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OED Japanese imports RANKED (Q1 2024)

In an unexpected glut, the Oxford English Dictionary's latest quarterly update contained no fewer than 23 Japanese loanwords (with the exception of #15, which has an adapted meaning), all of which have been deemed significant and recurrent enough in their English-language usage to warrant inclusion alongside such iconic new additions as "ad break", "broken heart", "fish burger" and "Aussieness". How big a deal is this? How many of these words do *you* need? How excited should you be? Follow this highly definitive new ranking and find out...
21Aki Takase
Minerva's Owl


The ranking of each word is determined by an aggregated of three separate metrics:

English swag = feel-good-to-say factor, inherent hip factor, and range of positive associations upon saying the word in English
Japanese swag = feel-good-to-say factor, inherent hip factor, and range of positive associations upon saying the word in Japanese
Practical value = yes exactly that

All Japanese swag scores have been slightly revised with the benefit of a native-speaker opinion alright lfg

20Kenichiro Isoda
ナチュラル・トリップ マジエルの星

#23: "tonkotsu" (1)

MEANING: A tobacco pouch made out of (usually) wood, now mainly used as an antique term in Japanese (and now English).

COMMENT: I'd never heard of this in Japanese (and certainly not in English!) and am unsure what practical value it has in the OED other than as disambiguation against tonkotsu (2). Next.

English swag: 3
Japanese swag: 2 (mention this as a foreign speaker and have fun spending the next 5 minutes trying to explain what tf you're talking about)
Practical value: 1

[new age / ambient]
Kikuo Miku 7

#22: "isekai"

MEANING: Fantasy genre where the protagonist enters a strange, magical world, and goes forth to [REDACTED]

COMMENT: No beating around the bush on this one -- while this has certainly been in English for an unhealthy while now, its sole major convenience was as a moderate red flag for the subset of the anime community who were actively drawn to it and made active use of it, and while this does probably warrant inclusion in the OED, any English standardisation risks diminishing the levels of shame that users of the term almost invariably deserve

English swag: 1
Japanese swag: 5
Practical value: 5 (I WISH I could go lower, but)

[art pop / vocaloid]
18Miharu Koshi

#21: "washi tape"

MEANING: Colourful adhesive tape with an elegant pattern on it, used for crafts

COMMENT: This term is pretty easy to localise (Japanese masking tape) and I can't say I've heard in English before, but now it is here and we can enjoy it in all its shapes and shades?

English swag: 5
Japanese swag: 4
Practical value: 3

[techno kayo / art pop]
17Kazumi Watanabe
Jazz Impression

#20: "santoku:

MEANING: broad Japanese kitchen knife with a straight edge but curved top of blade

COMMENT: I own an engraved santoku and had never heard the term used in either language until today - the general term for 'kitchen knife' (houchou) is far more common in Japanese. Not sure how necessary it is as English terminology outside of very specific culinary contexts?

English swag: 5
Japanese swag: 7
Practical value: 1

[jazz fusion]
16Tokyo Shoki Shodo

#19: "tokusatsu"

MEANING: Film/TV genre defined by its use of practical special effects

COMMENT: I think this one is from before my time - not a term I'd seen before this list, but also seems useful enough for discussing Japanese media? Definite nerdspeak overtone though

English swag: 5
Japanese swag: 5
Practical value: 3

[pop punk / power pop]
15Seiko Oomori

#18: "kintsugi

MEANING: Refers to the practice of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver, in order to highlight the damaged sections and draw attention to the beauty of its survival

COMMENT: As crafts terminology, this one is so specific and resistant to localisation that its inclusion goes without saying, and it's one of the more widely circulated of the arts terms here. Unfortunately, any further potential it had as an insightful intercultural metaphor has already been butchered by Lana del Rey (though we'll give Fall Out Boy and Death Cab props for trying).

