Travelling means having the pleasure of not only enjoying new places, but also about navigating the perils of foreign languages. I particularly have a soft spot for weird and wonderful words that we just don’t have in English - the concepts we can only describe in some abstract sense.

Consider yourself never stuck for a word again. Instead, use the Japanese words we don't have in English!


  You could use your newfound Japanese at Osaka Castle!

You could use your newfound Japanese at Osaka Castle!

1. ‘Betsubara

You know how no matter how full you are, you’ve always got room for something sweet? Well, there’s actually a term for that in Japanese. 別腹, or, betsubara, refers to the second stomach you keep for desserts - literally translated as ‘separate stomach’.

2. ‘Tsundoku

I’m forever in the habit of going into a bookstore, getting excited over the sheer volume (pun intended) of novels, and then buying a whole pile. And then adding those books to a shelf of other books that I just haven’t gotten around to reading. In Japanese,this is also known as 積ん読, or, tsundoku

It’s a bit of a play on words. ‘Tsunde-oku’, which means to pile up, gives us the first character in tsundoku. 読, read as ‘doku’ in this context, means ‘to read’. Squishing the two terms together gives us tsundoku - ‘buying books and letting them pile up’.

3. ‘Shouganai

True to form, Japanese is quite a polite language. In the event you’re ever caught in an awful situation, shouganai is your go-to word. It means ‘it can’t be helped’ - it’s a statement of acceptance if there ever was one.

That being said, I’ve had friends who have liked to get creative with this one, and translated it as ‘fuck it, I’m done’.

4. ‘Douzo'

Literally translated as ‘please’, douzo doesn’t really compute in English. It’s typically used when you want to indicate that someone should go ahead of you, or when you’re giving something to someone else. 

Think of it like this: it’s the word you’d use when you’re doing something nice for someone, and you’d like them to accept your gesture of kindness.

5. ‘Fukujoushi

This one’s not-safe-for-work, so bookmark this page and close your browser now if you’ve got some poor unsuspecting child next to you.

 

Now that you’ve returned without prying eyes, the characters in fukujoushi, 腹上死, literally translate to ‘stomach up death’. Or, ‘death during sex’.

 

Now that you've added a few weird and wonderful words to your vocabulary, it's time to reflect. Do you speak more languages than English? What are some of the unusual words that you've discovered?


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