Also kuudere, dandere, yandere, and every other type of ~dere


Tsundere: Understanding Anime’s Obsessions with the Cold/Warm Archetype

If you’ve been cruising around the nerdy parts of the internet (ie. all of the internet) recently, you may have run into this Japanese word:


A Google search will bring a quick definition, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find the tsundere meaning applies to a broad spectrum of personalities and behavior. On top of that, tsundere has spawned a whole subset of words like yandere, dandere, kuudere, and more. It’s gotten so popular there are even products and events celebrating the tsundere idea. Suddenly understanding tsundere doesn’t seem so simple.

Lucky for you, Tofugu has done the heavy lifting and laid out the results below. Read on to learn what tsundere means, where it came from, and why it’s so attractive. But don’t get the wrong idea. I didn’t write this for you or anything. Baka!

Tsundere Meaning


“What!? You don’t know what tsundere means? Are you stupid? Why don’t you look it up yourself?

“Well….since you came all the way to Tofugu…I could teach you…(blush)”

The above is a good example of tsundere behavior. The first paragraph demonstrates “tsun.” The second demonstrates “dere.” They combine to form, tsundere (つんでれ/ツンデレ), a combination of two Japanese onomatopoeia:

  • tsun tsun (つんつん/ツンツン)
  • dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

Both words describe different attitudes. Tsun tsun refers to someone who acts cold, blunt, or curt. The onomatopoeia itself is actually the sound of someone sticking their nose up in the air, or turning away in disgust.

On the other hand, dere dere describes someone who is affectionate or lovey-dovey. You may have seen dere dere people in a relationship. They’re cuddly and use pet names with each other.

So “tsundere” describes someone who is “tsun-tsun” at first, but eventually warms up and becomes “dere dere.” Don’t mistake this for some kind of split personality disorder. It’s usually a gradual change, or a change triggered by a specific person or event. Actually, tsundere is applied broadly to any character who is sometimes icy and sometimes warm. In English you might call it “running hot or cold.”

If you’re trying to figure out the tsundere pronunciation, check out our guide to hiragana, which will teach you how to read and pronounce Japanese.

This broad application makes it tough to nail down the tsundere meaning. To make things a little easier, tsundere is usually broken down into four character description categories:

  1. A character who wants to be dere dere toward their secret love, but for some reason can’t reveal their feelings. So they act tsun tsun in front of them.
  2. A character who acts tsun tsun to everyone but becomes dere dere around a specific person (usually a person they love).
  3. A character who acts tsun tsun at first, but gradually opens up.
  4. A character who is blunt and harsh, but sometimes becomes generous or kind.

Beyond this, the tusndere terms has been applied to all sorts of characters with varying degrees of tsun tsun and dere dere attitudes. Some even use tsundere to describe dere dere characters who sometimes act harshly. This seems like a stretch to me. Almost like the opposite of tsundere. But it goes to show how popular the term has become and how easily people apply it to their favorite characters.

Where Did Tsundere Come From?

rumble hearts was the gal game that created the tsundere meaning

Tsundere as an idea and storytelling device has been around for centuries. Katherina from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is an example of tsundere. Comiket organizer Koichi Ichikawa calls Lum from 1978’s Urusei Yatsura the first tsundere character in manga. Others give that title to Heckett from Osamu Tezuka’s 1963 manga Princess Knight. But the question isn’t where the idea came from, but the word.

Tsundere was initially used to describe female characters in ギャルゲ (gyaruge or gal games), a type of dating simulator. In gal games, your obstacle is the sim girls’ attitude toward you (tsun tsun). The goal is to achieve their affection (dere dere).

In 2002, players were discussing one such gal game on a Japanese message board. According to Junichi Togashi from the Department of Japanese Literature at Daito Bunka University, the idea of tsundere first appeared on an internet forum called あやしいわーるど@暫定 (ayashii world @ zantei). Forum users were discussing a gal game called Kimi ga Nozomu Eien which featured a character named Ayu Daikuuji (大空寺あゆ). On August 29,2002, a user posted a message declaring how much he liked interacting with her personality saying, ツンツンデレデレが良い, or “tsun tsun dere dere is good.” A few months later on December 26, 2002, a message board user posting about Haruhi Sakuma(佐久間晴姫) from Akizakura no Sorani (秋桜の空に) called her “tsundere.” And so the word was born. Soon after the word became common in the Japanese online dating sim community, eventually spilling over to popular non-dating sim message boards like ニュー速VIP板 (Breaking News VIP Board) in 2005. There was no going back. Tsundere began making its way through the Japanese online community.

In 2006, media outlets all over Japan started using tsundere and it was nominated Buzzword of the Year. It didn’t win, but the nomination cemented it in the Japanese lexicon.

And that’s how the modern term tsundere came about. All done. End of story.

But wait!

In 2011, Kazuo Koike, famous manga writer of “Lone Wolf and Cub” and “Golgo 13,” sent a tweet claiming he created the word “tsundere.” According to the message, he used it in a manga called “koukousei burai hikae” (高校生無頼控) in 1972.

The tweet reads:

Certainly, “tsundere’ is the word I used in the manga called “高校生無頼控” (koukousei burai hikae) around 1972 (about 39 years ago). Then, that word is brought back to life again…characters are really interesting, aren’t they?

Kind of a vague statement, Mr. Koike. Apparently, someone on Twitter described one of his characters as tsundere, and he was responding to that while off-handedly implying he created the term. If this is true, then tsundere existed way longer than anyone thought. Let’s look at the manga in question:

kazuo koike claims he created the tsundere meaning in this manga panel he wrote

Here’s a translation of the dialogue:

卓子の奴!おれたちにはツンツンしてるくせに あんなイモ野郎とデレデレしやがって!
takuko no yatsu, oretachi niwa tsun tsun shiteru kuse ni anna imo yarou to dere-dere shiyagatte!
“Damn it! Why is Takuko so attentive to that potato bastard, but always so aloof with us?”

Though Koike-san claims he came up with the word tsundere, that isn’t what he used. It was “tsun tsun” and “dere dere” in the same sentence. Kinda close, but not really the same. Many rejected Koike’s claim to the origin of the tsundere meaning. But still some praised him saying, “That’s my Koike-sensei!” (流石小池先生!/sasuga koike sensei!)

Why is Tsundere Attractive?

a modded photo imagining what it would be like if there was a ted talk about the tsundere meaning

Original Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Now that tsundere as a word and idea are popular, this begs the question, why is it so attractive? Sure, in fiction it creates a fun dynamic for stories. But can people actually be attracted to this kind of personality? Amazingly, two research studies support the power of tsundere’s mystique.

The first was conducted by Elliot Aronson and Darwyn Linder at the University of Minnesota in 1964. They had subjects meet with a confederate (someone secretly in on the experiment). The subjects and confederates interacted for a period of time. After the interaction, the subjects were allowed to listen in on a conversation between the researchers and their confederate partners. With the subject listening in, the confederate would talk about and evaluate the subject in 1 of 4 ways:

  1. They would evaluate the subject positively
  2. They would evaluate the subject negatively
  3. They would initially evaluate the subject negatively but eventually evaluate them positively
  4. They would initially evaluate the subject positively then eventually evaluate them negatively

The subjects were then asked to evaluate their partners after hearing their opinions of them. Surprisingly, option number three was evaluated best. The subjects liked their partners best when they started out bad-mouthing them, but ended with kindness.

Over 10 years later, in 1975, Gerald Clore conducted a similar experiment at the University of Illinois. Clore showed video tapes to 180 female and 158 male college students. The tapes featured a woman (A) and a man (B) conversing without sound. The conversation played out four times, each time the woman (A) performing different non-verbal behaviors:

  1. A is kind to be B
  2. A is kind to B but then becomes cold
  3. A is cold to B but then becomes kind
  4. A is cold to B

The students were then asked, of the four scenarios they witnessed, in which was the male (B) most attracted to the female? The overwhelming response was scenario 3, where the woman was initially cold, but warmed up over time.

These studies confirm our suspicions. Tsundere behavior is attractive! But why? The answer is the gain-loss principle.

The principle was first put forth by Aronson and Linder in their 1964 experiment. It states that a person feels more or less toward someone depending on their baseline expectations. If the baseline expectation is “this person hates me,” there will be more attraction when the normally ornery person gives a compliment. That’s because there’s been a “gain” in baseline expectation. And this gain feels psychologically rewarding. It’s as if the grumpy person has been “won over.”

How to Act Tsundere

a cat demonstrates the tsundere meaning by turning his back

Photo by Wendy

Now that you’ve learned how effective tsundere behavior can be, why not try it yourself? Because it could potentially leave you alone and friendless, that’s why. Tsundere behavior may work in the short term, but over time it can push people away if you don’t become dere dere and stay that way.

But if you want to try it anyway, you need to properly mix the mean with the sweet. It’s a tough balance to strike. Luckily, we’ve got a few things you can try when crafting your new tsundere personality. (Seriously though, don’t be this way on purpose.)

Acting Tsun Tsun

To properly become tsundere, you need to start with an egotistical mean streak. Try these actionable steps toward assholery.

  • Verbally Abuse: Probably the most common (and easiest!) way to act tsun tsun. You love someone and don’t want them to know it. So call them an idiot. Or baka. Tell them how annoying they are. Tell them to shut up any time they open their mouth.
  • Shun: Ignoring someone is a great way to show you’re tsun tsun. In fact, it’s the very definition of the word (turning away in disgust). Just make sure the person you love is trying to interact with you in some way. Ignoring someone who doesn’t know you exist doesn’t carry the same weight.
  • Complain: Specifically, complain about your secret love. Even when they’re not around. You need to make sure everyone around you knows your distaste for that beautiful baka idiot.
  • Don’t Hate: Don’t confuse tsun tsun behavior for hate (though it’s easy to cross that line). The person you love is a mild annoyance to you. A buzzing fly. But they don’t fill you with such rage that you’d push them down a flight of stairs and leave them to die.
  • Be Generally Unlikeable: Though some tsundere people are only tsun tsun to those they love, most of the time they make everyone put up with their crap. Consider making this part of your personality with everyone you encounter.

Acting Dere Dere

Of course, acting tsun tsun is not enough. Without the dere dere, you’re just a jerk. Adding the dere dere makes you a misunderstood jerk. It gives your tsundere meaning.

Once you’ve degraded the person you love, it’s time to confuse the hell out of them with kindness, thus making them love you back.

  • Give a Gift: This is a favorite tactic of tsundere people. Give the person you love a gift, but claim you’re giving it to everyone or it’s a gift for people you consider the stupidest.
  • Help/Train: Offer to help your secret crush with their homework, physical training, or life issues. Help them with any problem they might have. Of course, claim you’re only doing it for some made-up reason, like you hate the person they’re competing against or you want them to be less of an idiot.
  • Heal/Care For: This might be the best position a tsundere can be in. When your secret love is hurt, nurse them back to health. Try not to be too doting though. Dump a lot of alcohol on their scrapes. Be rough when setting their broken bones. And criticize them for getting hurt in the first place.
  • Defend: If your love is being bullied, defend them from the bully (if you’re the fighting type). Of course, criticize them for not defending themselves and tell them you only fought the bullies because you like punching people. Then punch them.
  • Be Nice in Private: Sometimes your dere dere can be a total flip-flop. Be mean as hell to your crush in public, but in private act nice. Just be sure act mean again as soon as other people come around.

Tsundere Products


As soon as something becomes popular, companies will be ready to make money off it. Here are a few tsundere products that are initially cold, but warm up as you use them. (Editor’s note: Icy/Hot, Hungry Man dinners, and car engines on a frosty Canadian morning are not considered tsundere products.)

SEGNITY Tsundere Mobile TV

Have you ever wished Siri treated you like crap? Or do you want the voice on your GPS to criticize your mistakes? Then you’re in luck! (and also insane) Defunct Japanese tech company e-Revolution has a product for you.

In 2006, a mobile audio/video broadcasting service called 1seg began transmissions in Japan. They sent out a special kind of television broadcast that could only be picked up by special mobile receivers. e-Revolution made one such mobile TV called the SEGNITY. But something set it apart from other TVs on the market. This was a tsundere TV. When you start using it, the voice speaks with tsun tsun arrogance. Of course, over time, it slowly changes to “dere dere.”

For example, if you turn on the  SEGNITY TV, the voice will get upset and say, “You aren’t thinking of watching TV, are you?” or “It’s so noisy!” But the more you use the TV, the friendlier the voice becomes. Eventually, it will become cute and say, “Why don’t we watch TV together?” Congratulations! You’re dating a portable television.

Tsundere Karuta

Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game. And this is a tsundere version of that traditional game. On each card in these Karuta decks, there’s a tsundere phrase. Each deck comes with an audio CD of all the phrases recorded by Rie Kugimiya, the voice actress considered the Queen of Tsundere. Check out the video above for examples. Order the deck on Amazon with accompanying CD, if you like mixed signals with your traditional Japanese card playing experience.

Tsundere Moe Sake

tsundere moe sake

This is a two pack of sake. One is dry (tsun) and the other is sweet (dere). You can blend them together to make the perfect tsundere sake. It also comes with a CD so you can fall in love with an invisible person while you get drunk. Available on Amazon.

COCOROBO Tsundere Talking Robot Vacuum Cleaner

And now, the crown jewel of tsundere products. A tsundere robot vacuum cleaner. Imagine a tsundere Roomba you can talk to. This one is more specific though. It’s a tsundere younger sister. So she’ll act cold/warm, she’s a vacuum cleaner and she’s related to you. Take that for what you will. No matter what, I’d be mad if I got woken up by this thing (Watch the youtube video to see what I mean).

What makes this the ultimate tsundere product? The price is really tsun tsun: ¥148,000.

Tsundere Cafe

Japan has had maid cafes since as far back as 2003. But as the idea of tsundere became popular, the inevitable tsundere cafe came into being.

In a normal maid cafe, the waitresses wear maid uniforms and treat you sweetly. The tsundere cafe is the same but the waitresses attitudes are tsun tsun. When you order, they may say things like めんどくさい (what a pain in the ass). No matter what you order, they’ll bring whatever they want, like a jar full of coffee beans or plain tap water. And you still have to pay.

There’s tsun tsun, but where’s the dere dere? It comes at the end. When you pay and leave, the waitresses act clingy and ask where you’re going and if you’ll be back soon.