English swag: 2
Japanese swag: 7
Practical value: 4

14Konomi Sasaki

#17: "hibachi"

MEANING (Japan): coal brazier for heating rooms and boiling water
MEANING (North America): hot plate used for grilling meat

COMMENT: Technically speaking, hibachi was already in the OED and the entry from this quarter only served to accommodate the American usage (which refers to an object with a distinct name in Japanese) - which earns a royal "whatever" from me, especially since Japanese hibachis have been so seldom used for decades now that it's a struggle to care about the original word being appropriated

English swag: 5
Japanese swag: 5
Practical value: 3

[folk / folk pop]
13Susumu Hirasawa
Sim City

#16: "omotenashi"

MEANING: Japanese hospitality, characterised in its thoughtfulness, foresight and good cheer

COMMENT: No strong feelings on this one, other than that I've never seen it used even as a loan word before. It's a specific enough sense of hospitality to warrant inclusion as a piece of cultural terminology for reference, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue in English (and is probably perilously easy to misappropriate). Not a difficult term to partially localise either. Meh.

English swag: 3
Japanese swag: 8
Practical value: 2

[new age / art pop]
12Douji Morita
A Boy

#15: "shibori"

MEANING: Blanket term for a number of Japanese methods for dyeing cloth

COMMENT: Another fair crafts term (and certainly a worthwhile Google images search!), though again fairly niche. Main downside to this one is now easily it's confused with the more frequently used 'oshibori' (cloth napkin provided in restaurants), but a decent addition anyhow I guess

English swag: 5
Japanese swag: 7
Practical value: 3

[folk / psych folk]
11Eddie Marcon
Aoi Ashioto

#14: "kagome"

MEANING: Bamboo basket woven in hexagonal patterns

COMMENT: Google this and you'll recognise it right away - valid piece of terminology for the crafts world, enjoyable trivia for everyone else. Fair inclusion, just don't let me hear it as "kagomee" at all ever thank you

English swag: 5
Japanese swag: 5
Practical value: 6

[chamber folk / psych folk]
10Salon Music

#13: "karaage"

MEANING: Japanese starched, fried chicken

COMMENT: Mixed feelings on this one. Karaage is awesome, but it's by far the easiest food word here to localise ('fried chicken' loses relatively little beyond cultural backdrop and the peripheral context that proper karaage tends to be more succulent than the stuff you'd get in most Western chicken joints), plus the pronunciation is dangerously open to butchery compared to many of these words. A welcome inclusion, but one we could have survived without

English swag: 4
Japanese swag: 7
Practical value: 5

[shoegaze / lounge / dream pop]
飛鶴 -Hizuru

#12: kirigami

MEANING: Origami with scissors

COMMENT: Valid crafts terminology that has produced the most amazing shapes, but not something I've heard in English before? Will never overtake origami, but a cool addition anyhow. Also a straightforward cool word with minimal opportunity for mispronunciation

English swag: 7
Japanese swag: 6
Practical value: 4

[traditional folk / chamber jazz]

#11: "onigiri"

MEANING: Rice ball with a filling in the middle (usually meat/fish/seaweed) and wrapped a single sheet of nori - highly satisfying snack, excellent alternative to a sandwich

COMMENT: Big yes to this one, onigiri are SATISFYING, commonly referenced as a staple food, and infamously annoying to localise (Google "Pokemon Brock jelly donut" for a classic example of how culturally sheltered American children were/are expected to be by Big Dumb Media). A based and obvious inclusion

English swag: 8
Japanese swag: 6
Practical value: 6

[shibuya-kei / power pop]
7Sugar Plant

#10: "yakiniku"


COMMENT: Literally just means grilled-meat, and uh that's about the sum of it. 'Japanese BBQ' communicates the idea so easily that I'm convinced it's use in English is more a reflection of its (frequent!) use in Japanese than any active necessity. Semi-interchangeable with Korean BBQ for 95% of the world, but anyone who's eaten either knows what kind of good time is in store here.

