One day in college, my business operations management professor was talking about Japanese automaker Toyota, and about the huge impact of its production processes and corporate culture on the business world. “Toyota owes much of its success to its kaizen system,” he told us, and while I largely agreed with what he was saying, I didn’t really agree with how he was saying it.

See, while Toyota’s ideal of continually looking for better, more efficient ways of handling tasks is nifty and all, there’s nothing particularly special about the word kaizen, which just means “improvement.” Even as someone who’s spent most of his life looking for excuses to speak Japanese, insisting on using the word kaizen, when otherwise speaking English, has always seemed a little odd to me.

Oddly enough, though, right now there’s probably a Toyota employee sitting at his desk and scratching his head over one of his Japanese coworker’s penchant for using foreign loanwords, many of which might be on this list of the top 10 commonly used English business terms that Japanese businessmen wish their colleagues would use Japanese for.

Despite the results essentially being a call for greater simplicity, the process for calculating the top 10 was actually somewhat complicated. In the survey, conducted by iResearch, 200 participants between the ages of 20 and 39 were presented with a list of 28 English loanwords commonly used when discussing business in Japanese. They were then asked to select the top three that they don’t see the need to use English for, with their number-one choice getting three points, their number-two pick gathering two points, and finally their number-three selection picking up a single point. The overall tallies were used to determine the final rankings.

To help give a sense of the confusion these Japanese businessmen sometimes feel, we’re going to list each entry first by its Japanese pronunciation, which given the language’s limited set of sounds is sometimes quite different from how it’s said in English.

10. pendingu (33 points)

Horyuu and chuushi were offered as indigenous alternatives, but the former is closer to “reserved” and the latter “suspended” than the English “pending.”

9. shea (41 points)

Some say they’d rather use kyouyuu, which does indeed mean “share.” However, kyouyuu usually refers to the legal joint ownership of something, as opposed to the share of a market that a company or product controls.

8. jasuto aidia (42 points)

Technically, this isn’t even a loanword, but wasei eigo, a homegrown Japanese phrase crafted out of ill-understood English parts. Linguistically, Japan has only a tenuous grasp on how to properly use the word “just,” and a “just idea” is an idea that just suddenly came to mind.

7. fikkusu (53 points)

No, this isn’t a drunken salary man trying to use English to cuss out his boss with no one being the wiser. It’s a corrupted pronunciation of “fix,” in the sense of “a fixed plan,” being used instead of the Japanese kettei (decision or settlement).

6. konsensasu (58 points)

Given how characteristic consensus building is of Japanese business practices, it is a little ironic that the English “consensus” is so often used instead of the Japanese goui.

5. ajenda (67 points)

You could say kidai (discussion topic) or kadai (subject), but “agenda” has a more comprehensive feel compared to its Japanese counterparts, which are often more evocative of bullet point items.

4. supekku (87 points)

Not to be confused with seppuku (ritual suicide), “spec” is often the norm for discussing numerical technological performance indicators, instead of nouryoku (ability) or seinou (capability).

3. ebidensu (92 points)

Now stepping onto the podium is “evidence,” which as far as we know hasn’t demonstrated any clear advantages over the Japanese shouko (evidence).

2. yuuzaa (125 points)

On the other hand, it’s actually pretty easy to see why “user” caught on, since it does double duty compared to its Japanese alternatives. While riyousha does translate literally as “user,” the word can have a stiff, formal ring to it, and shouhisha (consumer) carries a bit of the connotation that the product is used up in the process. Yuuzaa/user, though, is a bit more stylish and flexible than those two purely Japanese options.

1. komittomento (149 points)

And at the top of the list we have “commitment.” Once again, though, the nuance here seems to be a bit different than the Japanese terms offered as substitutes. Yakusoku (promise) implies a specific agreement, and shuuchuu (concentration) seems to be even farther off the mark of the sort of broad yet somewhat vague dedication implied by commitment.

But setting aside the questionable accuracy of some of the purported Japanese equivalents, the fact is that all of the words here were in fact cited as annoyances by several of the respondents, not so much because they couldn’t understand them than because they felt that Japanese people using them were trying to make their words sound more important than they really are.

It’s also worth noting that, for whatever reason, iResearch limited its survey to male respondents. Given the, on average, greater interest in and affinity for foreign languages among Japanese women than men, it’s likely the list would have looked somewhat different had the opinions of businesswomen been among its components.

Still, even though we’re no strangers to wanting to use a foreign word that perfectly captures what you’re trying to say, shifting gears and use entirely Japanese terminology might be wise should your Japanese client greet any of these 10 words with a sudden frown.

Source: Yahoo! Japan/R25