Right now, there aren’t any permanent tsundere themed cafes. Rather younger-sister themed maid cafe hold tsundere events, thus transforming temporarily into a tsundere cafes. The tsundere event-holding cafe featured most on Japanese TV is Nagomi (see the video above). Comedians frequent these tsundere events because it makes for good material. Three comedians, Kazutoyo Koyabu, Kobayashi Kendo, and Messenger Aihara, visited Nagomi and got one of the maids to laugh. But best of all is when comedy legends Downtown and Yoiko visited:

If there aren’t permanent tsundere cafes yet, there probably will be soon. Between internet and TV coverage, the Tsundere Cafe idea is getting a lot of exposure. For now, there are maid cafes that have tsun tsun treatment you can order, and they take it to the next level.

If verbal abuse at Nagomi isn’t enough for you, head over to Cute Room or Cafe and Kitchen Cos-Cha, both in Akihabara. These cafes offer a slap in the face, for a price. Cos-Cha’s slap comes with a twist. After you pay, the maid chooses what goes in your drink. If you don’t drink it all at once, she slaps you good.

If face slapping still leaves you craving more abuse, try Cafe CC Ocha in Nipponbashi. They have an ¥1800 butt kicking on their secret menu. The maid of your choice will command you to get on all fours and admit you’re a pervert. Then she’ll kick you in the ass. The menu item is called ウルトラツンデレーダー (Ultra Tsundereder).

The idea of tsundere cafes is getting so popular, there’s even a song about them called “ツンデレcafeへようこそ☆” (tsundere cafe e youkoso) meaning “Welcome to Tsundere Cafe.” Apparently, it’s a super difficult song to perform in Taiko Drum Master.

The Most Popular Tsundere Characters

mikoto misaka to aru frowns to demonstrate the tsundere meaning

Of course, people have begun debating the best tsundere characters. Most claim the best were those played by voice actress Rie Kugiyama. She was dubbed “Queen of Tsundere” by her fans for her portrayal of such stuck-up/tender roles as Louise from The Familiar of Zero, Nagi Sanzenin from Hayate the Combat Butler!, and Taiga Aisaka from Toradora!

But the ultimate list was compiled by Charapedia. They surveyed 1000 anime fans in Japan asking their favorite tsundere characters and came up with a list. Here are the top 10:

  1. Mikoto Misaka 御坂美琴(To Aru Series/とあるシリーズ)
    voiced by Rina Satou
  2. Hitagi Senjougahara 戦場ヶ原ひたぎ(Monogatari Series/物語シリーズ)
    voiced by Chiwa Saitou
  3. Kirino Kousaka 高坂桐乃(Ore no Imoto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai/俺の妹がこんなに可愛いわけがない)
    voiced by Ayana Taketatsu
  4. Maki Nishikino 西木野真姫(Love Live!/ラブライブ!)
    voiced by Pile
  5. Chitoge Kirisaki 桐崎千棘(Nisekoi/ニセコイ)
    voiced by Nao Touyama and Haruka Tomatsu
  6. Shana シャナ(Shakugan no Shana/灼眼のシャナ)
    voiced by Rie Kugimiya
  7. Taiga Aisaka 逢坂大河(Toradora!/とらドラ!)
    voiced by Rie Kugimiya
  8. Louise ルイズ(The Familiar of Zero/ゼロの使い魔)
    voiced by Rie Kugimiya
  9. Asuka Langley Soryu 惣流・アスカ・ラングレー (Neon Genesis Evangelion/新世紀エヴァンゲリオン)
    voiced by Yuuko Miyamura
  10. Iori Minase水瀬伊織 (THE IDOLM@STER)
    voiced by Rie Kugimiya

Wow, Rie Kugimiya is in the top 10 four times! But she didn’t break the top 5. Does that mean she’s not the Tsundere Queen anymore? Will she be considered for roles in tsundere anime in the future?

Tsundere in Real Life


Naturally Japanese people eventually began looking for tsundere in their daily lives. The popular Japanese news site Mynaviwoman asked 100 working men if they’d encountered real life tsundere women. According to the survey, only 8.5% of men said yes. Those who said yes, were asked what the women were like. Below is a selection of translated answers:

“She completely ignored me at work, but in private stuck to me all the time. I wasn’t offended, but I kept thinking ‘don’t ignore me.’ ”
(35-year-old precision machine salesman)

“She told me she was not interested in me at all, but always took the seat beside me and got close when she talked to me.”
(33-year-old precision engineer)

“She was a really strong woman, but I saw tears in her eyes one day. My heart fluttered. She normally wasn’t ‘dere dere’ at all. If you can be patient with a girl who is usually ‘tsun-tsun,’ I totally recommend a tsundere girl… especially if you’re a masochistic guy.”
(22-year-old IT engineer)

Although some men said they liked “tsundere” girls, others said the tsun tsun treatment was awful. One guy described it like this:

“She barely ever changed her facial expression and her words and behavior were abrupt. She definitely gave me a bad first impression. If I had to pick something good about her, it would be she’s good at saying one thing and doing another. I mean, she was good at bluffing.”

Have you met “tsundere” women or men in your life? Did you like their behavior? All the behavior described here sounds extreme. But I suppose we all have our reasons for acting certain ways in certain situations. There are so many factors behind peoples’ behavior, it’s hard to say.

Derivative ~Dere Words

Now that we’ve learned the tsundere meaning and so much more, I think you’re ready to enter the vast landscape of “the other ~dere words.” Yes, tsundere is the most common, but really only the tip of the iceberg. After tsundere became popular, people in Japan started creating all new ~dere words. There are a lot of labels for personality types that start out one way, but end dere dere.

Dandere ダンデレ

chouza akimichi from naruto is dandere

Dandere (だんでれ/ダンデレ) is actually a Japanese homophone. This same word has two meanings.

The first “dandere” is made up of these two words:

  1. dandii (だんでぃ/ダンディ)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

Dandii comes from the English word “dandy.” Dandy may feel antiquated to westerners, but it’s still used in Japan to describe manly and sophisticated men. David Beckham and George Clooney are both considered “dandies by Japanese people. Dandies look cool and don’t seem like the type to become affectionate. So if George Clooney were to use baby talk to dote on a cute puppy, that would make him dandere.

The second “dandere” is made up of these two words:

  1. danmari (だんまり/ダンマリ)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

“Danmari” is the noun form of the verb “damaru” (黙る), which means to be quiet. So this dandere describes someone who is quiet but actually feels “dere dere” in their hearts. If you you really liked someone in middle school, but never talked to them (or anyone), then you were dandere. Oh, middle school. The most secure and non-turbulent time of life.

Examples of Dandere:

Kuudere クーデレ

rei ayanami from neon genesis evangelion is kuudere

If you’re calm and composed, but have a heart full of passion, then you might be kuudere (くーでれ/クーデレ). It’s made up of these two words:

  1. kuuru (くーる/クール)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

“Kuuru” comes from “cool” in English. This idea overlaps with both the “dandy” and “quiet” dandere types. A kuudere person is cool but also full of affection bottled up and stuffed deep inside. It describes a few different kinds of cool personalities:

  • Someone who acts like they’re not interested in other people except for one they like. To that specific person, they become dere dere.
  • Someone who likes a certain someone, but when that person comes around, they become shy and act cool.
  • Someone who acts cool at first, but over time they become more honest and affectionate.
  • Someone who acts cool but says or does cheesy or corny things.

Examples of Kuudere:

Yandere ヤンデレ

takami from deadman wonderland is yandere

Have you ever been in love? Like crazy in love? Like so crazy in love you would kill anyonewhogetsinthewayofyourloveEVENTHELOVEITSELF!!!?

Then you might be yandere (やんでれ/ヤンデレ). It’s made up of these two words:

  1. yanderu (病んでる/ヤンデル)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

Yanderu is written “病んでる” in kanji. It means “to be sick or depressed.” But in this case, “yanderu” means to be mentally ill. It usually describes someone deranged but still affectionate. But sometimes it can describe someone who fell in love so hard it made them crazy. Either way, a yandere person is usually dangerous. They’ll do anything (mostly killing) to keep other people away from their love. If they can’t keep people away, they’ll kill their love so no one else can have them. Makes sense, right?

Examples of Yandere:

Darudere ダルデレ

amu hinamori from lucky star is darudere

If Gudetama showed sudden burst of passion for someone you could call him darudere (だるでれ/ダルデレ). It’s made up of these two words:

  1. darui (だるい/ダルイ)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ).

Darui means weary, sluggish, or tiresome. It describes the feeling of being too tired to do anything. You can’t be bothered. Thus darudere people are mostly lazy, but sometimes passionate. For example, here’s a conversation between a darudere girlfriend and normal boyfriend from the book 机の上のダルデレ彼女 (My Darudere Girlfriend on the Desk).

Boy: 「いや、歩こうぜ?」

Girl: Piggyback ride! (Asking him to put her on his back)
Boy: C’mon, let’s walk, okay?
Girl: …..
Boy: Alright…

Fun fact: Darudere is sometimes elongated into “darushimudere” referencing Dhalsim from Street Fighter II. Because why not?

Examples of Darudere:

Sadodere サドデレ

Kanade Suzutsuki in Mayo Chiki is sadodere

If you love to tease, but have a secret heart of affection you might be sadodere (さどでれ/サドデレ). It’s made up of these two words:

  1. sado (さど/サド)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

Sado comes from an English word “sadistic.” But Japanese people use it to describe someone who likes teasing others. Usually the term “esu” (エス), from the S in “sadistic” is used. So a person who is teasing someone incessantly is acting “S.” Thus a sadodere person loves to tease, but deep down they are bursting with dere dere love.

Examples of Sadodere:

Bakadere バカデレ

haru miura in reborn is bakadere

If you have trouble doing anything smart or even talking good and kant tipe vere gud, but you’re filled with love, you may be bakadere (ばかでれ/バカデレ). It’s made up of these two words:

  1. baka (ばか/バカ)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

Of course, if you’ve read our article about the meaning and history of baka, you know it means stupid. So bakadere is someone prone to stupidity, but sometimes very lovey-dovey.

Examples of Bakadere:

Nyandere ニャンデレ

madara nyanko-sensei in natsume book of friends is nyandere

If you’re thinking “Dere Dere Garfield” you’re not too far off track. Nyandere (にゃんでれ/ニャンデレ) is made up of two words:

  1. nyan nyan (にゃんにゃん/ニャンニャン)
  2. dere dere (でれでれ/デレデレ)

Nyan nyan is a Japanese onomatopoeia for a cat’s meow. So when combined with ~dere, it describes someone who snuggles up to their significant other using cat gestures. So there’s no dichotomy of personality like there is with other words in the ~dere family. Just a description of how someone is dere dere. But this isn’t the only use for nyandere.

Nyandere can also be used for someone who is usually cool but becomes dere dere only in in the presence of cats. It also extends to tsundere people with neko-mimi (cat ears), cat girls or guys who are dere dere, cats who are dere dere, or cats who are tsundere. Basically anything that sometimes exhibits cat traits and sometimes exhibits affection.

Examples of Nyandere:

I’m a dog person, so I might be “wandere” rather than nyandere. wan-wan!U^ェ^U

Other ~dere Words

Technically you can make any ~dere words you want. I’d like to make “okodere” or “pundere.” They both mean the same thing. The “oko” is from “okoru” (怒る) meaning “to get angry.” The “pun pun” (プンプン) is from the Japanese onomatopoeia for being angry. So both okodere and pundere mean a grumpy person who sometimes becomes dere dere.

What kind of ~dere word will you make? Tweet it at us with the hashtag #derelife. Who knows? You could make the next descriptor that affects all anime for years to come. がんばって!

Discovering Something Deeper

anime character giving away a ufo catcher prize and showing us the tsundere meaning

“What? Are you done reading already? I just got started telling you about tsundere. Maybe we can talk about obscure Japanese internet slang again some time soon, okay?” (blush)

No matter how you feel about this new obsession with an age old social quirk, it’s a great example of how we categorize our storytelling habits. At the very least you’ll be able to ace that online tsundere quiz you’ve been putting off.

Even though we are labeling characters as one thing or the other, we are also showing our patience with difficult exteriors. Tsundere and all the ~dere derivatives acknowledge our complexity as human beings. Whether someone is outwardly brash, quiet, cool, or stupid, inside they have a desire to give and receive love.

And if we’re able to practice this patience and understanding with anime characters, perhaps eventually we’ll do the same with the complicated people around us as well.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720] ∙ [Mobile 1 / 2]



Ice Cream Work

A few months ago, Koichi brought some art into the Tofugu office. In total we have three large and three small prints. All six pieces are by Japanese artist Naoshi, who has been creating art using the Japanese technique sunae (砂絵) since 2004. Sunae literally means “sand picture” and involves the tedious process of making images with colored sand. And let me just say, the results are worth it.

naoshi art in the tofugu office

While we were still deciding where to hang them, a package arrived in the mail. It was a promotional copy of Naoshi’s first book, Ice Cream Work. The publicity company who sent us the book must have known we’d become recent collectors! Or maybe it was coincidence. Or fate? Either way, I was excited to crack it open and see what surprises Naoshi had in store.

The Art of Ice Cream Work

ice cream work page of ice cream man jumping

Ice Cream Work is an art book disguised as a storybook. It’s a “come for the art, stay for the art” kind of deal.

The textured color of the sunae is held together with beautiful linework and color design. There’s a lot of skill packed into the images. The lines are round and safe and soft, while the characters’ poses are stiff, and almost doll-like. I was surprised the actual pages weren’t as soft as the pictures made them look. (And I caught Kristen touching the pages to see if they were textured.)

The backgrounds are a bit surreal, not in cartoony way, but they aren’t completely realistic either. They straddle that line. This lets the characters pop in and out of the book’s locales without anything feeling out of place. It helps you feel like life can be fantastic, as Naoshi suggests.

The use of the sunae technique isn’t immediately apparent. Even though I was exposed to the Naoshi art prints in our office for a few weeks, I had no idea they were made with colored sand. I just thought they were fuzzy looking. But it’s that fuzzy feeling that sets Naoshi’s work apart. Those busy little grains blend so perfectly with the images that the colors really pop.

Because all of Naoshi’s work is done in sunae, there’s a section in the back of the book describing the process and inviting you to try it for yourself. But as simple as the explanation makes it sound, it looks a lot harder:

Naoshi’s work is attractive because it’s deceptively simple looking. It gives you the “I can do that!” feeling. But it actually takes a lot of skill, which is the most important aspect of her art, in my opinion. It’s inspirational. It’s the kind of art that makes you want to grab a sunae board and start creating! And that’s what the best kind of art does.

The Story and the Experience

the look and find section from ice cream work

Ice Cream Work has a story that is less a narrative and more an experience. Still I’ll attempt to break it down the best I can.

The main character, Ice Cream Man, gets up and goes to work every day. Each day Ice Cream Man performs a new task. The text in this story is sparse, consisting mostly of bulleted lists that explain the job title, location, hours  qualifications, and payment of each job. At the end of the week, Ice Cream Man goes home.

