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Fairly Useless Japanese: "Maji Manji", a JK slang term

Maji manji (マジ卍)

This is the start of a series (the first series on Just My Japan) about the Japanese language.

In Japanese popular culture, high school girls, or JK (joshi kohsei 女子高生) get a disproportionate amount of attention, especially from adults. They are regarded as both fashion and trendsetters as well as curious alien beings. Their occasional problematic behavior is wildly exaggerated, and they are often fetishized by older men. As in most countries, there is a definite generation gap, and the adults shake their heads and throw up their hands and declare them impossible to understand. (Curiously, high school boys are not paid nearly as much attention. This perhaps contrasts with the heavy emphasis put on the behavior and preferences of young men, especially the "18 to 35" age range, in many western countries.)

One part of the JK culture that is paid a lot of attention to is their slang. JK slang spreads a lot faster these days due to the proliferation of social media outlets, especially the ubiquitous Line. So the phrase I am going to describe today is apparently already quite passé. Nevertheless, here it is because it was such as curious one.

Maji Manji (マジ卍)

The phrase Maji Manji made its first appearance sometime in 2017. It is written マジ卍; the マジ(maji) part means "for reals", and the 卍 (manji) part is the...well yes I know what you are thinking right now. "OMG, it's the swastika!!" It is the swastika, but the direction of the bent parts goes in the opposite direction from the swastika used by the Nazis.

The manji used to be used as parts of a kamon 家紋 or family crest by various powerful families, but its primary use these days is to indicate Buddhist temples. It's the symbol used on maps to indicate the locations of temples, and many temples large and small have a manji somewhere on their entryway, on a shrine, and so on. The symbol itself comes from Sanskrit - you can read about that on Wikipedia.

Proposed map symbol change for Buddhist temples

A map symbol change on maps for "foreigners" was proposed back in 2016 in advance of the 2020 Olympics, but it was scrapped due to strong objections by the Japanese public.

But what does Maji Manji mean?

The large manji banner at Zenko-ji in Nagano

The large manji banner at Zenko-ji in Nagano is thought by some to be the inspiration for the "maji manji" pose. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-2.0)

The original meaning of maji manji is an expression of joy or approval[1]. It seems one expresses approval for something by saying "maji manji!" and making a manji-like pose, like the ones in this video from 2017:

Real JK, real manji poses.

There are several variations of the maji manji pose, but they all involve making a bent-cross like shape with the limbs. Here's another variation.

As Maji Manji became popular and spread somewhat to the non-JK population, the pose itself became abbreviated, to a simple crossing of the arms and so on. Eventually the pose itself has gotten abbreviated, so simply saying "maji manji", or just "manji" on its own, indicates a feeling of approval or joy. In other words, the manji term and symbol are being used rathe like a thumbs up like.

But...why the manji symbol?

But, why was the manji symbol used in the first place? And aren't those JK aware of how controversial and inflammatory it is in the west?

To answer the first question, (and some of this is just my speculation, since the question of the origins of maji manji have puzzled even professional linguists,) from what I gather the manji symbol was simply adopted because it looks funny when you pose in that shape. It's a bit reminiscent of exaggerated poses in manga or anime. And combining it with the word 'maji' is an alliteration that sounds good.

As far as the second question goes, again this is just my guess but -- nope, not in the slightest. They may be vaguely aware of the controversy, but they probably do not give it much thought. The JK is characterized in general as a group that only cares about the opinions of their peers. This can be a good thing, such as their total disregard of the current diplomatic tensions between Japan and South Korea, which had lead to things like boycotts and protests on either side by other groups. Japanese JK continue to be infatuated with all things South Korean, from K-Pop to cosmetics to fashion to Korean food, and they don't really give a toss for the fights amongst adults. Similarly, they don't give much thought to the religious symbolism of the manji, much less its relationship to the Nazis and the Holocaust decades ago in a faraway place. Which may not be such a good thing, but JK are what they are.

  1. The term 'manji' on its own without the 'maji' part was apparently used as early as 2013, but it had negative connotations back then, indicating that someone had 'yankee' tendencies. That term 'yankee' is something I need to address in this series too. ^_^  ↩

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