30 Important Katakana Words

Here is a mini dictionary of Katakana Words for those who are studying Japanese and also for those who want to become more fluent in Japanese.

As you know, the words written in Katakana are called Gairaigo (がいらいご) which mean “borrowed word”. They are written as they were heard by the Japanese. Of course the pronunciation which does not exist in the Japanese language, such as “L” or “V”, is converted into “closest” sound, “L” to “R” and “V” to “B”.

Katakana words are sometimes difficult to understand because the meaning differs from the original, which could cause “misunderstanding”. Here I’ve selected 30 katakana words hoping that they can be a good help for your understanding of modern Japanese language.

If you’ve found any other interesting Katakana words, please leave a comment. I will add your selections to this Katakata dictionary!

**NOTICE: the explanations indicated are all my original and they may include my own “distorted” views!

In KatakanaMeaning
In English
Key Points
APAATOアパートan apartment for rent especially old and small one**cf: MANSHON (マンション): a condominium apartment.
The phrase “living in APAATO,” can sometimes involve the risk to use as the word "APAATO" has sometimes a negative impact. Those who bought an apartment tend to hate this expression. So it's always better to use the word MANSHON. In fact there is a word CHINTAI MANSHON which means apartment for rent. **Important: Don’t get shocked even if your friend tells you that she/he is living in a mansion.
ARUBAITOアルバイトa part-time jobThis is a German word for “work”.
The word "ARUBAITO" was used only among intelligent university or college students during Meiji Period (1868–1912) as jargon, and later it was wildly diffused to the public.
BEBIIKAAベビーカーa stroller, a pushchair**cf: Sometimes you will find a car which has a sticker or a small signboard written “BABY IN A CAR”. It scarcely means that they want to drive carefully or they want to be treated politely. I've seen many violent cars with that kind of sticker on…
BSビーエスa satellite channelIt should be an abbreviation of Broadcasting Satellite.
cf: Of course, It has nothing to do with bull shit at all.
DEPAATOデパートa department storeIt is an abbreviation for a department store and it has nothing to do with a departure.
DVディーブイdomestic violence**:Important: Nobody calls it DOMEBAI as SEKUHARA for sexual harassment nor SH for sexual harassment.
FAITOファイトGo for it! It does not include any violent meaning even though it is definitely derived from the English word, “fight”. It can be used peacefully just for cheering.
**cf: I would strongly recommend you to say "IPPAAATSU!" if you happen to hear someone say "FAITO!"
FASUNAAファスナーa zipper**Synonym: CHAKKU
A zipper is called “Fasunaa” in Japan because of the name of the company, Universal Fastener, while “CHAKKU” is because of the company named Chuck Fastener.
Sorry, it's a joke. Chakku is derived from a Japanese style drawstring bag, KINCHAKU.
It had the meaning that it can close tightly as "KINCHAKU" does.
While the English *cf: The word “fastener” can be translated into “NEJI" (ねじ) in Japanese.
HOCHIKISUホチキスa staplerThe first stapler imported in Japan from the USA was the one made by a company, E.H. Hotchkiss. BTW, E.H. Hotchkiss is a brother of Benjamin B. Hotchkiss who developed a revolving barrel machine gun known as the Hotchkiss gun.
HOTTO-KEEKIホットケーキa pancakeRecently the word “pancake” is also commonly used. But the difference between "HOTTO-KEEKI" (hot cake) and pancake is very vague and I personally don’t understand the difference. However, many Japanese have positive image on "pancake" better than on "hot cake" and they are very happy to pay much more (nearly 2000 yen), on the other hand, I've never seen any "hot cake" which costed more than 500 yen.
IYARINGUイヤリングa clip-on earringIf you just say earring, it refers to a clip-on earring in Japan because the majority of Japanese don't have their ears pierced. According to the research done by POLA RESEARCH INSTITUE OF BEAUTY & CULTURE, 33% of Japanese women who have got a piercing. (result of the year 2000)
INFURAインフラinfrastructureNot so many Japanese people may know the whole word.
INFUREインフレinflation**Antonym: DEFURE (デフレ): deflation
**Important: Do NOT mix up with SEFURE (セフレ) which is an abbreviation for a sex friend.
KAMERAMANカメラマンa photographerThere is no specific word for a female photographer.
