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10 Japanese slang terms you may want to know

Three monkeys at Nikko Toshogu

Here's another installment in the Fairly Useless Japanese series, about some slang words that you may see bandied about. I've tried to exclude terms that seem to be too trendy and fly-by-night, or too specific to a certain age group. Basically these are terms and phrases that even I (an obasan) know. They may give you a bit of insight into the world of Japanese social media too.

They are presented in no particular order, even though I've numbered them.

1. Bae, or Insuta-bae (映え インスタ映え)

This word may look like the English slang term "bae", pronounced "bay", but is pronounced ba-EH, and written as 映え. It means something that is photogenic and looks good online, especially on Insuta (インスタ), Instagram. The influence of Instagram on Japanese spending habits is immense, as it is in many other places, especially amongst younger women and girls. Whole industries are shaken by whether something is bae. The verb form is baeru (映える), looks good/is photogenic.

2. ~jo (~女)

This, which means female or woman, is a suffix applied to a wide variety of things, to indicate female fans or aficionados of something that they might not be thought to be fans of according to stereotypical ideas of what the females of the word are interested in. Some examples:

  • Su-jo (スー女) - female sumo fans
  • Tetsujo (鉄女) - female train otaku
  • Rekijo (歴女) - female history buffs
  • Hakajo (墓女) - females who like to visit famous peoples' graves

Variations of the ~jo suffix are ~ga-ru (〜ガール, girl) and ~joshi (女子, girl or woman), such as:

  • Yama ga-ru (山ガール) - female mountain climbers
  • Sakka-joshi (サッカー女子) - female soccer (football) fans
  • Ka-pu joshi (カープ女子) - Hiroshima Carp (baseball team) fans

There is of course a rather condescending tone to this kind of label, and the reporting on these fans tends to be very stereotyped, such as stating that female fans of sumo (su-jo) are mainly interested in cute and "ikemen" (good looking) rikishi like Enho and Endo. I count myself as a sumo fan, and I am female, but I'm not there for ikemen at all. I actually do not like Endo and think he is vastly overrated.

sumo rikishi Enho

Enho, on the other hand, is adorable.

And why shouldn't women be interested in history, or climbing mountains, or follow a baseball team? It implies that all women are frivolous and shallow in their interests, which is - well, not the case for everyone. There are shallow fans of all genders.

The only one on the list above that has a male equivalent is rail fans (called tetsu-o, 鉄男).

3. Yo-tsube (ようつべ)

This is a fun one. It just means YouTube, but why? Well, if you type out "youtube" while your keyboard is in Japanese-romaji mode, it's converted to hiragana as ようつべ. So this is how YouTube is often called.

5. Ria-juu (リア充)

This is a portmanteau word combining "real" (リアル)with "juu-jitsu" (充実), to be fulfilling or fulfilled. It points to people who have fulfilling, interesting lives in real life, and/or have real life (vs. virtual) girlfriends/boyfriends, by those who do not.

It's sometimes used in a derogatory way to refer to the type of people that are called hipsters in the U.S. - ones with interesting jobs in IT or creative fields, often wearing woolly hats in all weather and sporting facial hair and loose, comfy yet surprisingly expensive clothes.

6. Ro-gai (老害)

(Not to be confused with ro-gai written as 労咳, which means tuberculosis.)

The ~gai 害 part means something that is damaging, harmful; and ro- or roh 老 means old, elderly. So ro-gai means an old (or older than the speaker) person who they deem to be harmful and in the way. In other words, it's used in Japanese as 'boomer' is used in the U.S. (as in "ok boomer") for younger people to express their disdain towards older people, especially older males.

7. Pakuru, pakutsui (パクる パクツイ)

The word pakuru (verb) is older, and means to steal from someone or rip someone off/copy them without their consent. The etymology is uncertain - one theory is that it comes from the onomatopoeia paku paku (パクパク), which means to munch on something enjoyably (kind of equivalent to the English slang term nom nom). Another is that it comes from the word hobaku (捕縛), to arrest. Someone who pakuru (or pakutta in past tense) as well as the act of pakuru is a pakuri (noun).

Pakutsui is a variant of pakuru. It combines paku with tsui ツイ, which is short for Twitter (ツイッター). So it's a tweet that copies someone else's tweet, blog post and so on.

8. Neto uyo and Payoku(ネトウヨ パヨク)

This is a combination of "net" or internet (neto) with uyo, which is short for uyoku (右翼 - 'right wing') - a person with right leaning or conservative political views. It refers to someone who spits out racist, nationalist/xenophobic, mysogynistic or just plain insulting views anonymously online, but would never do or say anything face to face because they are too timid or have a polite façade. Japanese social media and online communities are full of neto uyo unfortunately.

The opposite of neto uyo politically is a payoku (パヨク), a liberal. The proper word for someone who is left leaning is sayoku (左翼 - 'left wing'), but payoku is used to denigrate someone who leans left. The term liberal (リベラル), imported from English, is also often used in a derogatory way.

9. ~ hara (~ハラ)

Another suffix that is applied very liberally. It comes from the English word harassment, shortened so that it's hard to recognize the origins, as happens a lot in Japanese. It's used in words that imply harassement or abuse. Examples:

  • Seku hara (セクハラ) - sexual harassment, usually by a male to a female
  • Powa hara(パワハラ) - "power harassment" - workplace harassment; someone in a higher position bullying people under them (or perceived to be doing so).
  • Mora hara (モラハラ) - "moral harassment" - verbal harassment that is not physical, but hurtful nonetheless.
  • Seka hara (セカハラ) - "secondary harassment" - called second rape or victim-blaming in English, where people who have been sexually assaulted are subjected to scrutiny, criticm and abuse by the law enforcement system, people around them, social media and so on.
  • Mata hara (マタハラ) - "maternity harassment" - the various forms of abuse and discrimation that pregnant women experience.

As you can see, 'hara' is applied to a lot of terms to just means something that is a form of bullying or assault or annoying someone. Sometimes it gets applied in ridiculous ways, such as the viral (and erroneous) story about nu-hara (ヌーハラ) or "noodle harassment" a few years ago, where it was claimed (as it turns out by one Twitter user) that some foreign tourists felt offended when Japanese people slurped their noodles in front of them.

According to this page, there are at least 35 forms of 'hara' that are considered to be legitimate.

10. Aza-su, Azao (あざーす あざお)

To end on a lighter note: The term aza-su is older (maybe by a couple of decades at least) than azao, but both are derived from the standard Japanese for "thank you", arigatougozaimasu (ありがとうございます). If you say it fast, it can sound like "aza-su". Now aza-su is a pretty standard "thank you" variation, especially in relaxed situations, and amongst younger males. Azao is a more recent variation.

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