Glossary N-Z

ROMANIZATIONIN JAPANESEDEFINITION
N
Nakayoshi, nakayoshi 仲良し、仲良しUsed like this toward children, it is meant as a reminder that you are good friends and to thus, stop quarreling. A nice way to admonish, I think! Literally means “good friends.”
namae名前name
Nanatsu no ko七つの子The name of a famous folk song that everyone can sing the first few lines of.
nariyukiなりゆきfate. Literally how it unfolds is how I go… or something like that. A sense of destiny beyond one’s control.
natsusummer
natsubate夏バテ A special word used to describe suffering in the summer due to the oppressive heat. When you get natsubate you don’t feel like eating and you can quickly succumb to the heat. Natsu means summer and the bate comes from the verb bateru which means to be exhausted.
natsukashii懐かしいnostalgic. This word gets a LOT of use in Japan.
nattō納豆fermented soybeans. I have never even wanted to try nattō and there is a fierce battle between the nattō camp and the not nattō camp. I’m sure they are quite healthy, but yuck. Generally, people in Kyoto do not eat it. I rest my case.
nekocat(s)
Neko ga ippiki mo imasen 猫が一匹もいません“I don’t have a single cat. Not even one… “ Neko=cat. This was my very sad sad state when my two elderly cats died. But I remedied it. See this post.
nekutaiネクタイnecktie
nezumiねずみmouse or rat
nezumi no undōkai ねずみの運動会literally “a field day for mice” or a sports event for mice. It’s what you say when you hear mice in the ceiling or walls. Cute, right? Undōkai are a whole other topic and they happen in the fall, most popularly at the elementary school level.
nichiyōbi日曜日Sunday
nikuman 肉饅a kind of dumpling with meat inside. This has Chinese origins.
Nihon日本Japan
nihongo日本語 the Japanese language
nihonjin日本人Japanese person or people
ninjin人参carrot
ninpu妊婦pregnant woman
Nishiki Market錦場Google it, if you don’t know it. It’s a famous food shopping street in downtown Kyoto. It might be more famous for being crowded than for food at this point, but admittedly, you have to visit it.
niwagarden
Nodo Jimanのど自慢song show. Please read the wikipedia entry here. I can’t explain it in a few sentences and do it justice.
nuno omutsu布おむつcloth diapers (as opposed to disposable diapers which are kami omutsu)
O
obāsanおばあさんgrandmother, granny, or any old woman of this age. (I am one now and I wear it with pride)
obonお盆a holiday in August (or July in some areas) when ancestors return. So, many people travel back to their own home towns to greet them. Basically it serves as a summer holiday break.
ōbunオーブンoven. There is no V sound in Japanese so it usually converts to a B sound.
ochazukeお茶漬けa bowl of rice with tea poured over it, usually served with a variety of pickles in Kyoto. It can also have salmon, or other ingredients with it. It’s a great late night snack.
odenおでんa type of food that is sold by street venders and in bars (it practically cries out for beer) and now in 7-11 and other stores. It has an unmistakable smell to it due to the fish products it uses. A lot of non-Japanese fail to see the charm of it. But in the winter, before many homes had heat, it was a great way to warm up before returning to a stone cold room.
ofukuro no ajiお袋の味the taste of mom’s home cooking
ofuroお風呂the bath. Note that the honorific “o” is attached because I wouldn’t dream of saying it without honoring it.
ohashiお箸chopsticks. Note the honorific “o” here as well.
ohayō chanお早うちゃんThe Kyoto way of saying good morning to a child
ohayō gozaimasuお早うございますgood morning. This is a very polite way of saying it. WIth friends you can just use ohayō .
ohayō sanお早うさんThe Kyoto way of saying good morning. Used widely in the Kansai area (Western Japan).
ohiruお昼noon, but often used to mean lunch
oishii美味しいdelicious
ojigiお辞儀 a bow, as in bowing, not bow and arrow
ojisanおじさんuncle or man around that age
ojīsanお爺さんold man or grandfather
okaneお金money
okāsanお母さんmother
okonomiyakiお好み焼きa savory pancake that you cook on a grill. Osaka and Hiroshima are both famous for their versions.
Okyaku-samaお客様This is the polite way for someone to address a customer, be it in a store, hotel, or in my case, bus.
omawari–sanお巡りさんpolice officer
Omedetō gozaimasuおめでとうございますCongratulations!
omiaiお見合いarranged marriage meeting. Usually what happens is that photos and written profiles are exchanged and if there is an interest, a meeting is arranged. Better than match.com perhaps?
omiai kekkon思い出arranged marriage. This is in contrast to renai kekkon 恋愛結婚 which is a “love marriage.”