Trying to ground Ice Cream Work in logic misses the point. This is an art book first and a storybook second. You could call it, “an art book that happens to have a short story.” The idea is to give the reader an experience, not to affect them through narrative.

This experience doesn’t end when you finish reading the story though. Or at least Naoshi doesn’t want it to. In the “Look & Find” section you’re told to go back and search for certain things in the story. You also get a taste of Naoshi’s subtly hyperbolic sense of humor. The difficulty of each thing to find jumps from 1 star to 2 stars to 3 stars to 10 stars, showing us that none of it should be taken seriously. On top of that, the objects in “Look & Find” aren’t difficult to find or even hidden. Take that, Where’s Waldo!

This is what convinced me the book is for adults. Children don’t really need a “Look & Find” section to encourage them to go back and look at colorful pictures. And the overt “hidden” objects suggest she’s not asking you to play a game, but rather go back and spend more time with her work.

As adults we tend to consume. And this book can be “read” in a matter of minutes. But in Ice Cream Work Naoshi invites you to participate in the art. That’s where the true storytelling happens. When you take time to sip instead of gulp.

Physical Aspects

ice cream work by naoshi standing upright on a table

The cover design uses an image from the book. Without knowing what the book was about, I was immediately curious. The title and image raise questions, like, why is an ice cream person riding around inside an ice cream cone? Isn’t that a little messed up?

The cover feels smooth, like a solid silk. This softness runs contrary to the visual roughness of the images. The low page count makes it lightweight, ideal for train rides and on-the-go reading. But even though it’s portable, its visual nature makes me want to keep it in one place to preserve its condition. Maybe that’s the collector in me.

The paper inside is glossy. It’s a sweet feeling that matches the sweetness of the story and pictures. Naoshi’s art revolves around the sand medium. High resolution is necessary to preserve the art’s texture. Thankfully the publisher, Overcup Press, achieved this with high quality printing.

My only complaint is with the binding. The pictures get cut in half because they’re spread across two pages. Having a fold down the center of the art is distracting. I’m not sure how this could have been avoided. It’s the nature of books being books. After a while I stopped noticing the dividing line as I became more absorbed into the experience, but it was an initial annoyance.

Learning Things You Forgot How to Do

a pigeon dj spinning tracks in ice cream work

Ice Cream Work is certainly open to interpretation. For me, it’s more about how we perceive the world around us. I think there is significance in the way Naoshi presents each work day twice. Before the “work day” pages wherein you see Ice Cream Man performing his duties, you get the very same scene without Ice Cream Man.

First without Ice Cream Man:

a mundane table in ice cream work

Then with Ice Cream Man:

a table taken over by activity in ice cream work

The first image is rendered realistically. It could be any dessert-laden table. But when Ice Cream Man arrives, the scene comes to life. He’s not just bringing his work ethic, he’s bringing extra characters and activity. There are groups of lemon, herb, and coffee bean people, all engaged in various activities with various motives.

This suggests Ice Cream Man is transforming the scene with his presence. So maybe, the book is an exercise in looking at mundane things differently.

Maybe the idea of seeing little people all around us seems absurd to you. But not when you were younger, right? Why did we stop doing it? Ice Cream Work may be a call for us to enrich our adult lives with things we’ve forgotten how to do, things we’ve abandoned because of fear or distractions.

About Naoshi

naoshi making sunae art

Naoshi is from Iwate, Japan. She started making art in 2004 while working an office job. She wanted to express the joy, concern, and stress she experienced. So she began creating images that express these emotions, and chose sunae as her medium.

In 2007, she started showing her sunae around the world. She has presented at shows and art expos in Taiwan, Italy, China, Germany, Switzerland, South Korea, France, and the United States. She was introduced to American audiences by Hellion Gallery’s Matt Wagner, who featured her in his book The Tall Trees of Tokyo in 2013. After that she moved to Los Angeles.

Naoshi got the idea for Ice Cream Work after discovering a drawing she did when she was seven years old. The drawing was titled あいすがあるいた (The Ice Cream Walked). She decided to develop the character her younger self had created. This idea grew and changed until it evolved into Ice Cream Work.

Naoshi says the biggest influence on her work is Kin Shiotani, who she met in 2004, the same year started making sunae art.

One More Time

the back cover of ice cream work by naoshi

Ice Cream Work invites participation. As a child, you don’t need to be coaxed into spending extra time poring over each line. But as adults, if something isn’t immediately useful or consumable, we move on. That’s why the “Look & Find” section is so important. It’s not for kids. It’s for adults. It pokes you saying, “Did you go through the book too fast? Why not go through it again?”

You get the most from Ice Cream Work when you spend time with it. As an adult, it’s easy to flip through in a matter of minutes. Done. Book consumed. But the lack of words and overt storytelling invite you to slow down and sip. Stop on each page. Look around. Then do it one more time.

Buy: Amazon


Rating: 7/10


Genki I + Workbook

Learning Japanese is an undertaking. Learning as a beginner can feel near impossible. There’s so much to the language. Where do you start? If you ask students of Japanese, the answer you’ll almost unanimously get is “Genki.”

Genki is a two volume Japanese textbook published by The Japan Times in 1999. It was revised and updated into a second edition in 2011. It was written by Eri Banno, Yoko Sakane, Yutaka Ohno, Chikako Shinagawa, and Kyoko Tokashiki. Shortly after its release, the Genki textbook became a popular choice for Japanese university classes across North America. It’s gained quite the following and remains a popular choice even for those in the self-learning community. Countless students and teachers swear by it. But is there a real reason for this devotion? Or is the Genki textbook outdated hype? To find out, let’s dig into the second edition of Genki I and its accompanying workbook.

Who Is Genki For?

close up of the genki textbook and workbook

Depending on your situation Genki may or may not be right for you. This chart will give you a quick idea of whether or not it will suit your needs.

Genki is for:

  • Absolute beginners
  • Classroom learners
  • Really motivated self-learners
  • Beginners who have started learning Japanese but gotten frustrated
  • People who want to take the JLPT level 5 or 4
  • People who want efficient learning
  • People who are intimidated by language learning

Genki is not for:

  • Tourists
  • Unmotivated self-learners
  • People who want to learn kanji

Genki is meant for people who want a foundation for becoming fluent in Japanese. If you want useful words for your vacation in Japan, Genki won’t teach the words you’ll need in a short enough study time. It’s designed for university classrooms. People using the Genki textbook with the assistance of professors and classmates will get the most out of it. This means self-learners have to be highly motivated. Even then, many exercises are group work, which are difficult to do alone. Self-learners will also need to figure out some way to check their work.

Genki Textbook Contents

genki textbook table of contents

Conversation and Grammar Section

The Conversation and Grammar Section is the bulk of the textbook. It’s the primary reason you buy Genki. It’s made up of 12 chapters or “lessons” which teach grammar points and offer exercises to reinforce what you learn. Below is a breakdown of every concept Genki I teaches:

Japanese Writing System Introduction


1: New Friends

  • XはYです
  • noun(1)のnoun(2)

2: Shopping

  • これ それ あれ どれ
  • この / その / あの / どの + noun
  • ここ そこ あそこ どこ
  • だれの noun
  • noun じゃないです
  • 〜ね / 〜よ

3: Making a Date

  • Verb Conjugation
  • Verb Types and “Present Tense”
  • Particles
  • Time Reference
  • 〜ませんか
  • Word Order
  • Frequency Adverbs
  • The Topic Particle は

4: The First Date

  • Xがあります / います
  • Describing Where Things Are
  • Past Tense of です
  • Past Tense of Verbs
  • 一時間
  • たくさん

5: A Trip to Okinawa

  • Adjectives
  • 好き(な) / きらい(な)
  • 〜ましょう / 〜ましょうか
  • Counting

6: A Day in Robert’s Life

  • Te-form
  • 〜てください
  • 〜てもいいです
  • 〜てはいけません
  • Describing Two Activities
  • 〜から
  • 〜ましょうか

7: Family Picture

  • 〜ている
  • メアリーさんは髪が長いです
  • Te-forms for Joining Sentences
  • verb stem + に行く
  • Counting People

8: Barbecue

  • Short Forms
  • Informal Speech
  • 〜と思います / 〜と言っていました
  • 〜ないでください
  • verb のが好きです
  • 何か and 何も

9: Kabuki

  • Past Tense and Short Forms
  • Qualifying Nouns and Verbs and Adjectives
  • まだ〜ていません
  • 〜から

10: Winter Vacation Plans

  • Comparison between Two Items
  • Comparison among Three or More Items
  • adjective/noun + の
  • 〜つもりだ
  • adjective + なる
  • どこかに / どこにも

11: After the Vacation

  • 〜たい
  • 〜たり〜たります
  • 〜ことがある
  • noun A や noun B

12: Feeling Ill

  • 〜んです
  • 〜すぎる
  • 〜ほうがいいです
  • 〜ので
  • 〜なければいけません / 〜なきゃいけません
  • 〜でしょう

You may notice chapter names don’t indicate what you learn. Rather they explain what is happening to Mary and her friends. This allows the authors to teach grammar points in the order they want, rather than shoehorning them into arbitrary “categories.” The categorization should fall on your teacher if you have one. If you don’t, it’s not a problem. Figuring out the “categories” of grammar concepts is less important than learning how to use them well.

Reading and Writing Section

The section after Conversation and Grammar is Reading and Writing. There is a corresponding Reading and Writing chapter for each Conversation and Grammar chapter. That’s twelve chapters in each section, for a total of twenty-four. Each Reading and Writing chapter teaches 14-16 kanji and comes with a wealth of exercises that strengthen your writing skills. We’ll talk more about that section later on.

The Genki Textbook Style

man reading the genki textbook

The Genki textbook doesn’t exist to entertain. It’s a teaching tool. The style keeps you engaged but doesn’t detract from its educational purpose.

The lessons and exercises are all in English. Other Japanese textbooks “immerse” with directions in Japanese. But at the elementary stage, this only hinders the learning process. You should learn Japanese in your native language so you understand what’s being taught. Otherwise you’ll misunderstand instructions and practice poorly.

Genki’s writing is wonderfully concise. The information written is the information needed to start understanding the grammar point. No wordy explanations to overwhelm or lull you to sleep. But it’s not so vague you can’t understand the point at all. Bear in mind Genki is an elementary Japanese textbook. The explanations are intended to get you using grammar concepts quickly. You will need other texts, like the Dictionaries of Japanese Grammar, to dig deeper once you’ve completed Genki I & II.

The sentence structure and word choice are informal. But there is almost no break in the educational tone. The adherence to facts and instruction ensures you don’t waste time reading anything unnecessary. But writing in the casual voice gives the illusion that it’s “down to earth.” This makes it easier to fight through the dense material.

Genki Art and Illustrations

mary and takeshi heroes of the genki textbook series

Genki’s art is one of its strengths. It perfectly complements the lessons and exercises without becoming the center of attention. Some textbooks try to attract customers with flashy manga-style illustrations. But these books mostly fail because their art is more engaging than the material. Genki knows what it wants to be and its educational focus is reflected in the illustration style.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about the art at first. Sometimes I’d find myself charmed by the illustrations. Other times, not as much. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I looked closely at the dialogue illustration on page 209.

mary and takeshi on page 209 of the genki textbook

The Genki textbook’s main characters (on the left) are more iconic while the nameless “supporting cast” (on the right) has slightly more expressive features. There’s a reason for this, though. The main characters are meant to represent the reader. The less definition they have visually, the more easily you can see yourself in their shoes. And that’s exactly what happens as you continue to study.

Though you may not find the art particularly interesting at first, you spend a lot of time with it. And because the spirit and function of the art is tied so closely to the material, your time and effort translates to a connection with the art, and by proxy the main characters.

Of course, Genki gives Mary a break from her iconographic role with various activities. In practice exercises, Mary gets to do all sorts of fun things, which round her out as a character. And your connection with her makes you feel rounded out as you learn.

genki textbook exercise featuring mary doing many things

Even if it takes some time for you to connect with Mary and Takeshi, the sub-characters’ expressions will give you a giggle and kickstart your connection to the illustrations. Carlos, where have you been all my life?

carlos in the genki textbook

I realize the design differences between main and non-main characters is slight. The overall artistic approach to Genki is uniform and consistent. It’s that rare kind of cute illustration that isn’t trying too hard to be cute. It is what it is, and it’s bound to charm you with its authenticity. The illustrations overall do a great job of connecting you with the material and helping you learn. The Genki textbook wouldn’t be the same without them. If you don’t like the art at first, those feelings will most likely wash away as you’re drawn in by the immersive material.

The Genki Textbook Progression of Teaching

illustration in the genki textbook of mary going to the post office

In many ways, Genki perfectly enacts the “+1 principle” Koichi has written about before. You want to work on something that’s +1 above your current ability level. +2 or more will take more effort or be out of your grasp.

But studying “what comes next” means always building on what came before. Using enough effort to learn, but not exerting so much you want to quit. It’s a tough balance. How do you know what’s +1 above your current ability level? How do you know what’s too much or too little struggle? Genki solves this problem.

If you follow the Genki textbook, you’ll always be on track. It teaches what you need to know and cuts the fat. The best example of this: the near absence of romaji. The first two chapters feature romaji to give students enough time to learn hiragana and katakana (a few hours is all you need). Then romaji is dropped and Genki forces you to move ahead.

comparison of romaji and furigana in the genki textbook

It would have been nice if Genki treated furigana the same as romaji, gradually cutting it. Furigana is present throughout the book for all kanji. This acts as a crutch and disables any potential kanji reinforcement that could accompany reading and grammar exercises. Even a calculated removal of furigana would have been fine, removing what the reader should know by a certain point.

After finishing Genki I and II, you’ll need to go back to learn nuances the series skips. But that’s a good thing. The Genki textbook doesn’t waste your time teaching you every way to conjugate verbs all at once. It teaches you enough to keep you moving forward. You get efficiency rather than completeness.

Genki Textbook Features

chapter 4 of the genki textbook

The chapters in the Conversation and Grammar section follow a predictable structure. You’ll tackle new information in each chapter, but you’ll always know how to tackle it. No surprises except the target information. This is helpful for establishing a study groove.

Here is the order you’ll attack each lesson:

  • Dialogue
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar Explanations
  • Practice

Inserted in main sections of each chapter are breakout boxes of information. They are:

  • Expression Notes
  • Culture Notes
  • Useful Expressions


dialogue 5 of the genki textbook

Genki’s dialogues are the first point of contact with new material. First you’ll see three (or more) dialogues in Japanese. Next the English translations of those dialogues. Like this:

メアリー: すみません。いま なんじですか。
たけし: じゅうにじはんです。
メアリー: ありがとう ございます。
たけし: いいえ。

Mary: Excuse me. What time is it now?
Takeshi: It’s half past twelve.
Mary: Thank you.
Takeshi: You’re welcome.

