Popular Japanese Words (2010)

(from the 2010 edition of Gendai yougo no kisouchishiki, 現代用語の基礎知識 Encyclopedia of contemporary words)

加齢臭 (kareishuu, “old people smell”)
The three kanji in this compound mean “increasing-age-smell.” Research published in 2001 by a Japanese dermatologist indicates that a substance generated by unsaturated fatty acids in the skin, called 2-nonenal, increases with age in both men and women, causing alterations in body odor beginning in middle age. Young Japanese women sometimes complain that their fathers or bosses have 加齢臭.

リア充 (riajuu, “reality-filled life”)
リア is an abbreviation of リアル (“real”) in リアル・ライフ, riaru raifu “the real world” (as opposed to the virtual world of gaming and the Internet). 充 (juu) means “fill up,” as in 充電 juuden, “recharge a battery”) リア充 is used to describe a lifestyle filled with activities involving other human beings, as opposed to a solitary life at home in front of a computer screen.

断捨離 (danshari, “de-clutter”)
The three kanji in this compound mean “refuse-throw away-separate.” Self-help author Hideko Yamashita, drawing on yoga philosophy, promotes a three-step system for de-cluttering one's life (both physical and mental) in Japan: 1) refuse to bring unnecessary new possessions into your life; 2) throw away existing clutter in your living space; and 3) separate from a desire for material possessions.

鉄板 (teppan, “a sure thing”)
This kanji compound word is not new but has a new usage. 鉄板 (iron grill) will be familiar to anyone who has eaten 鉄板焼 (teppanyaki, meat and vegetables cooked on a large iron grill). As a slang expression, 鉄板 was first used in the world of horse and bicycle racing, to mean a “sure bet,” based on the fact that the Japanese word “katai” can mean both “hard” (硬い) and “steady” (堅い). 鉄板 is currently used among young people to mean “a sure thing” in general (e.g., 「この曲、盛り上がるには鉄板だよね。」 Kono kyoku, moriagaru ni wa teppan da yo ne. “This song is sure to liven things up.”)

指恋 (yubikoi, “romance through texting”)
Literally “finger love,” 指恋 refers to a romance that began through the exchange of text messages, or simply to the act of sending one’s beloved a text message.

ヒデヨ (hideyo, “1000 yen note”); ヒグチ (higuchi, “5000 yen note”)
Changes made in 2004 to the faces appearing on 1000 and 5000 yen notes gave birth to these slang words. “Hideyo” refers to Japanese bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi and “Higuchi” to female author Ichiyo Higuchi. A 10,000 yen note, incidentally, is known as ゆきち (yukichi):Yukichi Fukuzawa, founder of Keio University, has graced its front since 1984.

盛る (mo-ru, “exaggerated”)
Two new usages by young people for the verb 盛る, meaning “pile up” or “fill" (as in a bowl of rice) are currently popular: 1) “exaggerated” in general, e.g., 「その話、盛ってるでしょう。」Sono hanashi, motteru deshou. “What you said is an exaggeration, right?”; and 2) heavy make-up or “big” hair.

なう (nau, “where I am now”)
The Japanese approximation of the English word “now,” なう is used by young people when texting as a suffix to indicate their current location, e.g.,「渋谷なう」Shibuya nau. “I’m in Shibuya now.”

イクメン (ikumen, “a father actively involved in child-rearing”)
This is a play on the older but still popular katakana word イケメン (ikemen), which refers to a man with a handsome face (イケてる iketeru is a slang verb meaning "good looking" and men 面 means “face”). The newly-created イクメン denotes a father who gets actively involved in child-rearing, and combines “iku” (育), meaning “to nurture,” with the English word “men.” Never mind that “men” is plural in English and “ikumen” refers to one man: The Japanese language does not concern itself with plurals.

終活 (shuukatsu, “final preparations”)
Comprised of kanji meaning “end” (終) and “activity” (活), 終活 is a play on another popular kanji compound, 婚活 (konkatsu, “marriage activities,” meaning actively taking steps to find a marriage partner). 終活 is the preparation for the end of one’s life, including making funeral plans and deciding where one’s remains will be placed. Books offering advice on 終活 are selling briskly in the rapidly aging nation of Japan.

情弱 (joujaku, “information-challenged”)
This two-kanji compound is an abbreviation of 情報弱者 (jouhoujyakusha, information-weak-person) and denotes someone who, lacking the technological ability to search the Internet, depends on others to provide them with needed information.

待機老人 (taikiroujin, “standby elderly”)
Pre-school children of working parents waiting for an open spot in a government-run daycare center are known as 待機児童 (taikijidou, “standby juveniles"), and recently the word 待機老人 (taikiroujin, “standby elderly”) is being used to describe the 420,000 elderly Japanese waiting for an open spot in a government-run special care nursing home.

どや顔 (doyagao, “self-satisfied facial expression”)
どや (doya) is どうだー (dou daa, or dou desu ka) in Kansai dialect, and here roughly translates as “So, what do you think?” The kanji for “face” (顔, kao) has been added to どや, rendering "a self-satisfied facial expression."


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