weird japanese words

37 Weird Japanese Words You Won’t Believe Exist

Have you ever heard the word “petrichor”?

It’s an English word describing the smell of the earth after it rains.

And what about a “backpfeifengesicht”?

That’s the weird German word that means “a face badly in need of a fist.”

Ever since I learned that these words exist, I’ve been fascinated by what other cultures deem necessary to express in one word.

Japanese is no different. The weird words I’ll share below are merely single words, but the Japanese language is also rich in expressions, phrases, and slang.

By the same token, not many are used in everyday conversation.

To hear these weird words (and more common words) used in context by native speakers, hop on over to FluentU. 

FluentU takes real-world Japanese videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

Stay tuned until the end of the post, and I’ll provide you with even more information on how to learn awesome Japanese vocabulary through FluentU.

37 Weird Japanese Words You Won’t Believe Exist

People

In addition to words even a newbie to Japan recognizes, like salaryman (サラリーマン/さらりーまん – salaried worker), there are many unique words with a mix of kanji and katakana to refer to people, usually in a deprecating or condescending manner.

weird japanese words

教育ママ (きょういく まま)
A mother who is obsessed with her children’s education.

 

weird japanese words

バーコード人 (ばーこーど じん)
Men who have ridiculous combovers (translates as “barcode men”).

 

weird japanese words

KY (aka 空気読めない/くうき よめない)
Someone who is incapable of reading the atmosphere of a situation.

 

weird japanese words

別腹 (べつばら)
Having room for dessert despite being full, i.e. an extra stomach or a dessert stomach.

 

weird japanese words

キープ君 (きーぷくん)
A boyfriend who is “kept” until someone better shows up.

 

weird japanese words

クリスマスケーキ (くりすます けーき)
“Christmas cake”: A woman not yet married by 25, as she is said to lose value after the 25th.

Behavior

Here are some strange Japanese words referring to behaviors:

蛇足 (だそく)
Something unnecessary and probably detrimental (“snake legs”).

 

weird japanese words

横飯 (よこめし)
“Horizontal rice”: Western food.

 

weird japanese words

積ん読 (つんどく)
Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piling it up with other unread books.

 

weird japanese words

過労死 (かろうし)
Death from overworking.

 

weird japanese words

口寂しい (くちさびしい)
When you’re not hungry but you eat because your mouth is lonely.

 

weird japanese words

Uターン現象 (ゆーたーんげんしょう)
“U-turn phenomenon”: The movement of people who grow up in a rural area, escape to the city for education or work, and then come back.

 

weird japanese words

辻斬り (つじぎり)
There are many dated words in English as well (When did you last “defenestrate” someone?), but the Japanese have a term for breaking in a new sword by attacking a stranger.

Cat Words

Cat got your tongue? There are many expressions and words in the Japanese language focusing on feline behavior. Here are a few of the more unusual ones:

weird japanese words

猫舌 (ねこじた)
Someone who is particularly sensitive to hot drinks (“cat tongue”).

 

weird japanese words

猫娘 (ねこむすめ)
A girl who acts like a cat.

 

weird japanese words

猫背 (ねこぜ)
“Hunchback”: Be honest, the Cat Back of Notre Dame sounds much better, doesn’t it?

 

weird japanese words

猫に小判 (ねこに こばん)
Gold coins to a cat: Giving a gift to someone who is incapable of appreciating it.

 

weird japanese words

猫かぶり (ねこかぶり)
Cat veil, the equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Someone who feigns naiveté.

 

weird japanese words

猫糞 (ねこばば)
Embezzlement or misappropriation; stealing. In and of itself, this sounds normal… until you realize it’s translated as “cat excrement.”

Wasei Eigo

和製英語 (わせいえいご), or words that sound English but have been adapted by the Japanese to mean something entirely different, are all too commonly used. ファイト (ふぁいと) “Fight” can be shouted at any sporting event or competition. Here are some you may not have heard of:

 

weird japanese words

ハイテンション (はい てんしょん)
“High tension” – Someone full of energy and enthusiasm.

 

weird japanese words

バイキング (ばいきんぐ)
“Viking” – A restaurant that allows unlimited refills from their buffet tables.

ドクターストップ (どくたー すとっぷ)
“Doctor stop” – When a physician instructs someone to take it easy.

パラサイトシングル (ぱらさいと しんぐる)
“Parasite single” – An adult who is capable of living on her own, but prefers to stay with her parents.

 

weird japanese words

ノミュニケーション (のみゅにけーしょん)
Actually a combination of English and Japanese, it means “communicating while drinking.”

オーバードクター (おーばー どくたー)
“Over doctor” – Someone who holds a PhD but remains unemployed.

マッチポンプ (まっち ぽんぷ)
Someone who starts trouble simply to make themselves the hero trying to fix it.

Beauty

If there’s one thing the Japanese language has in spades, it’s the ability to describe tranquil moments, like the way petals fall off trees during cherry blossom season or the simplicity of eating a well-prepared meal.

Shakespeare may have needed fourteen lines for each of his sonnets, but Japanese has single words for such poetry:

 

weird japanese words

木漏れ日 (こもれび)
When sunlight filters through the trees.

物の哀れ (もののあわれ)
The awareness (coincidentally, the Japanese term is also pronounced as “a-wa-re”) of the impermanence of beauty.

 

weird japanese words

バックシャン (ばっくしゃん)
A beautiful woman, but only when she is viewed from behind (I’ll admit, this is a bit more crass than the first two).

幽玄 (ゆうげん)
The definition of this term varies depending on context, but it generally refers to a mysterious sense of the beauty or nature of the universe.

Not Taken So Literally

夏炉冬扇 (かろとうせん)
“Summer heater winter fan.” – Something out of season and worthless.

花鳥風月 (かちょうふうげつ)
“Flower, bird, wind and moon.” – This term is used to list some aspects of nature.

三日坊主 (みっかぼうず)
“Three-day monk.” – Giving up prematurely, i.e. a monk who disrobes after three days.

天下り (あまくだり)
“Descent from heaven.” – Although this is a dated term in Japanese, it’s all too common in American politics. It refers to politicians who leave office, only to accept offers as high-paying executives in the corporate world.

Way Too Complicated for a Single Word

ありがた迷惑 (ありがためいわく)
“An act someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favor, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude” (Source)

侘寂 (わびさび)
This is a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. Although that’s a definition of sorts, this word is widely considered untranslatable.

無礼講 (ぶれいこう)
Making no distinction of status, where one can speak and act freely without considering pressure and authority from others.

 

weird japanese words

頭寒足熱 (ずかんそくねつ)
Literally “cold head, warm feet,” this term refers to the fact that most Japanese homes are not properly heated in the wintertime, and one of the ways families stay warm is to put their feet by the こたつ (“kotatsu” is a  knee-high table with an electric foot-warmer installed inside on the top board which is used with a coverlet during winter) leaving their heads out in the cold.

Hopefully, these terms offer greater insight into the Japanese language. If you know of any other unusual, crazy, or just untranslatable words, Tweet them to us or post on our Facebook page!

How to Learn More Weird Japanese Words

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Love the idea of watching authentic content, but afraid you won’t understand what’s going on? FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. 

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Tap on any word to see an on-screen definition, instantly. All definitions come with multiple usage examples, pronunciation audio and a helpful illustration.

From this screen, swipe left and right for more in-context usage examples from other FluentU videos, and tap “add” to save the word to your vocab list for later review.

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Flashcard decks bring vocabulary to life and really reinforce your knowledge of new language.

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