It may seem counterintuitive to start reading full sentences of new material before seeing a vocab list or grammar explanation. But there’s a reason.

The dialogues are made up of two things:

  1. Information you’ve already studied
  2. Information you’re about to study

In reading the dialogues, your mind makes a distinction between the stuff you know and the stuff you don’t. Each time you get stuck, it’ll most likely be new information. If you don’t turn the page to reference the vocab or grammar explanations, you have to look at the corresponding English translation. This lets you fill in knowledge gaps through deduction, rather than being told the answer. A little struggle is a great way to kickstart your brain as you begin a new lesson. Of course, none of this works if you skip ahead and look at the vocab and grammar sections.

The authors did a great job of working with the elementary grammar and vocabulary to create memorable situations. Each dialogue uses only concepts from previous lessons while introducing new concepts. That can’t be easy to write. Recurring characters and a continuing story in the dialogues shows creativity. Even though the stories are simplistic, you still find yourself making connections with the characters and situations, which makes the learning more enjoyable.

The dialogues are easy to understand if you study the material well. This gives you that feeling of accomplishment when you understand what you’re reading. They are written in standard and polite Japanese, so there are few curveballs.

illustration from the genki textbook of a teacher teaching japanese

The situations are all collegiate. By which I mean, the characters and scenarios revolve around college life. Over the course of the series, you get to know Mary and Takeshi. Mary is an exchange student studying in Japan. Takeshi is a Japanese college student. The two meet, go on dates, and fall in love. In between their romantic A-story, various B-stories take place. Like Takeshi going on vacation with his friend Robert. Or Robert forgetting his textbook and getting scolded by Mr. Yamashita.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen in Genki textbook Amazon reviews is the series’ focus on college life. The dialogue and exercise scenarios center around travel, homework, and dating. But considering the target audience, the decision makes sense. It may annoy you, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker, considering the quality of lessons you get.

Vocab List

a vocabulary list from the genki textbook

After the dialogue comes the vocabulary list. Each one has a dark gray border so they’re easy to find when flipping through the textbook.

Vocabulary is divided into:

  • nouns
  • い-adjectives
  • な-adjectives
  • u-verbs
  • ru-verbs
  • irregular verbs (if applicable)
  • adverbs and other expressions

The vocab list columns are divided into hiragana, kanji, and English translation. This is great for good old fashioned column-covering cram sessions (though we recommend SRS).

logo for the memrise srs system

Bear in mind that some terminology used may differ from other books or resources. If you’ve learned these concepts from other books or classes, be aware of the multiple names. い-adjectives may be called “keiyoushi” (形容詞) or simply “adjectives.” な-adjectives may be called “keiyou doushi” (形容動詞) or “adjectival nouns.” u-verbs and ru-verbs may be called “ichidan” and “godan” verbs, respectively. Whatever terminology you prefer, The Genki textbook uses the names it uses. It may take some mental switching, but it won’t hurt you to learn different names for the same ideas.


A common complaint I’ve seen in a Genki textbook review or two is that the vocab feels random or disorganized. I’m sure the word choice was purposeful, but I do agree a few odd vocabulary words pop into each list.

It’s tough to say exactly which words are “the most basic.” But you can quantify which are “most used.” And that should give an idea of which words and kinds of words should be taught first. With this in mind, take a look at some of the vocabulary from Genki chapter 1.

  • major (as in college major)
  • college, university
  • international student
  • Sweden
  • anthropology
  • lawyer

Again, this points to Genki’s college-centric approach. But it also shows a focus on teaching vocab based around dialogues. Rather than teaching the most used (or useful) words, it teaches vocab which fits into the dialogue situations.

Overall this is a minor gripe. The “odd” words are the minority, and most vocab are basic and useful. So you’re not forced to learn lots of specialized words. Just a little.

The total number of vocabulary in both Genki volumes is 1700. A great start, which is the goal of the Genki series. They are a foundation on which you’ll build your lifelong Japanese study.

In the end, you’re using the Genki textbook for grammar. Vocabulary learning is its own challenge and no set of textbooks is going to fill that role. Learn the Genki vocab words because they’ll help you learn the grammar it teaches. But supplement with spreadsheets full of Japanese words to learn the vocab you want to know.

Grammar Explanations

a grammar explanation from the genki textbook

Genki’s trademark efficiency is best displayed in the way it teaches grammar. Genki gives you only what you need to know to understand and start using the grammar. There are few, if any, peripheral distractions. Genki assumes you will eventually, throughout your lifetime language learning journey, become an advanced Japanese user. This means whatever details they don’t teach now, you will learn some time down the line. Their focus is giving you enough to start using the language without overloading you.

Some complain Genki teaches grammar as “this is just the way it is in Japanese.” Though I’ve never seen these words in the Genki textbook, I understand the complaints. The grammar explanations are concise and complete, but they don’t elaborate. They teach the point, how it works, and give an example (maybe two). Those looking for reasons “why” will get the impression “this is just the way it is in Japanese.” It’s not an overt message. More an inferred attitude, a side effect of the streamlined approach to teaching. This may be frustrating, but it’s important to accept at this stage. The “why” of language is linguistics and not Genki’s focus. Learn the “how” first. Most people don’t understand the “why” of their native tongue, but use it fine. Focus on the task at hand and then ask a linguist about the “why” later on.

Genki does however dissect grammar, but only when necessary. A good example is the breakdown of “〜なければいけません/〜なきゃいけません” on page 273. This grammatical phrase is essentially the Japanese equivalent of “must” in English. Genki could have taught the grammar, explained it means “must,” and left it at that. Instead, it digs in and explains the components:

“なければ and なきゃ mean ‘if you do not do…’ and いけません means ‘you cannot go’; なければいけません and なきゃいけません therefore literally mean ‘you cannot go not doing…’ with the double negatives giving rise to the affirmative sense of the mandate.”

Beyond the grammar explanations, it’s assumed you’ll better understand the grammar through exercises and the workbook. It’s also assumed you’ll have a teacher to give you extra example sentences and explanation. So there aren’t many example sentences in the grammar explanations. All the more reason for self-learners to get the workbook and be proactive with services like HiNative.

a thought bubble of a woman speaking in the genki textbook

Though Genki’s teaching approach is streamlined, it strives to be complete in parts. Case in point, the footnotes. Not all explanations have them, but when the show up, they can be revelatory. An example of this is the explanation of 〜と思います/〜と言っていました on page 193. After the example sentence “(私は)たけしさんはメアリーさんが好きだと思います” (I think Takeshi likes Mary), there is a footnote which explains how to render this idea in the negative. There are two ways, but one is more common in Japanese. For English speakers, it’s more natural to say “I don’t think Takeshi likes Mary.” So the reader may assume rendering “〜とおもいます” (to think) in the negative would accomplish their goal. It would, but it sounds wonky to the Japanese ear. Instead, the Genki textbook advises the sentence “I think Takeshi doesn’t like Mary.” Clarifications like this are sprinkled throughout the book in footnotes, and make the learning experience more complete.

A minor gripe made against Genki’s grammar explanations is it doesn’t teach “real Japanese.” Meaning it doesn’t teach Japanese the way people speak it. This is true, but that’s a good thing. It’s important to learn language well before you learn it “naturally.” Colloquial and informal language is definitely more fun, but it’s not a good foundation for a beginner. That being said, if you want to learn some colloquial and “real” Japanese along with Genki, check out Japanese the Manga Way. Keep in mind studying two books at once might slow you down.

Practice Exercises

an open refrigerator full of food as an exercise in the genki textbook

Genki’s amazing grammar explanations would be nothing without the exercises to back them up. Exercises are repetitive enough to reinforce key points, but varied enough to keep students engaged. Put in the time and these exercises will go a long way toward packing learned grammar and vocab into your brain.

There are many different types of exercises in the Genki textbook. Some you might see are:

  • translate/conjugate the word/sentence
  • answer the questions
  • read the dialogue with a partner
  • ask questions with a group
  • look at the chart and make a sentence/describe something/ask questions
  • look at the picture(s) and make a sentence/describe something/ask questions
  • fill in the missing information with a partner’s corresponding chart
  • role play
  • talk to the class
  • sing a song
  • combine parts of speech/grammar points together

Though most exercises follow similar structures, they’re not formulaic. And each lesson bends the structure to work uniquely with the target concept. This way you’re grappling with new material in a familiar way, giving you some sort of muscle memory in unfamiliar territory.

The illustrations help mix up the practice process. Whatever your opinion of the art, it serves an important purpose in the exercises section. Rather than pages of words, questions, and charts, there are exercises using pictures at least every other page. The illustrations are part of the tasks and make them more engaging and memorable.

an audio icon in the genki textbook indicating a passage with a corresponding file on the genki audio cd

If you’re an audial learner, Genki’s got you covered. There are audio icons next to select lessons. These have corresponding audio files on the CD provided. The audio components are mostly listen and repeat versions of the exercises, but there are a few songs for childlike learning. Some readers may be tempted to skip these, but they offer necessary listening practice. Especially when first learning Japanese, it’s important to hear examples from native speakers. Even better is the chance to listen and repeat. Big kudos to Genki for recognizing this and providing a solution.

As for the content of exercises themselves, they can be concrete or abstract. From “conjugate into this form” or “describe what is happening in the picture.” Students build hard language skills, then use them to express themselves.

One of the drawbacks of the exercises for self-learners is the lack of an attached answer key. When you’re learning by yourself it’s important to check your answers to make sure you’re not learning information incorrectly. While sold-separately Genki answer key may be an easy way to accomplish this, there are other ways. Try out Lang-8’s Hi-Native service to check answers you’re not sure about. Ask questions in Japanese learning communities.

The Genki answer key available as a separate book could be worth buying. If you go the answer key route, be aware that it is written for teachers who read Japanese fluently. So the entire thing is in Japanese and uses kanji you may not know. As an elementary learner, this makes checking answers much slower, but not impossible.

There are enough exercises in each lesson to give you a firm foundation with new grammar (if you do them all and do them well). But for self-learners, the effectiveness of the exercises is cut down by a significant amount. Since the book is aimed at classroom Japanese learning, a big chunk are “pair work” or “group work.” Some can be finagled into practice for self-learners, but most will have to be skipped entirely.

Expression Notes

an expression note in the genki textbook

Several types of breakout boxes featuring additional information supplement the lessons. The Expression Notes are the only type of breakout box that isn’t listed in the table of contents.

Expression Notes offer clarification on uses and the nuances of Japanese. For example, Expression Note 8 explains the verb 遊ぶ (to play) is used for “spending time pleasantly” but not for instances like “to play tennis” or “to play games.” Expression Note 4 explains 行く (to go) is used for movements away from the speaker while 来る (to come) is used for movements toward the speaker.

There are only 11 Expression Notes total.

  1. Page 36 – おはよう/ありがとう, さようなら, すみません, いいえ, いってらしゃい/いってきます/ただいま/おかえりなさい
  2. Page 46 – あの, はい/いいえ, そうですか, Pronunciation of は, Numbers, Giving one’s telephone number, せんせい, さん, Referring to the person you are talking to
  3. Page 67 – (〜を)ください, (〜を)どうぞ, On the pronunciation of number words, Big numbers
  4. Page 94 – 行く/来る, ちょっと
  5. Page 113 – Xの前, えっ/あっ
  6. Page 136 – 忙しい/にぎやか(な)
  7. Page 155 – 遅く/遅い, どうも, お
  8. Page 175 – 遊ぶ, 知る/わかる
  9. Page 197 – 〜する
  10. Page 236 – Using が and けど at the end of a sentence to indicate intention
  11. Page 257 – は in negative sentences, だけ, に, ドライブ, 夢, には

These are a nice addition. They anticipate new learner assumptions about Japanese and help to flesh out idiosyncrasies.

Culture Notes

a culture note in the genki textbook

For those interested in the Culture Notes, they are listed in the Table of Contents, unlike the Expression Notes. These breakout boxes attempt to explain some of Japan’s culture along with the language. There is one Culture Note per chapter. They include:

  • Greetings and Bowing
  • Japanese Names
  • Japanese Currency
  • Japanese Houses
  • Japanese National Holidays
  • Japanese Festivals
  • Japan’s Educational System
  • Kinship Terms
  • Foods in Japan
  • Japanese Traditional Culture
  • Public Transportation in Japan
  • New Year’s
  • Japanese Climate

It only makes sense to teach culture with language. They go hand in hand. On the whole, the Culture Notes are nice snippets of Japanese life that vary in their usefulness. “Japanese Currency” and “Kinship Terms” are useful, the latter being the most useful of all. The rest are great introductions. Use them to fuel further cultural research as you study the language.

Useful Expressions

a useful expressions breakout box in the genki textbook

The third type of breakout box is the most practical. Useful Expressions are exactly as the name suggests. They are lists of extra vocabulary and set phrases that will help in daily life. Even the college-centric lists such as “In the Classroom” and “In Japanese Class” contain words everyone should know.

Beyond simply listing words, some boxes contain helpful clarification or organization. For example, the “Colors” breakout box divides the Japanese color words into い-adjectives and nouns. It explains that い-adjective colors become nouns by dropping the い and noun colors need の to connect to other nouns. This is not something immediately apparent to beginners.

Here is a list Useful Expressions sections throughout the book:

  • Time/Age
  • In the Classroom
  • Days/Weeks/Months/Years
  • At the Post Office
  • Directions
  • Parts of the Body
  • Colors
  • At the Station
  • In the Japanese Class
  • Health and Illness

Though I did say Genki isn’t for tourists, I would recommend vacationers take a look at the Useful Expressions, if they have a copy of the Genki textbook available to them. Memorizing all these would be helpful during a 2–3 week trip to Japan, especially when paired with a list of vital Japanese vocabulary.

My only complaint is there’s not more Useful Expressions boxes. They’re handy and it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with a few more lists. When you consider there is a “Culture Notes” breakout box in every chapter, it’s strange that some chapters don’t have a Useful Expressions box.

Reading and Writing Section

kanji lesson 3 in the genki textbook

Genki’s Reading and Writing section shouldn’t be skipped. A mere 60 pages long, it’s not much practice. But what you get is an emphasis on play and experimentation which will benefit the most motivated learners.

Each lesson in Reading and Writing corresponds to a chapter of the Conversation and Grammar portion. As you work through each chapter, you should flip to the back and complete the Reading and Writing lesson of the same number.

