Learning slang and idioms can be an enjoyable way to expand your vocabulary and have more natural, colloquial conversations with native speakers. In this article, we’ll introduce you to a variety of Japanese slang words and idiomatic expressions that will help you better understand the nuances of the language.
Japanese Slang Words
めちゃ (mecha) Mecha is a slang term used to emphasize something, similar to the English word “very” or “super.” It’s often used with adjectives, like “めちゃ楽しい” (mecha tanoshii) meaning “super fun.”
うざい (uzai) Uzai is an informal way of saying something or someone is annoying or irritating. For example, “うざい人” (uzai hito) would translate to “an annoying person.”
バカ (baka) Baka is a common slang term meaning “stupid” or “foolish.” It can be used as an insult or in a playful manner among friends.
ちょっと (chotto) While “chotto” literally means “a little” or “a bit,” it’s often used as a slang term to soften a request or refusal. For example, “ちょっと待って” (chotto matte) means “wait a moment.”
すごい (sugoi) Sugoi is a slang term that means “amazing” or “awesome.” It can be used to describe people, objects, or situations, like “すごい映画” (sugoi eiga), meaning “an amazing movie.”
やばい (yabai) Yabai is a versatile slang word that can be used to express both positive and negative emotions. It can mean “dangerous,” “amazing,” or “terrible,” depending on the context.
だいじょうぶ (daijoubu) Daijoubu is a slang term that means “it’s okay” or “no problem.” It can be used to reassure someone or to confirm that everything is fine.
げんき (genki) Genki is a slang term that means “energetic” or “healthy.” It’s often used as a greeting to ask how someone is doing, like “げんきですか?” (genki desu ka?), meaning “how are you?”
見ぬが花 (minu ga hana) This idiom literally translates to “not seeing is a flower,” and it means that sometimes things are better left to the imagination, or that the reality might not live up to your expectations.
石橋を叩いて渡る (ishibashi o tataite wataru) The literal translation of this idiom is “to tap a stone bridge before crossing it.” It means to be overly cautious or careful before taking action.
針の穴から天を覗く (hari no ana kara ten o nozoku) This idiom translates to “looking at the sky through the eye of a needle.” It refers to someone who is trying to achieve something seemingly impossible or is overly ambitious.
猿も木から落ちる (saru mo ki kara ochiru) Literally meaning “even monkeys fall from trees,” this idiom is used to express that everyone makes mistakes, no matter how skilled or experienced they are.
蛙の子は蛙 (kaeru no ko wa kaeru) This idiom translates to “a frog’s child is a frog.” It implies that children often inherit their parents’ traits or characteristics.
風が吹けば桶屋が儲かる (kaze ga fukeba okeya ga moukaru) The literal translation of this idiom is “when the wind blows, the bucket maker profits.” It refers to the idea that unexpected events can lead to unintended benefits for some people.
知らぬが仏 (shiranu ga hotoke) This idiom translates to “ignorance is bliss.” It means that sometimes it’s better not to know certain things, as they might cause worry or unhappiness.
七転び八起き (nana korobi ya oki) Literally meaning “fall down seven times, stand up eight,” this idiom encourages perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity.
Japanese dialects vary across regions, and so does slang. Here are some examples of regional slang:
関西弁 (Kansai-ben) - あかん (akan) Akan is a slang term used in the Kansai region, particularly in Osaka. It means “no good” or “not allowed.”
東北弁 (Tohoku-ben) - ばり (bari) Bari is a slang term used in the Tohoku region, meaning “very” or “extremely.”
九州弁 (Kyushu-ben) - ばてん (baten) Baten is a slang term used in Kyushu, meaning “no good” or “useless.”
How to Learn Slang and Idioms Effectively
Listen to native speakers: Watch Japanese TV shows, movies, and YouTube videos to hear slang and idioms used in context by native speakers.
Practice with language partners: Find a language exchange partner or tutor who can help you practice using slang and idioms in conversation.
Use context clues: When you encounter a new slang word or idiom, try to understand its meaning based on the context in which it’s used.
Keep a vocabulary journal: Write down new slang words and idioms as you learn them, along with their meanings and examples of how to use them in context.
By incorporating slang words and idiomatic expressions into your conversations, you’ll not only enrich your Japanese vocabulary but also develop a deeper understanding of the language and culture. Don’t forget to practice using them in context and, as always, have fun learning!