying “see you later.”

あばよ is how a tough guy says “later.” The よ suffix basically means, “I’m certain,” showing your complete confidence in a future meeting. It’s a bit silly, though, so you may not be taken to seriously if you use this phrase.

7. 一足す一は? (いちたすいちは?— Say Cheese)

一足す一は? means “one plus one is?” and the answer, in Japanese, is 二 (に). As in にー, which is what you say when someone takes a photo of you.

“Cheese” works as well, but you have to voice it with Japanese intonation, チーズ (ちーず).

8. 君は本当にいいヤツだな (きみは ほんとうに いいやつだな — You’re a Real Solid Guy)

When you’re having a night out in Shinjuku, there might come a point when you manage to break the ice with one of the many salarymen at a bar. The more they drink, the more they open up to you and start rambling about their lives, the state of society and what have you.

At some point they may say 君は本当にいいヤツだな, basically just calling you a real good guy.

9. お前はイケメンだ (おまえは いけめんだ — You Darn Prettyboy)

お前はイケメンだ (おまえは いけめん だ) is something you should use between friends only. Again, the pronoun お前 (おまえ) is generally considered offensive, but close friends may use it to address each other in a light-hearted manner.

So, you can use this to convey light-hearted jealousy by pointing out the prettyboy (イケメン) in your group of friends.

10. 一杯どう? (いっぱい どう? — How About a Drink?)

Saying 一杯どう? is a friendly way of offering a drink. Easy enough to remember as well, right?

If you want to follow it up with another drink afterwards, it’s もう一杯どう? (もう いっぱい どう? — one more drink?).

11. 山手線ゲーム、しようぜ! (やまのてせんげーむ、しようぜ!— Let’s Play Yamanote Line!)

The Yamanote line in Tokyo goes in a circle around the city center. The Yamanote Line game is a popular drinking game in which a group of friends go around in a circle on the train. They clap in tune and say the names of stations on the Yamanote line aloud.

If you can’t think of something to say, or if you repeat something that’s already been said, you lose and have to drink.

Besides the train stations, the game can be adapted to use any theme, like “colors,” “cute things,” “anime titles” or any other theme.

Here are the girls from ECYJapan playing the game for your amusement:

12. 今夜は家でゴロゴロしてるよ (こんやは いえで ごろごろしてるよ — Tonight I’m Just Gonna Space Out at Home)

Here we see an example where onomatopoeia—i.e. words that express an action or meaning through their sound—is used in slang. In Japanese ゴロゴロ means “rolling” and “turning.”

In any case, 今夜は家でゴロゴロしてるよ translates to something like “I’ll be rolling at home,” while the meaning is more accurately translated to “I’m going to space out at home.” It’s a great response to have on hand if someone invites you to take a spin on the Yamanote line.

13. お腹減ったなー(おなかへったなー — I’m Hungry)

お腹減ったなー means my stomach is empty—it’s like saying, “I’m famished.”

お腹がゴロゴロ言ってる (おなかが ごろごろいってる) means “my stomach is growling.” The onomatopoeia ゴロゴロ this time means “grumbling.”

There’s a brutish way of saying stomach, which is simply 腹 (はら). Saying 腹減った (はらへった) , you sound like an anime character asking for food.

14. ヤバい (やばい — Wicked)

The word ヤバい was used for dangerous situations: When someone’s in danger or in a bad situation, they can use the word ヤバい. However, young people have started to use the term to mean “uncool” or anything negative.

In a reverse-Uno twist, the word is now being used for positive things, as well. So in general, ヤバい is an adjective that can be used to mean something good or bad depending on the context.

In English, the word ヤバい would probably be similar to the word “wicked,” in which “wicked” can be have both positive and negative connotations.

15. 微妙 (びみょう — Weird)

The word 微妙 is currently used to express an unclear statement with a negative connotation.

In Japan, you want to avoid sounding too harsh. You don’t want to directly say something very negative. That’s why you use the term 微妙 to leave some uncertainty. In English, the word 微妙 would be similar to the word “weird,” but with a more negative touch to it.

16. 超 (ちょう)  /  めっちゃ (Totally / Super)

These two words have very similar meanings:  超 and めっちゃ are interchangeable and they both mean “very.”

Formally in Japanese, you’d use the word とても or in some cases すごい. However, with slang, you can use these two terms. In English, these words are similar to the terms “totally,” “super” and “so.”

17. マジで (まじで — Seriously)

The word マジ comes from the word 真面目 (まじめ), which means “serious.” In English, you’d use this word as “seriously” or “really.”

You can use マジ or マジで. Both マジ and マジで are used when it’s followed by a couple of more words, and when you just want to say “seriously, man!?”

18. ハンパない (はんぱない — Outrageous)

ハンパない is used to describe something as extraordinary, extreme or outrageous, though it’s generally meant in a positive way.

This word is actually very similar to the word ヤバい, and you can use the two interchangeably.

19. ノリノリ (のりのり — Easily Hyped Up / The Life of the Party)

ノリノリ originally comes from the word 乗る(のる), which means to ride or get on (some sort of vehicle). This verb soon transformed its meaning to joining or going along with someone else’s happy mood, jokes or party mode.

This term is used often in concerts or discos where the DJ player screams “乗ってる?(のってる?)” which means “are you having fun?” ノリノリ is the adjective form of のる.

If you describe someone as ノリノリ, it means that he or she can get hyped up easily and will go along with the excited atmosphere. In English, it’s the opposite of a party-pooper—it’s someone who’s the Life of the Party.