The first two lessons are kana. Lesson one practices hiragana and lesson two practices katakana. As I mentioned before, it’s nice that Genki makes you learn kana so quickly. With mnemonics you can learn both writing systems in mere hours. The exercises in the first two chapters of this section will reinforce what you learn.

Chapters 1 and 2 jump straight into the practice exercises. Again, it’s assumed you’ll have an instructor to teach you the kana. Self-learners will have to use the kana tables on pages 24–26. There are also kana charts under the front and back covers.

Lessons 3 through 12 are all kanji. A list of kanji is presented in charts across two pages. It’s assumed you will memorize them, put them in a flashcard deck, or do whatever. There are 14–16 kanji per lesson. Stroke order is shown but not taught. There is little handholding, so you’ll have to make a plan to teach yourself the material before starting the practice exercises. If you want to practice writing kana or kanji, you’ll have to purchase the separate workbook or use your own graph paper.

The kanji given to the reader to memorize are cherry-picked. They’re useful and common, grouped into categories like “Daily Life,” “Travel,” and “The Folktale Kasajizo.” Some sets are more useful than others. The progression of building on previous concepts seen in the grammar section is absent in the kanji section. You’re expected to learn through cramming. Using rote memorization to force kanji into your brain isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Just an inefficient and outdated one. Still, cramming these kanji may be worth your while. Assuming you keep up with the grammar lessons and learn the kanji required, the practice exercises in the Reading and Writing section are a powerful tool. Armed with knowledge, you get a chance to play with the language in a more creative way than in the grammar section.

Many exercises are similar to those in the rest of the book. Match this with that. Fill in the blank, etc. But there are a few which shine especially bright.

man reading the katakana word search from the genki textbook

There’s a katakana word search on page 295. When you’re learning how to read kana, this is a great way to scan for characters and identify them. Going in different directions helps loosen up that brain.

radical combination exercise in the genki textbook

There’s no mention of radicals, but the Genki textbook does introduce the concept with a “kanji combination” exercise. You’re presented a certain number of kanji and told to combine them to create new ones. This tests your kanji knowledge and encourages you to research and make connections.

map reading exercise in the genki textbook

Maps and charts return in this section. But this time you’re writing full sentences to describe actions or information in your own words.

man reading a letter in japanese from the genki textbook

Some of the best exercises are the reading comprehension. When you start learning Japanese, reading is generally a waste of time. You don’t know enough kanji and grammar, so you’ll be constantly pausing to look up concepts you don’t know. But if you’ve been keeping up with the lessons, the reading practice presented will only use Japanese you know.

Not only is the reading itself wonderful practice. You’re asked questions based on the passages. Having to intake, process, and output all in Japanese is great experience and hard to find as a beginner. The CDs add listening and speaking practice to the mix. All the reading comprehension in these sections have corresponding audio files.

Similar to this are open-ended writing assignments that challenge your ability to form sentences and encourage self-expression. Things like:

“You are organizing a party. Write a flyer about the party. Be sure to include: what kind of party it is, what time it starts, where it is held, what to bring, how to get there, and so on.”

Language learning gets fun when you can express yourself properly. And getting small chances to do this early on is valuable. This is a self-guided section. Self-learners with low motivation will have trouble. But those that push through and do the work will get the most out of it.


the genki textbook index

We’re finally at the end of the textbook. And the end of a textbook means indexes! Beautiful indexes full of vocabulary. If you’re looking for words to put into an SRS flashcard deck, here they are.

There’s a Japanese-English (さくいん1) index and an English-Japanese index (さくいん2). A nice feature of both is the way it indicates your position in the index. There’s a hiragana syllabary above the Japanese-English index and an alphabet above the English-Japanese index. Both are grayed out except for the particular letter or character covered on the page.

a finger pointing to the genki textbook index location marker

This is a minor feature but one that gives a more modern feel to the analog practice of looking things up in a book.

The entries of the Japanese-English index are kana, kanji, English, and section marker. There’s a section legend at the beginning of the index to let you know which symbols represent which section. The English Japanese index is similar, with the major exception being the order of the entries. In this case it’s English, kana, kanji, and section marker.

Map of Japan

the genki textbook's map of japan

This is exactly as the name describes. A map of Japan with each prefecture listed in kanji. There are some pictures too, which are okay for tiny black and white pictures printed in a textbook. Could be a useful tool if you’re stuck on an airplane without internet access or something. Otherwise, check online for better maps with better features.


the number chart from the genki textbook

Just when you think this textbook is out of material, it surprises you. The Numbers chart is handy, though incomplete. Japanese has a ton of counters that change the reading of the number depending on what you’re counting. いち (1) can change to ひとつ, ひとり, いっかい, いっぽん, and lots of other things. This chart tells you how to render one through ten for 37 different categories of things. For those confused by counters, seeing them all lined up in chart form could help break the concept down into more understandable pieces.

Verb Conjugation Chart

the genki textbook verb conjugation chart

The Genki textbook gives you one final gift before signing off, a verb conjugation chart. Like the numbers chart, this is super helpful but even more useful.

For those struggling with verb conjugation, this chart lines everything up for easy study. It doesn’t provide every verb conjugation. Only those introduced in this book. But for a beginner these are great foundational conjugations to practice. Trying to tackle the entirety of conjugations at once is too much. Master these and you’ll have an easier time with basic conversation. From there, you’ll be more than able to tackle the conjugations in the Genki 2 textbook.

The Genki Textbook Look and Feel

genki textbook cover

The physical makeup of the Genki textbook may seem trivial, but it’s a lot of little things that impact learning in their own way. Your first impression of the textbook will probably be its nice glossy cover. When you pick it up, it feels heavy for a paperback. Considering the density of information inside, the weight is welcome.

The cover design is okay. It’s close to clean and modern, but still feels early 2000s. Remove the outlined “げんき” logo, rearrange some of the text elements, and it would feel less dated.

Inside is a nice mix of fonts, serif fonts being the most dominant. It’s academic, but other font styles paired with illustrations let you know the learning will be fun. Some pleasure with your pain (and gain).

japanese font used in the genki textbook

The majority of the Japanese text is set in what Genki calls “textbook” font. It closely resembles handwriting. This is great because you’ll be doing so much writing in the exercises.

Everything is black and white. No distracting colors, which is a big plus. It sucks when a language book confuses “engaging” with “colorful.”

small photos used in the genki textbook

The photos are competent and high enough resolution. Unfortunately, their small size destroys their impact. Photos are mostly used for Culture Notes breakout boxes. Without the pictures, the Culture Notes would feel much hollower. So the photos are necessary, despite their shortcomings.

Genki’s information is well organized, especially considering its density. Columns and sections make the knowledge easy to navigate. The margins and alignment offer plenty of white space. Visual appeal aside, Genki’s design invites you to write in the pages. And those who take notes, highlight, dog-ear, and doodle will learn the most. Though some have advocated for a Genki textbook pdf, I think it’s a bad idea. It might be handy to have on an e-reader, but you won’t learn nearly as much without physical space to take notes.

Physically speaking, the paper is mid-grade. It won’t tear easily, but it’s not super thick. The book itself is hard to keep open on a table. You’ll find yourself using a heavy flat object to keep it from snapping shut. Bend that spine back as soon as possible for an easier learning experience. The provided CD is stored in the back flap. This makes it tough to flip through the Genki textbook. Take the CD and store it in a safe place, like a jewel case or CD holder. The dust jacket is similarly annoying, always slipping off or popping up during study sections. Remove and store or trash it.

Genki I Workbook

genki workbook cover

You can (and should) make your own exercises to practice what you’re learning. But if you find well-constructed Japanese practice that is perfectly in line with your studies, grab it. The Genki Workbook is exactly that, and worth grabbing.

The Genki Workbook is divided into 2 sections:

  1. Dialogue and Grammar
  2. Reading and Writing

The Dialogue and Grammar section is practice for all the grammar in the textbook. Think of it as extra exercises which reinforce the grammar you’re learning. The Reading and Writing section of the workbook corresponds with the textbook in the same way. It contains handwriting practice and translation exercises.

At its core, the workbook is a collection of extra practice to help cement the lessons learned in the textbook. And that’s wonderful. Doing the workbook in conjunction with the textbook exercises makes your learning concrete. Even better, the exercises in the workbook are different than in the textbook. Mostly because they are open-ended and encourage self-expression.

translation exercise from the genki workbook

For example, you get sentence translation exercises. This may sound straightforward. But there’s rarely only one correct way to translate a sentence from Japanese to English and vice versa. Also there are exercises like on page 53, “Answer the following questions regarding your best trip.” You have to read in Japanese, write in Japanese, and draw from your own personal experience. Once you’ve learned a fair amount of kanji, you get truly open-ended questions like “Report tomorrow’s weather of the place you live” and a big blank space.

There is some reading comprehension, but little beyond individual sentences. There are a few short paragraphs to read and answer questions. Thankfully the Reading and Writing section of the textbook has you covered for reading practice. But it would have been nice to have more in the workbook.

What the workbook lacks in reading comp, it makes up for in listening. Many exercises have corresponding audio files on the included CD. This gives vital listening practice for beginners. 

image identification time from the genki workbook

Here’s a list of the kinds of exercises you’ll encounter in the workbook.

  • Translate from Japanese to English
  • Translate from English to Japanese
  • Conjugate the verbs
  • Look at the picture and write about the picture in Japanese
  • Answer Japanese questions in Japanese
  • Here’s the answers, now ask the correct questions
  • Write both questions and answers in Japanese
  • Listen to the audio clip and choose the correct answer
  • Listen to the audio clip and answer questions about it
  • Listen to the audio clip and fill in the table
  • Read the passage, listen to the questions, and write the answers
  • Complete the conjugation table
  • Describe what you (did/ate/saw/visited/etc)
  • Describe what you think about each thing in the list
  • Read the Japanese passage and draw what the passage describes
  • Write sentences using the target grammar
  • Choose words/grammar from a list and make sentences
  • Complete the dialogue
  • Describe the person, place, or thing
  • Interview a person in Japanese and get their answers in Japanese
  • Give advice

The Reading and Writing section of the workbook is small, but worth doing for the writing practice. Each chapter gets two pages, one for kanji/kana practice and one for exercises. The kanji/kana practice pages are meant to be photocopied multiple times for extra practice. So avoid writing in these. The practice exercises for each chapter are the same, one fill-in-the-blank and one translation.

Genki Audio CD-ROMs

genki audio cds side by side

The CDs are indispensable. It’s great The Japan Times decided to pack them in with the second edition. They used to cost extra in the first edition, and were in a different file format. The audio clips fill in the listening/speaking gap present with most textbook learning. Though there are many Japanese audio resources available online now, the Genki audio is good quality and  the content pairs perfectly with your studies.

The clips are slow and clear for the beginner’s ear, but not pandering. They’ll challenge elementary listening. Eventually you’ll want to find more listening practice. But as a complete beginner, the CDs are perfect.

The audio quality is hit or miss. Sometimes the clips sound like they were recorded in a closet. Sometimes they’re perfectly clear. Sometimes they sound like they were exported in low quality and added alongside the high quality clips. I couldn’t find a pattern either. Sometimes the English speakers would sound tinny, and sometimes it was the Japanese speakers. In a clip about number pronunciation, one of the numbers was randomly tinny, low quality, and spoken by a different Japanese voice actor than the rest of the numbers in the sequence. Today, podcasters and hobbyists put out high quality audio every day. It makes the Genki CDs seem low quality by comparison.

Quality aside, the voice actors are both male and female, which is great. When you start learning, it’s important to hear the differences between masculine and feminine Japanese. And the voice actors vary in age too. The male voice sound anywhere between late twenties to mid-forties. The female voices vary between early twenties to early sixties. Getting such variety from your listening practice make these CDs extra valuable.

Be aware the CDs are not audio CDs. They’re CD-ROMs. The first edition CD set was audio CDs. But they were a set of 6 CDs per volume. The Japan Times fit the 6 CDs worth of audio files onto two CD-ROMs, meaning less physical hassle for the consumer. It also means the new CDs won’t play in a CD player. They’re not made to play files, just store them. So you’ll need to put the Genki CDs into a computer, and drag the files into a folder. From there you can do with them as you please. Put them into iTunes. Load them on your phone. Burn them onto an audio CD. Whatever you do, it’ll definitely be worth the effort.

People online claim the mp3 files on the CDs are disorganized and hard to sort. Personally, I don’t see what the problem is. I popped the textbook CD into my laptop and was presented with 2 folders:

audio content folders on the genki cds

One labeled “Genki1_KaiwaBunpo-hen” for the Conversation and Grammar section and the other labeled “Genki1_Yomikaki-hen” for the Reading and Writing section. Definitely not user friendly, but everything was organized. Inside the folders are the files:

file names of audio clips on the genki cds

files inside the genki cd-rom

I understand this is confusing at first glance. But the filenames correspond exactly with the audio icons in the textbook. Since the audio was made to be used with textbook, it makes sense. Could they have been organized better? Definitely. But it’s not anything that will keep you from finding and using the files.

Full disclosure, I used the Genki CD-ROM on a Mac. I didn’t try it on a Windows machine. It’s possible accessing the files on Windows is more difficult somehow. If you need help getting the files on iTunes, the Genki website has instructions.

My biggest complaint is that CDs are used at all. Navigating the files and accessing them isn’t a problem. It’s finding a CD drive that’s an issue. Back in 2011 when the second edition was published, CD drives were still a common feature on laptops. But with the advent of tablet computing, access to a CD drive is less and less common. It’s nice to have a physical copy of the audio files. But it wouldn’t be too difficult include a slip of paper with a key for downloading the files from a cloud. Some kind of access to a member’s only Genki textbook download area. Including the CD-ROM was a perk in 2011. Today, not as much. However, it should be noted that most textbooks still come with CDs. So it’s not that Genki is “behind” necessarily. It’s just that the Japanese textbook world has yet to make a foray into cloud-based computing.

The Genki Textbook Price

barcode and price on the back of the genki textbook

Perhaps the biggest complaint people have with Genki is the price. The retail price in the US is $59.99 for the textbook and $29.99 for the workbook. That’s about $90 for the first volume. Add another $90 if you’re getting Genki II at the same time.

How does this compare to other Japanese textbooks? Here are the retail prices of the first volumes of some of the most popular:

Textbook Price Workbook CDs Total
Genki $60 $30 Included $90
Minna no Nihongo $25 $9 Included $34
Japanese for Busy People $27 $22 Included $49
Kakehashi $40 $20 N/A $60
Adventures in Japanese $70 $30 $60 $160
Marugoto $23 N/A N/A $23

This makes Genki a little pricier than average. But it’s a steal when you consider the quality you’re getting. You may pay $49 for Japanese for Busy People, but you’ll get less than $49 worth of education from it.