English swag: 7
Japanese swag: 6
Practical value: 7

[lounge / dream pop / shibuya-kei]
Human Elements

#9: "mangaka"

MEANING: The author-illustrator of a manga

COMMENT: Highly worthwhile addition: already a standard term among the English readership of manga (which is a fuckload of peeps), only downside is that for anyone unfamiliar with the meaning, it may sound like you're trying to say "manga cafe" with a bad ol' fuckin stutter. Not an elegant word by any means, but one that will continue to see heavy traction

English swag: 4
Japanese swag: 8
Practical value: 8

[drum and bass]
5Akina Nakamori
Bitter and Sweet

#8: "donburi"

MEANING: Rice bowl with meat/veg/fish toppings

COMMENT: Eat donburi every day for the rest of your life and you'll be, well, maybe not outright happy, but largely satisfied? And maybe live forever? Easy to customise, incredibly nourishing, and widely enough available that you most likely CAN chow down on it whenever you like if you live in a city with a Japanese community, this one easily earns its keep

English swag: 6
Japanese swag: 7
Practical value: 8

[kayokyoku / new wave]
灯りたち (Lights)

#7: "tonkotsu (2)"

MEANING: Ramen broth made with pork bone, particularly associated with Fukuoka and Kyuushu

COMMENT: While it's nowhere near as popular in Japan or the West as shoyu or miso broth, tonkotsu is still iconic as the third major style of ramen and is readily available in (I think?) most ramen shops wherever you go. Given how popular ramen is, this one is a given

English swag: 6
Japanese swag: 6
Practical value: 9

3Aoki Takamasa

#3/4/5/6: "katsu / katsu curry / tonkatsu / tonkatsu sauce"

MEANING: Breaded meat cutlet / a curry dish served with breaded meat cutlet / breaded pork cutlet / the soy-based sauce served with tonkatsu

COMMENT: Though listed as separate entries, these two are easily among the most iconic and readily available foods on the list, ranking only a few places below sushi and ramen in the popular food leaderboard I just conjured out of thin air. Katsu can be a staple dish in the West almost as readily as in Japan, and it gets trivia points for being a re-imported alteration of the English "cutlets", which the Japanese rendered as "katsuretsu" and then abridged for convenience. A surefire winner whichever way you cut it, if hardly the most exotic entry on the list. 'Tonkatsu sauce' has an independent entry (which I cba to list), which should convey some sense of this one's scale in and of itself (pour one out for the unacknowledged okonomi sauce)

English swag: 6
Japanese swag: 5
Practical value: 10

[glitch / techno]
Endless Summer Record

#2: "takoyaki"

MEANING: Fried balls of batter with a piece of octopus in the middle, served with mayo/sauce/bonito

COMMENT: Takoyaki is dope and I adore it and so should you, and while it's not quite as readily available as I'd like in the West (octopus do be that way :/), it's still an iconic fast food staple well overdue for inclusion

English swag: 8
Japanese swag: 8
Practical value: 7

[math rock / post rock / noise rock / what Clever Girl would sound like if they made music for energised shape-throwers and not maudlin three-sugars-per-coffee saps]
1Judy and Mary

#1: "okonomiyaki"

MEANING: Pancake-fritter made from cabbage, egg, meat/seaweed and flour grilled on a hot plate, eaten with bonito flakes, mayonnaise and okonomi sauce

COMMENT: Of all the words on this list, this one sparks the most instant and exorbitant joy in me -- okonomiyaki is the best food, the most fun to make (ideally you'll cook it yourself and have a laugh over it with your dinner pals, though most Western joints will save you the trouble), and a highly satisfying word to say out loud (even if it's a little prickly for newcomers). What it lacks in public profile, it makes up for in every other aspect. The name means "fried as you like it"; I like everything about it. Popular and generally beloved in Japan, though not quite as much a staple as katsu or donburi - this is one you go out with your pals for.

English swag: 8
Japanese swag: 10
Practical value: 6

[power pop]
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