*Note: don’t mistake this word with the word for seaweed!

20. オシャンティー (おしゃんてぃー — Glamorous)

オシャンティー comes from the word おしゃれ, which means “stylish.” It was widely popularized by the famous female idol group AKB48, where they explained in their blogs that they stylized the word おしゃれ and made it オシャンティー.

In English, this word is quite similar to the slang word “glam,” which is short of glamorous.

21. グロい (ぐろい — Horrific, Gory or Repulsive)

This slang term comes from the word grotesque. Just like what the word refers to, it’s usually used to describe something related to horror. It can mean something is repulsive, scary or gory.

22. チャラい (ちゃらい — Shallow and Flirtatious)

チャラい is an adjective to describe a person as shallow and flirtatious. It usually refers to men who constantly try to pick up girls.

The word has several different forms.

One of the forms is チャラ男 (ちゃらお) which means the same as チャラい, but limited to only boys. The other form  is チャラチャラ (ちゃらちゃら), which comes from the sound that accessories make—basically, the bling.

23. 重い (おもい — Someone Extra / An Uncomfortable Situation) 

This literally means “heavy” and can be used in two different ways.

The first way is to describe a person in a relationship. It’s a negative word and connotes that this person is simply “too much”—whether that means s/he is constantly complaining, demanding, expecting too much or is obsessive.

Their actions are overwhelming and ultimately push their partners away. Imagine the person hugging the partner’s leg and becoming a heavy load.

The second way to use 重い is when you describe something (a situation, feeling, words) as serious, uncomfortable or depressing.

24. 日本人はオモロいよね (にほんじんはおもろいよね — Japanese Folks Are Fun)

The word オモロい (おもろい) is a shortened form of 面白い (おもしろい). It can be taken to mean interesting, fun or cool, depending on the context.

Whenever your Japanese friends are doing something unusual, you can say 日本人はオモロいよね.

How Japanese Slang Words Are Used

Sure, a lot of importance is placed on being polite in Japanese—but Japanese people use slang all the time!

Surprised?

Well, as a matter of fact, Japanese slang is very important to understanding the language and culture. Slang is what you use to let others know that you consider them close to you. Slang is like a secret you can share with friends and family members who have your trust.

That’s why slang is usually preferred when you’re not at work. As with many things in the Japanese language, the appropriate timing and usage of slang depends on who you are and the current circumstances. It’s an in-depth topic in which everything you say can be varied endlessly.

The Japanese slang vocabulary grows and takes on new nuances for every generation.

Indeed, though older generations use slang as well, they sound completely different to young people.

Some expressions you just have to know, but a lot of the time you can infer what people are saying by listening carefully.

A program like FluentU can also give you a leg up when it comes to slang and natural speech. The FluentU program uses authentic Japanese videos like movie clips, music videos, commercials and vlogs (among more) to introduce you to the language in a natural way.

FluentU also has interactive subtitles that use context to provide you with the correct definition of any word as you’re watching a video. This means that you’ll be able to see when a word is being used as slang. Just hover your mouse over, click or tap on a word in the subtitles to see its meaning.

FluentU Adjective Clip

FluentU also lets you add words to your flashcards, which you can later study with personalized quizzes. Plus, you can access the FluentU program on your browser or using the iOS or Android apps.

For further reading, I’d suggest the book “Dirty Japanese” (NSFW) by Matt Fargo.

Why You Need to Take a Break from Formal Japanese

Formal Japanese can make you sound weird and out of place when used in the wrong contexts.

As you learn Japanese, you’ll learn to use proper grammar and to include the right particles in the right places. This is important because it gives you a proper understanding of the language, and this knowledge is what you should base your Japanese language proficiency on.

Not to mention, this is also what your language proficiency will be evaluated on when you take more official tests.

However, if you’ve ever actually lived in Japan, you’ll know that most people don’t speak quite so properly in their daily lives. Speaking full, grammatically correct sentences with lots of particles is just too bothersome and inconvenient. You’ll have to pronounce more syllables than really necessary to get your message across.

What is correct usage of language, anyway?

It’s somewhat ironic that learners of the Japanese language sometimes go to great lengths to speak correctly by carefully choosing the right particles, when it’s often more correct to just leave them out.

And, yes, I do mean correct.

If you’re really serious about learning Japanese, then you should also learn casual Japanese.

It’s like how you never actually ask your friends in English “Would you like to go to watch a movie?” You say “Wanna see a movie?” For day-to-day conversations, most native English speakers know that the latter is more correct, even though that sentence doesn’t even have a subject!

The way Japanese people use Japanese is unquestionably the most correct way and, trust me, they use slang a lot! By trying to structure your sentences neatly and going out of your way to be grammatically right, you might actually be standing out.

A General Word of Advice

When you want to sound casual in Japanese you should really just try to leave out some of the unnecessary particles. Often, you’ll be uncertain as to whether to use は or が, when in fact the most natural choice is just to leave them both out. So that’s a cool little trick you can use to turn your uncertainty in Japanese into confidence (but seriously, learn the particles.)

Some particles like ね and よ add flavor to an entire sentence. These are incredibly important in slang.

Often, when older men from the Kanto region speak, you’ll hear sentences ending in だよ. It’s too exhaustive a topic to give a full account of here, but look up some of these particles and see what they do. Often, being slangy involves just adding something like よ to the end of your sentence.

Now that you know how to sound more natural in Japanese, go and practice with some Japanese friends. Pay attention to how they speak Japanese and be on the lookout for new Japanese slang!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Close