ōmisoka大晦日New Year’s Eve
omoide思い出memory or memories. A word that is used very often in Japan as omoide are considered very precious.
onaraおならfart, pass wind
onna no ko女の子girl, young girl
onna shujinkō女主人公onna means woman and shujinkō is hero, so together they mean heroine.
ookī大きいbig, adjective
Orenji Pēji  オレンジぺーじOrange Page. The name of a popular women’s magazine that comes out twice a month. It’s fairly cheap and geared towards housewives and mothers.
orenji jūsuオレンジジュース orange juice
oshiire押入れtraditional style of double-decker closet found in older homes. It is big and deep enough to hold futon. It’s considered to be a safer place during an earthquake and mothers would often shove the children inside of it when an earthquake began.
Oshinおしんthe morning drama that had everyone in tears. Worth googling for more information. It’s everything.
Osho王将Another cheap Chinese restaurant chain that is famous for gyōza. If you’re young and your stomach can stand it, it’s great food! Best way to get a full stomach for the least amount of money.
Oshōgatsuお正月New Year’s. The Japanese celebrate it on January 1, i.e. not when China does.
oshūjiお習字the study of traditional Japanese calligraphy
otenkiお天気weather. Yes, it gets that honorific “o”
oteraお寺temple. Of course this word uses the honorific “o” in front of it. Remember, temples are Buddhist and shrines are Shinto. Also, you can’t use this word for a synagogue.
otokoman
otoko no ko男の子boy or boys
otōsanお父さんfather. This is what a child would call their father, or perhaps Papa.
otoshiyoriお年寄りsenior citizen
oyako親子parent and child. There is also a rice dish called oyako donburi, which is chicken and egg on rice. Get it?
Oyasumi nasaiおやすみなさいGood night
oyatsuおやつa snack, used mostly for children. Adults might take a midafternoon break and call it “osanji” or a “3 o’clock.”
P
panchi paamaパンチパーマpunch perm. A tightly permed hairstyle that was popular for members of the Japanese crime world back in the 1970’s and maybe still. For some reason, older singers also like this look so you can’t say someone’s a criminal for sure if they wear their hair like this. But, if they aren’t a singer, it might give you pause.
panパンbread
panyasanパン屋さんbakery. It has a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it, though, since bakery is one of those words that is now used widely around Japan.
pika pikaぴかぴかOne of the many onomatopoeic Japanese expressions. A new penny is pika pika as is anything shiny and new.
potetoポテトYou might think this is how you say potato, but you’d be wrong. This means french fries. Potato has its own word.
R
rajio taisōラジオ体操radio exercise. Explanation to come…. It’s an important tradition in Japan at this point.
rakkī !ラッキーLucky!!
Randen 嵐電a small tram to Arashiyama
reimen冷麺cold Chinese noodles in the Kansai area. See also hiyashi chūka.
remonレモン lemon
renjiレンジrange. A shortened way to refer to a kitchen countertop gas range.
renrakuchō連続series. So renzoku asadora means “a serialized morning drama”
resutoranレストラン restaurant. There are many ways to say restaurant in Japanese depending on the type of food it serves. You would not use this for a cheap Chinese joint or an eatery that serves only soba. It implies Western-like food and probably came into popularity due to the 1970s invasion of “famirī restoran -ファミリーレストラン” like Big Boy and Dennys. Shorter still, famiresu (ファミレス)
Retasu KurabuレタスクラブLettuce Club. The name of a popular women’s magazine that comes out twice a month. It’s fairly cheap and geared towards housewives and mothers.
retoroレトロretro
ringoリンゴapple
ringo jūsuリンゴジュースapple juice
ringo no ki りんごの木apple tree. Literally the tree of apples.
ryūstyle or school, You have different ryū in tea ceremony, karate, flower arranging, etc. People are very loyal to their ryū.
ryūgakusei留学生study abroad student
S
sakanafish
sakuraさくらcherry blossom or tree
sakura mochiさくらもちa Japanese sweet which is pink, contains red bean paste wrapped in sweet glutinous rice and then further wrapped in a salted sakura leaf.
sakusen作戦plan or strategy
samuraiI can’t even. You know this. Okay, warrior. Did you really not know this?!
sanma秋刀魚a type of fish, (Pacific) saury. Though available all year long, it is associated with autumn.
sanrinsha三輪車tricycle
sansai三才three years old. three + suffix for age
sasugaさすがindeed!” or “as you might have expected”
satō砂糖sugar
satsumaimoサツマイモsweet potato. Literally a potato from Satsuma
sedai世代generation. Used to specify a certain age range.