If you really want to get a deal on the Genki books, by them from a retailer in Japan. On the textbook sells for ¥3500 ($29 USD) and the workbook sells for ¥1600 ($13 USD). That’s like getting both half off! Of course, this doesn’t include shipping. To calculate Amazon Japan’s shipping to your country, check out their international shipping page.

The Real Deal

man studying with the genki textbook at a table

Genki isn’t the only Japanese resource you’ll ever need. But it can be your primary textbook at the beginning of your Japanese language learning journey. It manages to be simultaneously inclusive and challenging. Its predictable lesson structure and scaffolding progression ensures you’re always slowly and surely moving forward. The grammar explanations are such home runs they mostly make up for any shortcomings. Adding the CDs and workbook to your study regimen cements Japanese grammar concepts further than the textbook does alone.

Of course, if you’re self-learning, using the Genki textbook will take more effort. It was designed for university classrooms, so you’ll need a friend or answer key to check your work. You won’t get a ton of example sentences with the grammar explanations, so plan to use other resources to cross reference grammar you have questions about. The vocab lists are fine, but less than you’ll need to converse comfortably. Adding massive SRS vocab study will make your conversation more powerful than it would be otherwise.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether or not Genki is right for you. It’s perfect for classroom learning. So if you’re thinking of signing up for a Japanese class that uses Genki, jump on it. With some effort, it could be excellent for self-learners too.

Buy: Textbook, Workbook

Rating: 8/10


Bowing In Japan: The Definitive Guide

Japanese bowing is something that comes up a lot here at Tofugu. It seems that people, whether they’re preparing for an upcoming trip or living in Japan as a foreigner, are often at a loss regarding what exactly they’re supposed to do when a bow is required. They have a vague, physical understanding of how Japanese bowing works, of course, but worry about missing the subtle nuance and offending their hosts or colleagues.

These questions always give me pause since bowing is so deeply-ingrained in Japanese culture that I don’t give it much conscious thought. To be honest, another thing I take for granted is the fact that not many foreigners will even think to bow in the situations where a Japanese person normally would—right or wrong, this assumption does give you something of a free pass.

That being said, a well-timed, correctly-executed bow will definitely earn you brownie points while you’re in Japan, and that’s where this guide comes in! Here, we’ll introduce the main types of bows you should know and explain step-by-step how to perform them.

Why Bow at All?

japanese bowing saikeirei

It’s believed that bowing in Japan started sometime during the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794 AD) with the introduction of Chinese buddhism. According to those teachings, bowing was a direct reflection of status—if you met a person of higher social standing, you would put yourself in the more “vulnerable” position of a bow, much like a friendly dog rolling over on its back, to prove that you didn’t harbor any ill will toward them.

In modern Japanese society, bowing serves a variety of functions that go beyond this original intent. Generally speaking, you will bow when doing the following:

  • Saying hello or goodbye to someone
  • Starting or ending a class, meeting, or ceremony
  • Thanking someone
  • Apologizing to someone
  • Congratulating someone
  • Asking someone for a favor or their goodwill
  • Worshipping someone or something

More than just focusing on these occasions, though, it’s important to remember that bowing conveys different emotions, such as appreciation, respect, or remorsefulness. As you learn the physical aspects of a good bow, keep in mind what you’re trying to communicate through your posture, as this will inform how deeply you bow and for what length of time more naturally.

Sitting vs Standing Bows

Before we begin talking about the different types of bows you might perform, let’s touch briefly on the two positions from which you can begin a bow in the first place.

The first is a seated position called seiza (正座). Seiza is the way you will be expected to sit in almost all formal situations, ranging from participating in a tea ceremony to mourning at a funeral. To get into seiza from a standing position, start by kneeling. Men should kneel one leg at a time, while women should put both knees on the ground at the same time, if possible. With the tops of your feet flat on the floor and your toes pointed straight back behind you, rest your hindquarters on your calves or heels. Keep your arms at your sides and put your hands palm-down on top of your thighs. Try to sit up as straight as possible. If you’ve never sat this way for any significant length of time, I would strongly recommend practicing at home, as it takes some getting used to.

You can also initiate a bow from a standing position called seiritsu (正立). To get into seiritsu, stand and look straight ahead to a spot about 5m 40cm (almost 18ft) in front of you. If you’re a man, position your feet about 3cm apart. If you’re a woman, make sure your feet are touching. Place your hands lightly on your thighs at a diagonal, keeping a fist-worth of space between your body and your elbows. Finally, remember to breathe with your diaphragm to give a more centered appearance.

The Basics Of Japanese Bowing

Now that we’ve covered the two “starting positions” of seiza and seiritsu, there are three points to remember for every bow.

First, remember that the slope of your back and the back of your head should form a straight line, rather than a curve. Another way of thinking about this is that you should try to hold yourself in a way that doesn’t allow for any gaps between the collar of your shirt and the skin of your upper back.

japanese bowing curved back

Second, when bowing from seiritsu, be sure to keep your legs and hips in the same position throughout the entire bow. In other words, don’t stick your butt out! To help accomplish this, it may help to image that you’re standing with your legs flush against a wall when you begin your bend.

Third, as a rule of thumb, inhale while moving into a bow, exhale while holding the bow, and inhale again while straightening back up.

I bet you didn’t think there was so much setup for such a simple-looking gesture, did you? Well, never fear—we’ve reached the part where I begin telling you about some actual bows!

The Nod-Bow and Mokurei: Non-bows

…or is it? You see, when you’re interacting with people you know very well, such as a friends or relatives, a full-blown bow isn’t usually required. Instead, you can incline your head just slightly, as seen below.

In very casual situations, you can even get away with simply casting out a sort of “respectful beam” from your eyes, bowing only in your mind. This is called mokurei (目礼*), which combines the kanji 目 (eye) and 礼 (bow).

*Confusingly, this word has a homophone, 黙礼, which refers to a “silent bow”. Be careful not to get the two confused.

Eshaku: The 15° “Greeting” Bow

When you see an acquaintance of equal business or social rank, such as a coworker or friend-of-a-friend, you will perform an eshaku (会釈).


  1. Stand in seiritsu
  2. Bend forward 15° at a natural pace
  3. At the same time and at the same speed, lower your hands 3 to 4cm down the front of your legs
  4. Keep your gaze in line with the bend of your body and look at a spot about 180cm (6ft) in front of you
  5. Return to seiritsu at a natural pace.


  1. Sit in seiza
  2. Bend forward 15° at a natural pace
  3. At the same time and at the same speed, slide your hands toward the outside of your knees.
  4. Place the tips of your fingers (touching) lightly on the ground, in-line with your body.
  5. Keep your gaze down at a natural level.
  6. Return to seiza at a natural pace.

As you can see, you don’t have to linger over any one part of this bow—just don’t appear rushed.

Senrei: The 30° “Polite” Bow

When you’re sitting in a semi-formal situation and want to show a moderate level of gratitude or respect, you will perform a senrei (浅礼), the most common type of sitting bow in your day-to-day life.

Note: This bow can only be done while sitting.

  1. Sit in seiza
  2. Bend forward 30° over a one second beat
  3. At the same time and at the same speed, slide your hands toward your knees
  4. Men, place your palms on the floor, 3cm apart. Women, place the tips of your fingers on the ground directly in front of your knees, thumbs touching.
  5. Direct your gaze to the floor in front of you to a distance that is twice your seated height
  6. Hold this position for one second
  7. Return to seiza over a one second beat

Be sure to take your time while practicing this bow, as it should appear graceful and sincere.

Futsurei or Keirei: The 30 to 45° “Respect” Bow

When you’re interacting with someone who is higher-ranking or has some sort of power over you, such as your boss or your in-laws, you’ll perform a futsuurei (普通礼) or keirei (敬礼). Futsuu means “ordinary” and kei means “respect”, so think of this as a show of respect appropriate for most situations.


  1. Stand in seiritsu
  2. Bend forward 45° over the span of one complete breath
  3. At the same time and at the same speed, lower your hands down the front of your legs
  4. Stop your hands 7 to 10cm above your knees
  5. Return to seiritsu over the span of a slow inhalation


  1. Sit in seiza
  2. Bend forward until your head is 30cm from the floor over a period of 2.5 seconds
  3. At the same time, place your hands flat on the floor, making a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers
  4. Hold your upper arms close to your body and leave your elbows slightly off the floor
  5. Direct your gaze toward your index fingers with your face parallel to the floor
  6. Hold this position for 3 seconds
  7. Return to seiza over a period of 4 seconds

Saikeirei: The 45 to 70° “Deeply Reverent” Bow

Tourists and foreigners living in Japan will rarely have to perform a saikeirei (最敬礼) as it conveys profound respect or regret. Outside of religious uses, which we’ll get to in a minute, it’s almost entirely reserved for dramatic apologies or audiences with the emperor. In other words, don’t break it out for just anyone.


  1. Stand in seiritsu
  2. Bend forward 70° over a period of 2.5 seconds
  3. At the same time and at the same speed, lower your hands down the front of your legs
  4. Stop your hands when they touch the tops your knees
  5. Direct your gaze toward the ground at a spot about 80cm in front of you
  6. Hold this position for 3 seconds
  7. Return to seiritsu over a period of 4 seconds


  1. Sit in seiza
  2. Bend forward until your face is 5cm from the floor over a period of 3 seconds
  3. At the same time, slide your hands toward your knees, leading with your right hand
  4. Cup your hands slightly and put them on the ground about 7cm in front of you
  5. Form a narrow wedge in the negative space between your hands with the tips of your forefingers touching
  6. Direct your gaze straight down—your face should be parallel to the floor
  7. Keep your body compact, with your chest lightly touching your thighs, your upper arms close to your body, and the inside of your forearms touching the outside of your knees
  8. Hold this position for 3 seconds
  9. Return to seiza over a period of 4 seconds, moving your left hand slightly faster than your right
  10. Look into the middle distance between you and the person you have just bowed to

When you’re practicing this bow in the seated position, pay special attention to step #9, which is the return to seiza. Do so deliberately and wholeheartedly, pausing slightly before you’re completely upright. This helps extend the moment and, thus, the amount of respect you’re conveying.

Additionally, because this bow lasts ten seconds, there are some special rules for breathing. You will inhale while bending forward, then exhale when you begin holding the bow. After exhaling, wait for a moment—typically measured as “two blinks”—then inhale again as you straighten back up.

Nirei-Nihakushu: The “Worship” Bow

When visiting a Shinto shrine, you will be able to make an offering and ring the suzu. After doing so, you will want to perform a nirei-nihakushu (二礼二拍手).

  1. Do 2 keirei bows
  2. Clap twice in the air in front of your chest, hands pointed upward
  3. Do a single saikeirei bow

Dogeza: The “Begging for Your Life” Bow

Nowadays, you’ll probably only see the dogeza (土下座) in samurai or yakuza movies. Someone who is getting yelled at for doing something really disgraceful might do this, pressing their face into the ground out of shame or fear, but I hope you never find yourself in that position, as it is, essentially, groveling.

Special Circumstances

  • If you are working in Japan, you may find that your company has its own rules about bowing that differ from what I described above. For example, your boss may tell you to place your hands a certain way or to bow to a certain degree. In that case, just do as you’re instructed, using your coworkers as examples.
  • If you are bowing while seated on a chair, leave some space between you and the backrest and sit up straight. Women should put both knees and feet together, while men should keep their knees and feet separated by about 15 or 20cm. The bowing angles are the same as the standing ones.

Too Many Rules?

If you’re still confused about when, how deeply, and how long to bow, here are some quick guidelines that will save you some brain space if you don’t want to remember specifics.

First, bow when someone bows to you. This excludes the people who greet you in shops and hand out fliers on the street, but should be pretty fool-proof otherwise.

Second, when in doubt, bow to 30°. This will be acceptable in nearly every situation, as it shows a good balance of respect and familiarity.

Third, use age and titles to determine how long you bow. You can definitely get by on guessing ages, and if you need to figure out someone’s title, try getting your hands on their business card. People hand out business cards like candy in Japan, so it shouldn’t be too hard!

If all else fails, simply hold your bow a beat longer than the person you’re bowing to or, if you’re in a group situation, than the person who is your closest superior.

Common Japanese Bowing Mistakes

  • Don’t do the palms-together, hands-in-front-of-chest bow. While this is a form of the “original” bow that came from China with buddhism, it’s no longer standard in Japan outside of worship situations.
  • Never bow while walking in business or formal situations, even as a greeting. Stop moving, bow, then proceed on to your destination.
  • Bowing while sitting on a chair is often too casual for formal situations. A good rule of thumb is that, if the person you’re bowing to is standing, you should be standing, too.
  • Don’t bow while speaking. If you have something you need or want to say, say it first and then bow. This is called gosengorei (語先後礼). One notable exception to this is during an apology. Bowing while saying sorry can make you seem more earnest, though this could backfire if the person you’re speaking to is a stickler for form. Err on the side of caution.
  • When bowing on stairs, don’t bow from a higher step than the person you’re bowing to. Instead, wait until the person you’re greeting is on the same step as you, then bow.
  • Don’t bow when you’re visibly angry or frustrated at someone. Bowing is a way of showing respect, so all aspects of your body should reflect that.
  • Some men put their hands on the sides of their butt while bowing, but this isn’t correct unless your company prefers that style for some reason. As we discussed earlier, your hands should be on the front your thighs.
  • Some women put their hands together (side-by-side or one over the other) when they bow, letting them hang in front of their legs. This is not a proper bow, though it has become popular among young people, possibly because it appears more delicate and feminine. I won’t call it “wrong”, since ideas of what is culturally-appropriate change all the time—just keep in mind that this is not a traditional way of bowing.

Other Fun Tidbits About Japanese Bowing

I should warn you—once you start bowing, it’s hard to stop! Here are some examples you’ll see pretty frequently in Japan.

Japanese Bowing On the Telephone: Japanese people are so naturally-inclined to bow that they’ll often do it during telephone conversations, even though the person they’re speaking to can’t see them. Usually this behavior is limited to the “nod-bow”, but there are some people who will take it even further. Once you’ve started bowing on the telephone, you’ll know you’ve spent a good amount of time in Japan.

Japanese Bowing A Train Away: If you’re hanging around a station, waiting for your shinkansen, you may notice men and women bowing to departing trains as they leave the platform. These people typically work for the train company, either as stewardesses or as cleaning crew, and their bows show gratitude for their customers.

You will sometimes see people doing this for elevators in department stores, as well. Now that’s devotion!

