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2021.09.20

German language

5 Japanese words that are used in German, English and other languages


In a previous article, we talked about German words that made their way into the Japanese language. In this article, we take a look at Japanese words that made their way not only into the German language but into English and other languages as well.

1. Anime アニメ

Anime is used to describe hand drawn and computer animation from Japan. There are the German words “Zeichentrick” and “Animationsfilm” to describe animated films but for animated films produced in Japan in general the term Anime is used. Anime is derived from the English word “animation”. However, in English as well Anime is used to describe animation produced in Japan.

2. Emoji 絵文字

Emoji refers to small pictograms that are used in short messages sent on the phone, online chat messages and in social media posts. The first Emojis were made by the Japanese mobile phone provider Docomo and nowadays the Japanese term is not only used in German but in a lot of other languages as well to describe the pictograms.

3. Harakiri 腹切り

Harakiri is a word that is hardly ever used in Japanese. It has a similar meaning to Seppuku (切腹) which refers to the ritualistic suicide that the Samurai used the conduct when they lost their face due to not honoring their duties, as punishments for crimes or when they were about to be captured by enemies. When performing Seppuku, the Samurai would stab themselves in the abdomen and cut from the left to the right and then upwards and downwards. Harakiri uses the same Kanji characters as Seppuku but in reserve order. Both mean “to cut the stomach” but Seppuku emphasis the ritualistic culture whereas hara-kiri emphasizes the action and unlike Seppuku it is not associated with clear rules and a ceremony.

Harakiri is used in Europe and America and supposedly originates from Christian missionaries that looked down upon the Japanese tradition.

4. Karoshi 過労死

Karoshi is the Japanese for “Death through overwork”. In neither German nor English, this cause of death can be expressed in one word. In foreign media it is often mentioned that in Japan so many people die through overwork that they even have a special term for that, however, in Japan is very common to form words by putting Kanji characters together. There are similar words like Jikoshi 事故死 (Death through an accident) or Byoshi 病死 (death through a sickness) that are formed by attaching the character for death (死) to the cause of death.

In Chinese that also uses Kanji characters, there is the word 過勞死 that has the same meaning.

5. Umami うま味

Umami is neologism coined by a Japanese chemist. It is a normalization of the word Umai which means delicious. It refers to a pleasant savory taste. There is no equitant in English however some close descriptions are “meaty”, “savory”, and “broth-like”. In German it is described with words such as „fleischig“, „würzig“ oder „wohlschmeckend“.

Umami refers to the 5th sensation that humans can taste besides sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. It was first identified by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908 and is called Umami most languages.

Did you know these words already? We are glad that you showed interest in the Japanese language and culture and hope you learned something new today. If you are in need of translation to or from Japanese, we would be glad to assist you.


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