seikatsu生活life style, or how you are living your life
seishun 青春youth. Often combined with jidai, which means era or period to talk nostalgically about younger days
sekihan赤飯red rice. Just as delicious as it sounds? It’s made with azuki beans and usually sprinkled with black sesame seeds
semiセミcicada. I feel like the ones in Japan are super noisy. The Japanese describe their call as “min, min.”
senbei煎餅Japanese rice crackers
senpūki扇風機electric fan. There are other words used for handheld fans depending on the type. I may get into that later.
sensei先生Don’t we all know this is teacher, thanks to the martial arts? It’s also the prefix used for doctors.
sentakki洗濯機washing machine
sentaku洗濯laundry
sentō銭湯public bath. I will probably talk a lot about it in this blog because it was my life for many many years.
senzai洗剤laundry detergent
shako-yuki 車庫行きthe sign on the front of a bus (in this case) announcing it is heading for the garage and not necessarily doing the regular route since many routes are circular. Shako means garage and yuki in this case indicates the destination
shamisen三味線three-stringed traditional Japanese instrument
shanpūシャンプーshampoo
shashin写真photograph(s)
shimai toshi姉妹都市sister city. Kyoto has a number of these relationships. For the US, it is Boston.
shinamon tōsutoシナモントーストcinnamon toast. Order it if you ever see it on a menu at an old-fashioned coffee shop. Japan does it really well!
shinbun新聞newspaper
shichimenchō七面鳥turkey. Not at all a popular food in Japan.
Shinjuku Eki新宿駅Shinjuku is a place in Tokyo. It also often refers to the station there, even without eki which means station. It’s chaotic, confusing, busy, and there may be people lost in there right now.
shinkansen新幹線bullet train
shinsetsu親切kind, kindly
shio/kosho塩・胡椒 salt/pepper
shioppoi塩っぽいsalty. Shio alone is salt.
shisōshi思想史literally the history of thought. I guess ideology works for a translation.
shitagi下着underwear
shitsumon質問question
shizuka静かquiet/peaceful
shōbuyu菖蒲湯Bath with iris bulbs in it for Children’s Day. See illustration.
shōga生姜 (raw) ginger. Please note that you can’t use this for the pickled ginger served with sushi. Sushi has its own vocabulary for things.
shōgakkō小学校elementary school. Japanese elementary school goes from Grades 1-6 in most cases. After WW2 the American system of the time was thrust upon them so that they still have three years of junior high and three years of high school.
shōgakusei小学生elementary school students
shokkuショックshock(s), surprise
Showa昭和the era of Japan that waxes oh so nostalgic for those of us who lived it. It represents the reign of Emperor Hirohito and goes from 1926-1989. Of course most people are nostalgic about the last forty years of it, though those war years are not to be forgotten.
shōyu醤油soy sauce. You need to memorize this term if you haven’t already. It’s a must know!
shukudai宿題homework
shūmatsu週末weekend
shungiku春菊chrysanthemum leaf is what the dictionary says for this. It’s very good in sukiyaki.
sō desu neそうですね“Is that so?” or “hmmm” or “well, yes.” I once had a whole conversation with a little old lady where I didn’t understand a word of it and simply murmured this phrase the whole time. It took her a while to catch on, so this is a handy phrase.
soba蕎麦buckwheat noodles
sōsharumediaソーシャルメディアsocial media
sōzō想像imagination
sugoiすごいamazing
sunakkuスナックOkay, you’re looking at it and you think it means snack. And it does… now. But in the 1970s this is what we called a bar. I think it is falling out of favor now, but you can still see signage for older bars using this term.
sutetekoステテコanother kind of underwear
sotsugyō卒業graduation. Note that in Japan entrance ceremonies are a bigger thing than graduations. That is, it is harder to get in than to get out!
SukinshippuスキンシップA pseudo-Anglicism describing a close relationship like the one between mother and child. Or the act of getting closer by hanging out together. When I first heard this term and told people it didn’t exist in English they were shocked… simply shocked. Then what do you call it, they asked? Good question.
sūpāスーパーsupermarket
suzushī涼しいcool. Note that there is a different word for cool to the touch or cool as in stand-offish. Suzushī is used for weather situations.
