15 English Words You Will Only Hear in Japan

English is something of an international language, and so it tends to make out with a lot of native tongues. In Japan, I hear a lot of English phrases scattered into otherwise Japanese conversations. Most of them, however, make no sense to anyone who isn’t Japanese.
It’s called “wasei-eigo,” or “Japanese-Made English.” Most Japanese don’t know that these expressions are incomprehensible, but I’ve made an effort to learn them because I hate embarrassing people when they try to show me their English.

Here’s a list of some English words you won’t understand in Japan, used in a sample sentence.

The go-to word for “pop” or “soda,” ie, anything carbonated that isn’t beer.
“This cider is just what I need after a long run.” 

Doctor Stop
A pithy phrase used when the doctor tells you to stop.
“I really want a cigarette. But I can’t do it, man. Doctor stop.”

Long-Life Coolant
“The dog died. It drank the long-life coolant.”

Fashion Health 
A Brothel.
“I lost my virginity to fashion health.”

Guts Pose
A Fist Bump.
“Some say Barack Obama’s odd gesture with Michelle was a terrorist guts pose.”

Handle Keeper 
The designated driver.
“I got totally wasted. Good thing my bro was an awesome handle keeper.”

The In Key
A key that has been locked inside of your car.
“Oh man. The in key is right there!” 

“That party had too much tension. I couldn’t stop dancing!”  

Gender Free 
Sexual Equality.
“There’s been a lot of tension here since this office went gender-free.”

Juice or Soda.
“Do you want a juice? We have cider.” 

Soft Drink
“Do you want a soft drink? We have pine.” 

My Boom 
One’s personal taste in matters of style.
“Pink leopard-print pants match my red-dyed mullet. What can I say? It’s my boom.”

“Rick sure is moody. Why don’t we promote him?”

“Oh, this pine flavored cider looks delicious!” 

A Poet.
“Yeah, well, I don’t need to play sports to get girls. I’m gonna be a really good poemer.”

Follow This Japanese Life on Facebook to enhance your boom. 

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34 Responses to 15 English Words You Will Only Hear in Japan

  1. Popsicle says:

    Wow… Drinks are confusing…

  2. When I lived in Montreal, “Spruce Beer” or pine-flavored soda was one of the regular beverage options. It tasted like fizzy Pinesol.

    • owwls says:

      Wow. I can envision Pine Sol in a Japanese vending machine, actually.

    • Haruo says:

      I *loved* the spruce beer in Montréal, but that was in 1973. Haven’t been there since, and have hardly ever been able to find spruce beer (and none as good as I recall theirs being). I think it’s more like sweetened Aspen cologne than like Pine-Sol, actually. Do they still have spruce beer in Montréal? Can you order it online?

  3. Emily Wilson says:

    New objective: Just smile and nod, pretend to know what they’re saying…

  4. Brianna says:

    A “boom” is a fad or craze, so I’ve always taken “my boom” to mean “something I’ve been really into/crazy about lately”. It doesn’t have to be style-related; it could also be a hobby, recent interest, etc.

  5. Ashley says:

    Don’t forget “skinship.” Essentially means physical touch/contact, such as with your partner, kids, etc. “Power spot” is another one.

  6. “Camping Car” ~ Recreational Vehicle (RV)

  7. Kaori says:

    So many regarding baseball, I no longer know which is which.

  8. Sputnik says:

    UFO discovery!

  9. john says:

    Actually, “guts pose” isn’t a fist bump; it’s a fist pump or a triumphant pose.

  10. DoaraChan says:

    Yeah, “tension” is funny.

    “Guts pose” is from a world champion boxer in 1974 though many Japanese nowadays would think it as an English word.

    Long-Life Coolant could be used in English though I am not sure. Sometimes, native English speakers are wrong when foreigners use correct words from English technical terms.

  11. Brianna says:

    One more possible correction: I tried to use “guts pose” with the meaning you listed here, but I was meant with blank stares! Apparently it doesn’t mean “fist bump”, but the way a boxer triumphantly raises both fists in the air.

  12. DoaraChan says:

    Today, I thought I used a Japanese-made English word.
    tone down
    , which is commonly used everywhere at マスコミ

    I checked “tone down” and found it was correct English word ……….
    Grrrrr…..I would be suspicious of anything Katakana.

    • Sarah A says:

      Katakana is also used for emphasis, so just because it’s in katakana doesn’t mean it’s a crazy loan word.

  13. danisha says:

    I love this post! Please tell me what “gravure” is.

  14. Chow says:

    So, ‘tension’ means excitement… this explains something I’ve always wondered about! I could never figure out why someone who is “High Tension” is in a good mood and someone “Low Tension” is in a bad mood. I see now; it turns out that it’s not about how much stress (tension) they’re under, but how much energy/excitement they have.

  15. Pingback: Hear japanese | Kaokaokao

  16. I hear “tension” a lot when watching variety shows and it used to confuse me too.

    Also, adding to that list, there’s also “my pace”, meaning to do things in your own way.

    • As for “my pace”, I’ve heard “my car” too. Although it’s not meant the same way as in English; you could say, “He drove his ‘my car’.” In that sense, “my” essentially means “personal” rather than actually “my”.
      I’m not sure if this is entirely true, but I think it is.

  17. Paul says:

    Other countries do that to the English language, too. Ever hear a German mention his “handy” he refers to the cellphone.

  18. Bob Roberts says:

    This must be a kids-only thing. With the exception of “pine”, I’ve never had an adult say any of these things to me.

  19. Jamuko says:

    To add another to the list, one I’ve seen on people’s personal websites a lot: “link free”. “This site is link free!”

    Like “gender-free”, it makes it sound like the site contains no links, when it actually means “you may link to this site freely”. As opposed to needing to ask permission to add a link to their site, I suppose.

    There’s another on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t seem to think of it!

  20. AnnaSan says:

    Reblogged this on Everything Anna and commented:
    How confusing! XD

  21. Haruo says:

    I haven’t been in Japan since 1968. Most of these are news to me (and the ones I do know don’t date from Showa in my head). But I’m wondering if anyone still goes to the Winston Churchill. In Showa 42-43 some English-speaking Japanese (associated with Waseda University) used “Winston Churchill” as a euphemism for トイレ or 便所, from the initials WC (which to my 13-year-old American mind was foreign in itself). “Water closet” was soon explained to me… still felt foreign though.

  22. Giorgos says:

    There are many English words and as well as Portoguese words in Japanese language. I can ensure you that if you look deeper and deeper into the well, you will find an enormous wealth of Greek, Spanish, Chinese, Thai and other English complex words again that they have Japanese undercover sound. However the 50% of the Japanese language is pure Japanese.

  23. Pingback: My Boom | Kyaarori

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