I’m addicted to following the Instagram and YouTube accounts of foreigners in Japan. Not only can it be really cool to see a different perspective on the country, you can also learn some great stuff, too. Take this video by Rachel of “Rachel & Jun” fame, together with “Texan in Tokyo” (aka Grace) as they explain five words you didn’t know were Japanese!

The video begins with a pretty easy one that nonetheless might have slipped by a lot of people: “Rickshaw”. Yep, as Rachel and Grace explain, rickshaw comes from the Japanese word jinrikisha. Check out the video to find out what each component of the word means and have your mind blown (or just raise an eyebrow a fraction of an inch from behind your computer screen, if that’s more your style).

Next up is “tycoon.” This one comes from some pretty outdated Japanese, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t guess it!

Number 3 on the list is “futon”. Now, in the U.K., where I’m from, we don’t really use the word futon, so I was actually quite surprised to learn that it’s a fairly common thing to sleep on in the U.S. (see, you learn something new every day!). Still, as Rachel and Grace explain, Japanese futons and American futons are kinda different.

Number 4 is one that we were never going to guess in a million years… “urushiol”! Wait, what? You’ll have to watch the video, because Rachel can explain this one better than me!

The final word is “umami”, which means “a state of total awareness”. Oh, no, wait, that’s unagi.


Umami is actually believed to be a new “taste” to go along with bitter, sweet, salty and sour. Have you heard of this one already?

You can watch the full video featuring these two super-lovely, very knowledgeable ladies below. But don’t fall down a YouTube hole and leave us, because we also have more to say on the subject!

While the video is definitely fun and informative in and of itself, it really piqued our interest in what is actually a fascinating topic. In fact, there’re actually quite a few Japanese words out there that we’re going around casually using in our daily lives without really stopping to think about where they came from (English is, after all, a language that beats up other languages in dark alleys and goes through their pockets for spare vocabulary…) We gace the matter some thought, and came up with this list of five.

1. Skosh – Have you ever heard the expression “just a skosh”? It’s used occasionally in the U.K. and the U.S. and means exactly the same as it does in its Japanese form sukoshi, “a little bit”. Next time you’re at Starbucks and they ask if you want whipped cream on top, why not try using this new addition to your vocabulary? You’ll sound all cultured and stuff.

2. Bokeh – You know that cool, blurry effect that appears sometimes in photographs? Think of a photograph of a Christmas Tree with lots of blurry, pretty lights. That’s bokeh. Bokeh comes from the Japanese word boke, which means basically “lack of focus/sharpness”. It can also be used in the sense of “spacing out” or acting spacey. Nani boketen no? means “What are you spacing out for?”

▼ Here’s some nice Tokyo bokeh.

Flickr © Kevin Dooley

3. Satsuma – When I was a kid I used to love eating these little mandarin oranges. Of course, I had no idea I was speaking Japanese. These sweet citrus fruits are named after the feudal Satsuma region of Japan which covered most of the western half of present-day Kagoshima Prefecture on Kyushu.

4. Honcho – the “head honcho” is the boss, the person in charge, the big cheese. And in Japanese it means pretty much the same: head, chief.

5. Bukkake – If you know this one, then we already have a pretty good idea of your browsing habits. Shame on you! This word has gotten quite popular on the internet lately, but all it means is to splash or pour something. It’s a pretty common word on food menus, and “bukkake udon”(udon noodles with broth poured over them) is actually quite delicious! You can also get “bukkake meshi” (rice with broth poured on) and “bukkake soba” (soba noodles with broth poured on). So get your minds out of the gutter and make sure you order a big bowl of it next time you’re in Japan. We promise no one will laugh.

Disclaimer: RocketNews24 accepts no responsibility for any repercussions stemming from Googling “bukkake” at work.

▼ Mmm… bukkake.

Wikipedia © Deijisei

Note how we haven’t patronised our good readers by including the obvious stuff like “sushi”, “anime”, “tsunami”,  “ramen”, “karate”, etc. We figure most people already have at least an inkling that those words are Japanese (except ramen is Chinese, but whatever.) Can you think of any words we might have missed that aren’t so obvious? Let us know in the comments!

Source: Rachel & Jun’s YouTube
Screenshots via YouTube