The Bow-Off: As you can tell, politeness is something of an art form in Japan. Sometimes it can also be a competition, especially between two people with the same social or business rank. When two such people are bowing to each other, they will often feel compelled to return every bow the other person makes. “Hey, he bowed,” Person A will think, “so I’d better bow again!” Person B, seeing this, will say to themselves, “Oh no, she bowed again, so I have to bow, too!” This leads to both parties bowing over and over, with each bow getting more and more shallow. Finally, when the bows are so small that they can’t even be discerned as bows, they can both stop and get on with their lives. The point is, nobody wants to be “out-bowed” and perceived as lacking humility or respect.

(m_ _)m

I hope you enjoyed this guide and feel confident enough to bow with the best of them the next time you’re in Japan. If you have any questions about a specific Japanese bowing situation, please ask us on Twitter with information about the occasion and the addressee and we’ll do our best to help! And if you want a nice visual summary of some of the information in this guide, check out the infographic below. <(_ _)>


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japanese bowing header

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Tsundoku: Japan’s Word for “Books You Buy But Don’t Read”

While choosing vocabulary words for our kanji learning site WaniKani, I occasionally come across weird-ass Japanese words. This is one of them.

Tsundoku, aka 積ん読 (つんどく). Its definition is:

Buying books and not reading them. [noun] –

Look at your bedside table. Can you relate? I bet a lot of you who are learning Japanese have a big pile of unused Japanese textbooks somewhere, right? Heck, the Tofugu office is guilty of tsundoku, too. I don’t think we’ve read most of what’s on our bookshelf.


That being said, tsundoku has more of an image of stacked books. When I think of the word, I imagine somebody’s futon on the floor, with a big pile of unread books and manga right next to it. If you break down the word into its component kanji, this “pile of books, not bookshelf of books” theory makes sense.

積: pile up, stack

読: read

“A pile up or stack of things you read…” or in this case, you don’t read. A quick Google Image search seems to confirm the “pile” theory.


But how do we get to a pile of books we didn’t read? Nothing in the component kanji suggests whether you’re reading these books or not. In fact, I’d argue that when you look at the component kanji on their own, it suggest that this is a pile of books you did read, or are currently reading.

I found the answer on this website. It turns out the word tsundoku is a play on words.

The first half of 積ん読 (tsundoku) comes from the word 積んでおく (tsundeoku), which means “to pile things up and leave them.” The second half (doku) comes from 読書 (dokusho) which means “reading.” Essentially, it’s a combination of the words tsundeoku (to pile things up and leave them) and dokusho (reading). If you paid close attention, you’ll have noticed that tsundeoku and tsundoku are very similar sounding words. Thus, a beautiful baby pun was born.

In terms of how to use this word, Mami has whipped up some example sentences for tsundoku.

I’m living with around 1,000 tsundoku (books).

This week I think I’m going to make a tsundoku list.

I want a stylish bookcase for my tsundoku (books).

It’s a noun, so go ahead and use it as you would any other noun. If you were to refer to your pile of books next to your bed, you would say “that’s my tsundoku” (that’s my pile of books I bought but haven’t read).

Tsundoku Elsewhere

And while we’re trying to turn tsundoku into an English word, we might as well apply its feeling to other things as well. Steam library? That’s Steamdoku, and I am so guilty of this.


And how about smartphone apps? I have so many that I’ve purchased and never used.

To get even more meta, though, I have a folder on my phone of reading-related apps that’s labeled 積ん読. And you guessed it, it’s piled full of things I will probably never read.


That being said, I can’t complain. Tsundoku is essentially a mild form of hoarding, which isn’t the worst problem one can have. What parts of your life do you commit the act of tsundoku?

Bonus Wallpapers!

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Japanese Onomatopoeia: The Definitive Guide

What are onomatopoeia? In their simplest form, onomatopoeia are words that represent sounds. In English, they’re words like pop, meow, crackle, and whoosh. We add them to our spoken and written language to add something more substantial, more visceral. It’s like adding color, flavor, or texture to what you’re saying.

In Japanese, a language that many people have so inaccurately called “vague” in the past, onomatopoeia are there to fill that void. And not just in the ways we hear and see them in English as well as most Western European languages.

If you’re past the beginner stages of learning Japanese you’ve probably used 起きる (to wake up), 食べる (to eat),  and 寝る (to sleep) more times than you can count. But there comes a time when you have to put down that textbook Japanese and throw in some flare. Lazily roll out of bed, gobble down some food, and sleep soundly.

japanese onomatopoeia non non biyori


There are thousands of onomatopoeia in Japanese. Here are 5 categories they can be broken up into:

Giseigo 擬声語 Animal and human sounds.

Giongo 擬音語 Actual sounds made by inanimate objects and nature.

Gitaigo 擬態語 Describe conditions and states.

Giyougo 擬容語 Describe movements and motions.

Gijougo 擬情語 Describe feelings.

If you know your kanji, the differences between them should be pretty easy to recognize if you do see them in the wild.

声 (せい) Voice

音 (おん) Sound/Noise

態 (たい) Condition/Appearance

容 (よう) Form/Looks

情 (じょう) Feelings/Emotions

Giseigo and giongo are just like onomatopoeia we have in English. The cow goes moo. The machine is whirring. They represent real sounds you can hear.

The last three describe what’s called mimetic words, or idiophones. They describe or represent something that has no sound. The way you feel, the way you walk, and even your skin has an onomatopoeia to describe it. These mimetic words don’t really exist in English, which makes mastering them difficult when learning Japanese. Let’s take a look at each of these groups of words.

Giseigo 擬声語

These are sounds that humans and animals make. Some of them may sound very similar to what you learned growing up, and maybe some sound even closer to what you hear than what you write in your language.

Animal Japanese Sound  English Sound
 Bear  がおー  Roar
 Bee  ぶーん  Buzz
 Bird  ぴちゅぴちゅ  Tweet
 Cat  にゃん  Meow
 Chicken  こけこっこ  Cluck
 Cow  もーもー  Moo
 Crow  かーかー  Caw
 Dog  わんわん  Woof
 Duck  がーがー  Quack
 Fox  こんこん  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
 Frog  げろげろ  Croak, Ribbit
 Godzilla  がおー  Roar
 Horse  ひひいん  Neigh
 Monkey  うきうき  Oo oo aa aa
 Mouse  ちゅーちゅー  Squeak
 Owl  ほーほー  Hoo
 Pig  ぶーぶー  Oink
 Sheep  めーめー  Baa


Japanese English
 がみがみ  Being lectured or nagged by someone above you
 あはは  A cheerful, loud laugh
 うわーん  A child crying loudly
 うぎゃー  A surprised scream or shriek
 うふふ  Chuckling like you have a secret
 ぺちゃくちゃ  Chatting about frivolous things
 ごにょごにょ  Muttering so other people can’t hear you
 ぺらぺら  Being able to speak a foreign language fluently
 おほん  Clearing your throat for attention
 くすくす  Laughing quietly, unable to hold it in

Giongo 擬音語

These are also real sounds. They’re the ones you see used in manga and anime. They’re the sound of the wind moving through the trees, the door slamming shut, and the phone ringing. Basically, any sound you hear that isn’t coming out of the mouth of a person or animal falls under this category.

Japanese English
 ごろごろ  Thunder rumbling
 ざーざー  Lots of heavy rain pouring down
 ぱたぱた  Cloth lightly flapping in the wind
 ぴゅーぴゅー  Strong, continuous, and cold wintry winds
 ばしゃっ  Water scattering, splashing forcefully
 こぽこぽ  Water bubbling gently
 めらめら  Suddenly bursting into flames
さくさく  Stepping on soft dirt or sand
 ごろごろ  A boulder or rocks tumbling down a hill
 たたたた  Running at full speed

Gitaigo 擬態語

The first of our mimetic set, these words describe conditions and states.

Japanese English
 ぎらぎら  A glint in your eyes
 ほかほか  A warm body or food
 むしむし  Too much warmth, unpleasantly hot
 べとべと  Sticky with sweat or blood
 びしょびしょ  Horribly soaked by a large amount of water
 がたがた  A road that isn’t paved
 でこぼこ  Uneven ground
 さんさん  Lots of shining sunlight
 ひんやり  Feeling cool
 じんわり  Soaking slowly with sweat or tears

Giyougo 擬容語

These describe movements and motions, usually relating to walking or traveling from place to place.

Japanese English
 うろうろ  Wandering aimlessly
 すたこら  Fast paced, eager walking
 のろのろ  Proceeding at a snail’s pace, slow and sluggish
 うとうと  Half asleep, nodding off
 ぐっすり  Completely and totally asleep
 ぐーたら  Not having the willpower to do anything
 がくがく  Joints, like knees, shaking
 ぶるぶる  Trembling from cold, fear, or anger
 きょろきょろ  Turning around looking around restlessly
 わいわい  Clamorously

Gijougo 擬情語

Last, we have words that describe feelings. These are also used heavily in manga.

Japanese English
 くよくよ  Worrying about the past or trivial things
 しんみり  Lonely and quiet, solemn
 うきうき  Happy, cheerfully lighthearted, and full of hope
 わくわく  Excited from anticipation, pleasure, or happiness
 あたふた  Running around in a hurry
 あわあわ  Losing time or a grasp on your senses
 もじもじ  Unable to make decisions because of embarrassment or shyness
 うっとり  Being fascinated by something beautiful, spellbound
 ずきずき  Throbbing, grinding pain
 もやもや  Worrying or wondering what to do

Hiragana or Katakana

Onomatopoeia are written using either hiragana or katakana. While there are no definitive rules saying when you should use one or the other, in Jazz Up Your Japanese with Onomatopoeia, the author states that hiragana is used for “soft sounds” and katakana is used for “hard sounds” and emphasis. You’ll see lots of back and forth in which one is used the more you read, which is just another reason why learning both hiragana and katakana is really important.

For the purposes of this guide, and consistency, I’ll be providing all of the examples in hiragana.

Some onomatopoeia have kanji, and even though you’ll probably never see it used, it does exist. Here’s what it looks like:

燦燦 さんさん brilliant, shining sunlight
昏昏 こんこん long, deep sleep
齷齪 あくせく anxious, feeling like you don’t have enough time
潺潺 せんせん the sound of a clear, shallow mountain stream
煌煌 こうこう bright and shining

Sound Representation

japanese onomatopoeia sound representation angel beats

Most words in languages are arbitrary. Someone, someday decided that the sun in the sky would be called the “sun.” But not every person or every language wanted to call it that, and not everyone thinks “sun” when they look up at that bright thing in the sky (Please don’t look directly at it!).

This arbitrary “it’s the sun because I said so” stuff is pretty much thrown out the window when it comes to onomatopoeia, and even mimetic words. Gwilym Lockwood wrote a short, but interesting article, arguing that mimetic words have a universal quality to them using the following list:

See if you can guess the meanings of these Japanese ideophones:

  1. nurunuru – dry or slimy?
  2. pikapika – bright or dark?
  3. wakuwaku – excited or bored?
  4. iraira – happy or angry?
  5. guzuguzu – moving quickly or moving slowly

Take a look at the full list and the answers. You got most of them right, didn’t you?

So something about these sounds hold meaning for us. Keep this in mind as you read on.


Most Japanese syllables start with a consonant. Because the Japanese alphabet is extremely kind, it’s (mostly) phonetic. This means that each sound is spelled exactly the way it is pronounced. And every written character is pronounced, unlike English, which has silent letters. Also, thanks to this, there are two neat little symbols called the dakuten and handakuten.

Dakuten 濁点 are two little dots, or lines, also called ten-ten.

Handakuten 半濁点 is the open circle, also called maru.

These symbols change the voicing of the consonants they’re added to. Consonants can be voiced or unvoiced. Basically, voiced sounds are made with your vocal cords and unvoiced are made without. Here’s what they look like in Japanese:

か > が
ka > ga

さ > ざ
sa > za

た > だ
ta > da

は > ば, は > ぱ
ha > ba, ha > pa

Sounds without these symbols are called seion 清音, meaning “pure sounds.” Adding dakuten or handakuten make them dakuon 濁音, meaning “impure sounds.” This is just the Japanese way of saying that an unvoiced sound is becoming voiced. That’s also why the “han” in handakuten means half. Just think of it as being half as pure.

This voicing is very important for understanding onomatopoeia. There are lots of, what I’ll call, sets, that represent different sounds based on their voiced and unvoiced counterpart. Let’s look:

こんこん knocking
ごんごん banging

さらさら silky
ざらざら rough

とんとん tapping
どんどん drumming

はらはら fluttering
ばらばら rustling
ぱらぱら clattering

The voiced version is always louder, heavier, and more intense than its unvoiced friend. That’s probably what makes them seem “impure.” Say these aloud and feel the difference.

Now, when you hear onomatopoeia, you can tell if it’s something loud or strong based on what kind of consonant it has. Something using “loud” voiced consonants might be banging, rolling thunder, or strong feelings. Something “half” voiced will be noisy, but not loud, like the pitter patter of rain bouncing off of a window.


These are just as important as consonants. Changing a character from か to こ will change the type of sound it’s representing, just like adding dakuten and handakuten. Let’s take a look:

かんかん clear clanging
きんきん high pitched clanging
こんこん low pitched clanging

For the purpose of this example, these are all representing a clanging sound. Something hitting something else. かんかん is the sound of something hitting metal or stone. きんきん is the sound of a musical triangle. こんこん is the sound of something hitting something hard and echoey. Again, say them aloud. Hit some things too! See if you can tell what vowel would be used to express the sound you’re hearing. Here’s are some general rules from Jazz Up Your Japanese:

あ long, slow
い little, small, quick
う long, slow
え something negative (bad)
お long, slow


japanese onomatopoeia my love story formation

Though most of these words are repetitive, like the examples above, not all of them follow the same pattern. Some onomatopoeia may even look like “normal” Japanese words to you, especially the mimetic ones that don’t represent actual sounds. Here are some examples:


Just as in many other languages, the reduplication of a sound symbolizes repetition in sound or action. In Japanese this is called jougo 畳語. You’ve probably seen this in other places in Japanese with the iteration mark 々 in words like: sometimes 時々(ときどき), various 色々(いろいろ) and people 人々(ひとびと). In onomatopoeia they usually refer to something that’s happening over and over.

ばらばら heavy rain drops or hail coming down
わさわさ grass and leaves rustling in the wind
ごぼごぼ gushing water
だだだだ something running at full speed
ごろごろ something rolling loudly or heavily

Ending in っ (+ と)

Although the rules of Japanese state that all sounds must end in a vowel (expect ん) because of the syllabary nature of the language, onomatopoeia are often pronounced with an abrupt stop. This is expressed in written language with a っ and is called a glottal stop. This is what we call a sound made by stopping air in your glottis (it’s in your throat). The best way to hear it in English is to say “uh-uh.” Some of these will be followed by the particle と in a sentence (but not all of them!). They usually refer to a sound that stopped suddenly or abruptly.