KURAKUSHONクラクションa vehicle hornThe word is derived from the name of French company, a producer of electromechanical horn and alerting device, Klaxon. In Japan any vehicle horn is called Klaxon no matter the brand.
KUREEMUクレームa complaint**cf: KUREEMAA (クレーマー) is for a complainer.
There should be many Japanese people who believe that an old film “Kramer vs. Kramer” of Dustin Hoffman is about a life of an aggressive complainer.
**cf: HAADO KUREEMAA (ハード・クレーマー) : an aggressive complainer
KUULARRクーラーan air conditioner**Synonym: EAKON (エアコン), an abbreviation for an air conditioner
METABOメタボfatThe word is an abbreviation for Metabolic syndrome. Thus it is not used for young people but for people over thirty years of age (min).
NEEMUBARYUUネームバリューa fame, established names, established reputationUnfortunately a great many products exist only for "NEEMUBARYU" without any substantial value.
OLオーエルOffice lady**See also "SARARIIMAN"
OOTOBAIオートバイa motorcycleAn abbreviation for Auto-bicycle, the word which should have been created by some Japanese.
PATOKAAパトカーa police carAn abbreviation for a patrol car.
Please note that the word "PORIKAA" does NOT exist.
RAIBU-HAUSUライブハウスa music venueMillions of Japanese people believe that “Live house” is a correct English word. A small music venue for mainly hard rock or metal, (visual kei, too) is called Live House and normally without seats. Many RAIBU-HOUSU (live house) is located underground, written as B1 (first basement) or B2 (second basement).
SARARIIMANサラリーマンan office workerNormally it is used only for male office worker.
*See "OL" for a female office worker
SAABISUサービスfree of charge (sometimes it entails self-sacrifice for offering)It should be derived from the English word “service” but in Japan it is mainly used for something provided free of charge. Thus, Customer service is often misunderstood for obeying customer as a slave. Unfortunately there are many customers whose behavior is irrationally consequential. They harass salesclerks with their incredibly irrational complaints.
**Refer to the word KURERMU.
SEKUHARAセクハラsexual harassment**cf: PAWAHARA (パワハラ): power harassment
**See also DV.
SEREBUセレブgorgeous, luxuriousAn abbreviation for celebrity but it is also used for normal people who look gorgeous or luxurious. There is also an adjective, "SEREBU-NA", which is mainly connected with "KIBUN", feeling. It is used for something or some places gorgeous which can make you feel as if you were a celebrity.
SMAATOスマートslim If a Japanese tell you that you are smart, it means your figure is slim but not that you are smart or clever.
TARENTOタレントa TV personalityThis word should be derived from the English word “talent”, but I seldom, if ever, see talented TARENTO on TV in Japan.
TORAMPUトランプplaying cardsThis word refers to playing cards maybe because someone said “trumps” during a card game and some Japanese may have misunderstood and thought it was the name of the cards themselves. Or it is derived from the Greek word “τράπουλα» or a Venezian game "Trappola".

にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
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  1. Hilary より:

    Very useful and informative! There were some I’d never heard of and for others, I got a new explanation. Thanks, Rei! By the way, here’s a few of my favorites. #1 Papeki. #2 I forgot the word for sleeping bag but that one always confuses me + I giggle. #3 I’m not a McDonalds fan but I try out the katakana version every so often and even get it right ~ 2.4% of the time.

  2. rei_saionji より:

    Thank you, Hilary!
    #1 Papeki!!! You mean Papeki for “perfect Kanpeki”???
    #2 sleeping bag… should be “Nebukuro”. You get confused with “Tebukuro” (gloves)?
    #3 マクドナルド!! Do you know that the abbreviation for McDonalds is different between the east and west?? In the east it is マック with the accent on マ, but in the west it is マクド with the accent on ク.

  3. Hilary より:

    Mmm…#1 yes! Well, it’s actually Hilary-be.
    #2 – I remembered! Shulafu from the German. Tebukuro always makes me giggle. Handbag – ha ha ha!
    #3 – interesting! Hubby says 7-11 can be sebun or sebuibu.

    He finds rentogen surprising! Why do I have to say x-ray?! Plus so many car names had to be said differently! He got most frustrated with handoru. :D

  4. Hilary より:



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