T
tabemono食べ物food
takenoko竹の子bamboo shoots
takenoko gohan竹の子ご飯bamboo shoot rice. You cook the rice with the bamboo and a few other ingredients. It isn’t spring in Japan if you don’t eat this. And if you’re eating this, it IS spring.
takiwaterfall
takumashiiたくましいstrong, capable, sturdy
takushiiタクシーtaxi
tamagoたまご egg
tamago-yaki卵焼きJapanese style omelette
Tanabata七夕a festival that generally falls on July 7, but varies from region to region. In English it often gets translated as the Star Festival.
tanjōbi誕生日birthday
tanki daigaku短期大学junior or two-year college
taorukettoタオルケットa summer blanket made out of cotton towel material. They are wonderful on a hot summer’s night and are often given as gifts.
tatami畳みbamboo mats that used to cover almost all floors in houses and apartments. Sadly, they are disappearing in new construction. There is nothing like the smell of fresh tatami.
tehand or hands
teinei丁寧polite, or used to describe something done with attention to detail
teishokuya定食屋the kind of old fashioned eatery that serves set meals usually with soup, rice, a main dish, pickles and a side dish. They often have daily specials.
“teishu wa genki de, rusu ga ii”亭主は元気で留守が良いTeishu =master of the house, genki=healthy, rusu=not home, ii = good. Wa, de, and ga are particles that hold the expression together. “Husbands should be healthy and not around the house too much.”
tengoku天国heaven or paradise
Teramachi寺町Literally temple town. It’s a famous street in Kyoto. Part of it is an arcade, but the northern part of it is a lovely street filled with old shops and temples. Mostly. There are now two conbini on the street as well, but it is still charming to me.
terebi bangumi テレビ番組 television + program, tv program
tōgarashi唐辛子hot pepper
toireトイレthis is a general word for toilet. Men might use benjo 便所 (literally ‘convenient place’) instead and women could delicately use otearai お手洗い (literally ‘to wash hands’).
Tōkōji東光寺the name of a temple in Meguro Ward. It’s very much off the beaten track so only locals would visit it. Or parents of the students at their kindergarten. It also has a cemetery as the temple was created in memory of the death of a ten year old.
tokubetsu shō特別賞special award
torēnāトレーナーwhat we Americans call a sweatshirt
tsuyu梅雨rainy season. The characters literally say “plum rain.” It sounds so poetic, doesn’t it. Ha!
U
uchimizu打ち水The deliberate sprinkling of water on the pavement to cool the air. Does it really work? They say that even looking at the water should make you feel cooler….
uchiwaうちわhand -held fan
udoうどspikenard or mountain asparagus. Another mountain vegetable.
uinnā panウインナーパンwiener or hot dog bread
umeboshi梅干しpickled plum
untenshu運転手driver
ureshii嬉しいhappy
usagiウサギrabbit
utasong
W
“wareware nihonjin wa”我々日本人は “We Japanese.” It’s a pompous or slightly academic way to start a sentence when you are going to describe some national trait of the Japanese people.
washoku和食Japanese food/meal, i.e. not Western or Chinese
Y
yakisoba焼きそばa fried noodle dish that can be kind of junk food.
Yamaguchi Momoe山口百恵 one of the most popular of the so-called idol singers. She retired when she got married. All of Japan wept on that day.
yasai野菜vegetable(s)
yasai itame野菜炒めliterally stir-fried vegetables. Considered to be a proper dinner dish, though you’d want to be sure there was also protein involved.
yasui安いcheap (adjective)
yatto wakarimashitaやっと分かりましたI finally understand.
yōchien幼稚園this usually gets translated as kindergarten, but can include classes of 3,4 and 5 year olds. It contrasts with daycare centers which are called hoikuen.
yōfuku洋服clothes. Western style clothes. There’s a different word for Japanese style clothing.
yokareashikare良かれ悪しかれfor better or for worse
yubaゆばa soybean product often called tofu skin as it it forms on the top of soy milk during the processing of tofu
yudōfu湯豆腐a simple tofu dish. The quality of the tofu is what makes this dish. It’s all about the tofu.
yukata浴衣summer kimono. These are generally made of cotton. In my mind, if it is not cotton, it is not genuine, i.e. please do not wear any made from rayon or polyester. Cringeworthy!
yonige夜逃げliterally night running away or absconding into the night. This is, unfortunately, more common in Japan than you can imagine and is usually due to debt or being unable to support one’s family.
yubi指 finger
yunomi湯飲みteacup
yurai由来origin, roots
yūrei幽霊ghost, or spirit. More spirit than ghost, i.e not a Halloween type of ghost.
yuwakashiki湯沸器tankless hot water heater
yuzuゆずa Japanese citrus. Becoming more popular and known here in the States now.
Z
zabuton座布団floor cushion
zen wa isoge善は急げ  “Do good things fast” or “Don’t hesitate to do good