Popular Japanese Words (2012)

Taken from the 2012 edition of 現代用語の基礎知識, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Terms (Gendai yougo no kisouchishiki)

東日本大震災 (Higashi Nihon Daishinsai, “Great East Japan Earthquake”)
Many newly popular words in 2012 this year are related to the earthquake which occurred on March 3, 2011 and the associated tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accidents. 東日本大震災 is the official name used by the Japanese government to refer to the disaster.

3・11 (san ten ichi ichi, March 11")
3.11 (san ichi ichi, “March 11”)

The disaster has also come to be referred to simply as “March 11,” just as the coordinated suicide attacks on the US by Al-Quada on September 11, 2001 are generally now referred to as “9/11” Both 3・11 (san ten ichi ichi) and 3.11 (san ichi ichi) are seen in print. The “ten” in 3・11 is the dot mark between the 3 and the first 1.

帰宅難民 (kitaku nanmin, “homeward bound refugees”)
These “refugees” refer to the hoards of stranded commuters who found themselves unable to get home due to stoppages in public transportation in the immediate aftermath of the March 11 earthquake. They slept in stations, their workplaces, wherever they could find a warm spot.

節電 (setsuden, “conservation of electricity”)
When the Fukushima nuclear power plant was crippled by a triple reactor meltdown, and with other nuclear plants going off line, the government urged businesses and householders to cut their power use, specifically requesting a 15% reduction during the months of July-September.

計画停電 (keikaku teiden, scheduled power outages)
Scheduled power outages by area threw manufacturers into a panic as they struggled to continue with production. Many workers found themselves being sent home at 4:00 pm, which led to a boom in bars and restaurants opening at 4:00 to draw commuters in earlier than usual (アフター4 afutaa 4, “after 4 pm”)

スマホ (sumaho, “smart phone”)
Yes, this is the way “smart phone” has been abbreviated to create a foreign loan word unrecognizable to the world outside Japan.. More and more Japanese consumers are giving up their cell phones for touchscreens, both Japanese and international models. The 4S iPhone proved wildly popular, and dozens of other models are available, including the DoCoMo smart phone.

写メ (sha me, “email with a photo attached”)
Another abbreviation: 写 is short for 写真 (shashin, “photograph”) and メ is short for メール (meeru, email)

家電 (ieden, “house phone”)
ケー番 (keeban, “cell phone number)

家電 refers to one’s house phone number (電 is short for 電話 denwa, “telephone”) and ケー番 to one’s cell phone number (番 is short for 番号 bangou, "number,” and ケー is short for 携帯電話 keitaidenwa, "cell phone").

ロールキャベツ (rooru kyabetsu, “rolled cabbage”)
Several years ago, the words 肉食系 (nikushokukei, “carnivorous”) and草食系 (soushokukei, “herbivorous”) entered the vernacular with an unusual twist, to describe the behavior of young Japanese men: 肉食系 refers to a masculine, aggressive type of personality and 草食系 denotes a more passive type of individual. These have spawned the more recent term “rolled cabbage,” which refers to a man who appears wimpy on the outside but actually exhibits masculine behavior, in the same way rolled cabbage contains a meat filling.

わず (wazu, "was," i.e., where I was)
ういる (uiru, "will," i.e., where I will be)

The Japanese approximation of the English word “now,” なう (now) has been used for several years by young people when texting, as a suffix to indicate their current location, i.e.,「渋谷なう」Shibuya nau. “I’m in Shibuya now.” Recently added to the mix are the past (わず, was) and future (ういる, will) tenses, i.e.,「渋谷わす」Shibuya wasu.“I was in Shibuya”; [渋谷ういる」Shibuya uiru. “I’m going to Shibuya.”

借りパク (karipaku, “the failure to return a borrowed item”)
パクる (pakuru) is a long-standing slang word meaning “to steal.” New face 借りパク is a combination of 借 (ka-riru, borrow) and “steal.” Riding someone else’s bicycle home from the station with no intention of returning it is a common example of 借りパク, as is filching some else’s umbrella from an umbrellas stand when you forgot to bring your own. If you have had a book belonging to someone else on your shelf for several years you may be guilty of 借りパク yourself.

美貌男 (biboo, “male with a beautiful appearance”)
This newcomer was coined by a Japanese men’s fashion magazine, and refers to a man with a high interest in his personal appearance. Male consumers are forking over increasing high amounts of yen on skin, hair, and nail products designed specifically for their gender, and some are even wearing natural-looking make-up (メンズコスメ menzu kosume, abbreviation of “men’s cosmetics”).

Final note:
瓦礫 (gareki, “rubbish”)

One noted Japanese essayist is calling on the media, politicians, and the general populace--out of respect for the feelings of victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami-- to AVOID use of the word 瓦礫 (literally, 瓦 ”tiles” and 礫 “pebbles,” meaning “rubbish”) to refer to the remains of homes, possessions, and other items washed away in the tsunami.


Still available: 無料!日本語ジャーナル・非漢字圏学習者のための12 レッスン Free!12 Nihongo Journal kanji lessons ( PDF)

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