These Japanese Slang Terms Are “Maji” Amazing

Many millions of English speakers have made it their goal to learn the beautiful language of Japan, Land of the Rising Sun.

Appropriately, there is a well-known Japanese proverb that pretty much sums up what doing this can be: Raku areba ku ari, often translated as "If there is joy, there is pain." Or, as we might colloquially say, "No pain, no gain."

It’s true that learning Japanese is hard. The US Foreign Service Institute estimates it requires at least 2,400 hours of study to gain proficiency. But, as with studying any language, learning some slang is one of the most delightful ways of making Japanese a little easier to learn.

If you love reading the haiku of Basho, dream of socializing in a Tokyo sushi restaurant, or want to sound like a character from a Murakami novel, here are some bits of slang to help you take your first steps into the glorious Japanese language.

A quick linguistic note: we're presenting the Japanese terms in romaji, a system of writing Japanese (which uses different sets of characters, such as kanji ) using the letters of the Latin alphabet.

yabai

Yabai [yah-bahy] originally means "dangerous" or "bad." The word is thought to derive from slang used by thieves and con artists during the late Edo Period (1603–1867).

However, the word’s meaning has greatly evolved over time. In the 1980s, yabai started to mean "uncool." By the 1990s, it had started to gain a positive connotation.

These days, much as an English speaker might use negative terms like badsick, or wicked to describe something "excellent," so a Japanese person might say yabai.

Be careful, though. Make sure your tone and intention for using the slang yabai is clear, or else people may think you’re being sarcastic or even confrontational.

konchiwa

Konchiwa [kahn-chee-wah] sounds familiar doesn’t it?

That’s because konchiwa is a contracted form of konnichiwa, a common Japanese way of saying "hello" or "good day."

Konnichiwa may be literally translated as "as for today," but idiomatically means "hello." The shortened konchiwa is a variant.

Konnichiwa or konchiwa are great ways to politely greet someone in Japan, especially after morning and before evening.

ikemen

Let’s say you see a man walking down the street. He’s tall, well-groomed, and well-dressed. A Japanese person might describe this person as ikemen, roughly pronounced like [ee-kuh-men], meaning a "hot guy."

It's thought to be based on ikeru ("to go well, to be good") or iketeru (meaning "cool," "good," or "exciting") and menzu (meaning "men's/male").

Ikemen are idealized models for modern Japanese masculinity as they are depicted in Japanese pop culture. They are impeccably dressed, intelligent, have deep voices, shapely wrists, and "manly" builds, as well as a generally clean smell. They also have an air of mystery about them.

baka gaijin

Baka gaijin is an insult meaning “stupid foreigner.” Baka means “a fool” or “foolish.” Gaijin, the Japanese word for “foreigner,” joins gai (“outside”) and jin (“person”).

The expression itself is attested by the 1970–80s. It can be used by Japanese people for non-Japanese people who they think are acting inappropriately. Baka can be insulting or, more mildly, disapproving.

By at least 1995, baka gaijin surfaced in online message boards about manga, or Japanese comics. In this context, even people who weren’t Japanese were using baka gaijin as an insult to people who didn’t intimately understand manga, or to anyone who says or does something the manga community deems stupid or inappropriate.

wwww

Wwww is the Japanese equivalent of the English "hahahaha," used to express laughter online and in text messages. The more Ws, the more enthusiastic the laughter. Like haha, wwww can be shortened to w(ww) and can have an ironic tone.

The use of wwww to represent laughing comes from the Japanese wara (笑 in kanji), "to laugh." With the rise of text-messaging and the internet in the 1990s–2000s, Japanese users adapted 笑 to denote laughter, similar to LOL. People eventually found it easier, though, to use the letter W, from the romaji of 笑, wara.

maji

Maji [mah-jee] is an intensifier, used for situations where you want to add a real emphasis, like the English words very, really, and so.

Let’s say you’ve been watching a film starring famous ikemen Takeru Satoh. You might turn to your friend and say: Takeru Satoh tte maji kakkoii! Or, "Takeru Satoh is so cool!"

On its own, maji (or maji de) has the force of: "Really? Are you being for real?"

iyada

Iyada [ee-yah-dah], or yada [yah-dah], is a useful term, particularly for situations you find really annoying or disgusting.

It means "no way, not likely, not a chance." Iyada is based on iya, "disagreeable, detestable."

It can be used in response to something you really don’t want to happen. Your unreliable friend wants to borrow your car? Iyada. Here, it has the effect of "fat chance."

Or, let’s say you’ve just found out your local bookstore doesn’t stock your favorite manga or the internet’s just cut out so you can’t watch the next episode of your anime series. Iyada! "No way! This can't be happening!"

kimoi

Kimoi [kih-moh-ee] means "disgusting," with the slang force of "yuck." It's said to be shortened from a longer phrase, kimochi warui, roughly "bad feeling."

Kimoi has been found in the 1970s, though it really spread in the 1990s. Kimoi has the slang force of "Gross!" or "Eww!" It may be used in relationship contexts, like when a friend tells you someone you don’t like has a crush on you.

It’s not the kind of thing you want someone to say about you, that’s for sure.

mata ne

It’s the curtain call ... for this slideshow. Mata ne is a way of saying "Later" or "See ya." It literally means "Again, right?"

As with its English equivalents, mata ne is informal, the kind of thing you might say to a friend you’re going to catch up with soon.

Mata ne!

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