ごくっ gulp
げっ vomiting or gagging
かっ coughing up something
ぼーっ a flame flaring up suddenly
がばっ suddenly waking up

Ending in り

The onomatopoeia form ending in conveys a feeling of softness or slowness. It’s basically the opposite of a glottal stop. It’s something long, or deliberate, not short or abrupt.

ぽっちゃり chubby
のらりのらり wander around aimlessly
じゃくり scooping something like sand
ほっかり warm breath or steam
のそり moving slowly and sluggishly

Ending in ん

Onomatopoeia that end in are pronounced with a nasal sound, producing a feeling of “prolonged resonance” or rhythm. If something is echoing or ringing it will usually end in ん. When describing a state of being, not a sound, it usually means something that’s continuous.

ごほん a strong cough
こんこん something hitting something else over and over
しん cold deeply penetrating your body
じゃぶん strong bubbling
ぼーん an explosive fire bursting into flames

Long Vowels

Words that end in long vowels refer to a sense of continuation or longness. Something is happening and it’s happening for a long time.

ふわ~ a long yawn
ぐーぐー loud snoring
ざーざー heavy, continuous pouring rain
ちゅーちゅー drinking something down little by little
のーのー enjoying yourself without caring about what’s around you


japanese onomatopoeia grammar jojo

These words are like sprinkling some delicious spice into your language. They don’t just add emphasis and color, they add a sense of native understand to your speech. That is, if you know how to use them.

Onomatopoeia can take quite a few grammatical forms and many of them would sound either repetitive or unnatural in English. But in Japanese the repetitiveness is completely normal. Just think of it the way you think of pronouns. In Japanese it makes sense to say the name of the person you’re talking about a lot, but in English it sounds strange. Let’s look at some examples:

Adverbs + と

The morning sun was gently shining on a snowy field.

Thunder started rumbling.

The waves crashed into the rocks.

The fire was fueled by the wind and momentarily flared up.

The rain, which had started coming down here and there, suddenly poured down.

Quotation と

Everyone laughed, “Ahaha!”

I saw a cockroach and reflexively screamed, “Gyaa!”

Adverbs + に

My shirt got drenched.

This road is getting bumpy, isn’t it?

That day I got completely smashed for the first time in a while.

My favorite shirt is getting worn out.

I’m wide awake because I drank a Red Bull.

Verb + する

My underwear is soaked in sweat and it feels gross.

Before I knew it, I was nodding off.

My mom is always fidgeting.

My throat is a little irritated.

A close friend of mine is moving and I feel miserable.

Verb + やる

Let’s get moving!

It’s nice to get together with everyone and be raucous like this sometimes.

These workbook problems have been coming along nicely.

We don’t have much time, so let’s give it our all!

Those guys crowding around over there are my buddies.

Adjectives + の

I wanna eat steamy manju.

This is the first time I’ve seen powdery sand!

She’s a hard working career woman.

I get sad when I look at my flabby stomach.

The hero had a really cool gilded sword.

Copula だ

I’m already sick of watermelon.

Today I’m feeling ecstatic!

Is this pillow squishy?

I’m exhausted from being up all night.

The baby’s hands are cute and chubby.

Spice Up Your Life!

japanese onomatopoeia fullmetal

See, that wasn’t so bad! You know just about everything there is to know about Japanese onomatopoeia now.  So let’s go back to those basic verbs you know and add some flavor to them:

起きる (おきる) to wake up

むくむくと起きる to roll out of bed
むっくり起きる to jump out of bed (suddenly)
のっそり起きる to slowly wake up

寝る (ねる) to sleep

ぐうぐう寝る to snore fast asleep
すやすや寝る to sleep soundly and peacefully
うとうと寝る to nod off, to start to fall asleep
すうすう寝る to sleep with normal, even breathing

食べる (たべる) to eat

がつがつ食べる to eat greedily or with burning desire
ぱくぱく食べる to eat with your mouth flapping open and shut
むしゃむしゃ食べる to munch and crunch on something
ぺろぺろ食べる to lick (ice cream)

飲む (のむ) to drink

がぶがぶ飲む to guzzle something down quickly
ちびちび飲む to take a small sips, trying to make it last
ぐびぐび飲む repetitive gulping of alcohol
ごくごく飲む to gulp something down

歩く (あるく) to walk

とぼとぼ歩く to trudge
のろのろ歩く to inch along
すたこら歩く  to hurry about
ちょこちょこ歩く to scurry along, with small steps

見る (みる) to see

じろじろ見る to rudely stare
まじまじ見る to stare directly into someone’s face
しばしば見る to blink repeatedly
ちらちら見る to glance out of the corner of your eye repeatedly

泣く (なく) to cry

めそめそ泣く to cry uncontrollably
しくしく泣く to cry gently, weeping secretly
おいおい泣く to cry loudly (an adult crying)
ぐすぐす泣く to cry and sniffle

笑う (わらう) to laugh

にこにこ笑う to smile
げらげら笑う to laugh out loud, gaffaw
にんまり笑う to smile with satisfaction
くすくす笑う to giggle, chuckle quietly


Was this guide just not enough for you? Here are our reviews of some great English language resources:

And the ultimate Japanese language onomatopoeia dictionary:

And further reading on sound symbolism in Japanese:

Tofugu’s Onomatopeia Dictionary

japanese onomatopoeia lucky star

While researching for this guide I found a serious lack of reliable English language information. I could look up each word I found on trusty, but many of the definitions only supplied a general gloss and usually didn’t include many of the mimetic meanings of the words. Japanese language sources were also, surprisingly, few and far between.

That’s why I decided to compile a HUGE onomatopoeia dictionary for you all to use. Go crazy, kids!


Bright and Clear

おっとり Quiet sunlight
かっ・かっか Hot sunlight blazing down
からっ・からり Low and clear, comfortable temperatures
かんかん Strong summer sunlight blazing down
ぎらぎら Strong midsummer sun blazing down
けろり A cloudy sky becoming bright and clear
さんさん(燦燦) Lots of shining sunlight
じりじり The sun burning brightly
すかっ Clear without a single cloud
とっぷり Completely dark

Rain, Snow, and Ice

ごろごろ The sound of thunder rumbling and reverberating
こんこん Snow and hail coming down one by one
ざーざー Large amounts of continuous rain falling
ざーっ・ざっ A light shower coming down for a short time
ざーっ・ざっ A short, violent evening shower
ざざっ Rain or waves violently pounding
しとしと Rain gently falling
じとじと・じめじめ Rain continuously falling and soaking things
しゃりしゃり Walking through snow or sand
ちらほら A small amount of snow scatteringly falling from the sky
どんより Rain will fall any moment now
はらはら Powdered snow that seems quite light
ばらばら Large drops of rain or hail suddenly coming down
ぱらぱら A small amount of rain or hail suddenly coming down

Wind, Blowing

ごーっ A strong wind raging
さーさー Wind blowing tree leaves together
さーっ Wind momentarily blowing
ざーっ Wind violently shaking tree leaves
さやさや The sound of tree leaves in a gentle breeze
さわさわ Plants rustling as the wind blows
すーすー Blowing through a crack to create a draft
すーっ The feeling of a draft or gentle breeze on the body
すかすか Moving through the wind or air
そよそよ A gentle breeze quietly blowing
そよ・そより Wind lightly, quietly blowing
はたはた Cloth fluttering in the wind
ばたばた Cloth strongly flapping in the wind
ぱたぱた Cloth lightly flapping in the wind
ひゅー・ぴゅー The sound of slightly strong wind blowing
びゅー The sound of strong wind blowing over
ひゅーひゅ Strong wind hitting trees and electric lines
びゅーびゅー Strong, continuous typhoon winds
ぴゅーぴゅー Strong, continuous, and cold wintry winds
ひゅっ・びゅっ・ぴゅっ Something cutting and flying in the wind
ひゅるるん Wind sharply whistling through the air
びゅんびゅん・ぴゅんぴゅん Continuous, strong wind blowing
ふー Wind blowing
ぶぉーっ Wind violently blasting or bursting out
ぶんぶん Wind heavily roaring overhead
わさわさ Grass and leaves stirring or rustling


Cold Weather and Feeling Cold

じわじわ The cold gradually piercing your body
しん The cold deeply penetrating your body
じんじん Your body going numb with cold
すーすー Wind blowing through a crack when it’s chilly
すかすか Feeling chilly from moving air
ぞーっ Cold from goosebumps running up your spine
ぞくぞく Shivering from the cold or a fever
ぞくり Suddenly getting intense shivers
ひやっ・ひやり Cold water or air touching your skin
ひやひや Your skin feeling cold
ひやりひやり Your skin feeling cold over and over
りん Tensing up from the cold
ぎんぎん Feeling incredibly cold
ひんやり Feeling cool
きーん Feeling too cold

Hot and Warm

うらら Warm, spring sunlight
かっ・かっか Growing hot from fire or anger
ぬくぬく・ぬっくり A comfortable, warm place
ほかほか A warm body or food
ぽかぽか Feeling comfortable warmth
ぽかりぽかり Warm from sunlight
ほこっ・ほこほこ Warm and feeling good
ぽっぽっ Growing heat from within your body
ほのぼの Feeling warm inside (your heart or soul)
ほやほや So new that steam is rising off it
ほわっ Soft and wrapped in warmth
ほんわか A warm, comfortable atmosphere
むしむし Too much warmth, unpleasantly hot
むわっ・もわっ Heat spreading out in front of you
むん Suddenly feeling heat
むんむ・むんむん Wrapped in oppressive heat
もわもわ Steam spreading out in front of you

Water and Liquids

Water drops, Dripping, Falling, and Splashing

ちゅっ・ぴゅっ A small amount of water, forcefully shooting through the air
ばしゃっ Water forcefully scattering
ぱしゃっ Water gently scattering
ばちゃっ A huge splash of water
ぱちゃっ A small splash of water
はらはら Tears endlessly falling
びしゃっ Water violently splashing
ぴしゃっ Water sharply splashing
びちゃっ Water violently hitting something with a high sound
ぴちゃっ A small amount of water splashing
ぼしゃっ A momentarily heavy splash
ぽたり・ぽたん・ぽつり・ぽつん・ぽたり・ぽたん Water droplets falling on the surface of something
ぼたぼた Fairly large water droplets falling continuously
ぽたぽた A small amount of water dripping
ぼとぼと Fairly large water droplets heavily falling
ぽとぽと A small amount of water trickling down
ぽろぽろ Tears spilling out over and over

Flowing, Pouring, and Streaming

がばがば A large amount of water streaming forcefully
ごーっ A large amount of water echoing from a ways away
ころころ Water lightly flowing
さーっ・ざーっ A large amount of water pouring out all at once
ざーざー A large amount of water streaming continuously
さらさら A quiet, shallow brook
しゃーしゃー Water lightly flowing continuously
じゃーじゃー Water, usually from a faucet, flowing continuously
しょろしょろ Just a little bit of water flowing
だくだく A large amount of sweat
だぼだぼ Pouring a large amount of water of liquids
たらたら Sweat or blood falling
だらだら Sweat, blood, or oil dripping
ちょろちょろ A thin brook trickling
どーっ A large amount of water flowing violently all at once
どーどー A large amount of water flowing down
とくとく Glugging or gurgling from a small mouth
どくどく Something, like blood, overflowing out
どばどば A large amount of water spurting out all at once
どぶどぶ The sound of water or sake being poured
どぼどぼ A large amount of liquid being poured continuously
とろとろ Something thick flowing

Damp, Oozing, and Running

しっとり Soaked in a moderate amount of moisture
じっとり Uncomfortably sweaty
じとじと Covered in an uncomfortable amount of rain
しとっ・しとり Completely soaked through with a light dampness
じとっ・じとり Unpleasant moisture and humidity
じみじみ Feeling damp
じめじめ Completely soaked in humidity and moisture, sodden and clammy
じゅくじゅく Completely soaked and oozing
じわじわ Moisture slowly spreading
じわっ Liquids soaking and oozing
じんわり Soaking slowly with sweat or tears
べっとり Deeply stained with sweat
べとべと Sticky with sweat or blood

Getting Wet

ぐしょぐしょ・ぐちょぐちょ Clothes getting completely wet
ぐっしょり Clothes getting severely wet
しとしと Getting wet from light rain or fog
ずくずく The uncomfortable feeling of getting wet from rain or water
とっぷり・どっぷり Being completely immersed in bath water or liquids
びしょびしょ・びちょびちょ Horribly soaked by a large amount of water
びしゃびしゃ・びちゃびちゃ Water collecting on the surface
ひたひた Lightly soaking in water
びっしょり Disgustingly drenched in a large amount of sweat
びっちょり Completely drenched in a large amount of water
べちゃべちゃ Getting soft from water, mushy and soggy
べちょべちょ Unpleasant from excess moisture

Rippling, Bubbling, and Sinking

こぽこぽ Water bubbling gently
ごぼごぼ Bubbling loudly
ごぽごぽ Water mixing in with the air
ざざっ Waves violently breaking
ざばっ A large amount of water moving
ざぶっ・ざぶん The sound of jumping into water
じゃぶん・じゃぼん Water violently flying
たぷんたぷん Water being shifted and rippling
たぽたぽ The sound of something slapping against water
ちゃぷちゃぷ Water sloshing lightly
どぶん・どぼん Something heavy falling into water
とぷんとぷん The sound of water sloshing gently
どんぶりこ Something sinking underwater
ひたひた Waves lapping against the shore
ぶくぶく Bubbling
ぷくぷく Small bubbles forming
ぼこぼこ Big bubbles rising, burbling



かっか The sun and fire continuously burning hot
ちょろちょろ A small flame continuously burning
ちろちろ A small flame flickering as it burns
とろとろ Simmering for a long time
ぱちぱち Strong popping of a fire
ぱっぱっ Large flames fiercely burning
ぱりぱり Something burned crispy
ぶすぶす・ぷすぷす Sputtering of smokey embers
ぼーっ・ぼっ A flame flaring up for a moment
ぼーぼー Fire burning
ぼーん Fire flaring up explosively
ぼっぼっ A large flame flaring every once in a while
めらめら Suddenly bursting into flames


Dirt, Sand, and Rocks

がたがた A road that isn’t paved
ごつごつ Something jagged or rugged, like bare rock
ごろごろ Something like a boulder tumbling
こんもり The swelling roundness of a mountain
ざーっ Forcefully moving sand
さくさく Stepping on soft dirt or sand
さくっ Sand mixing as you step on it
さくりさくり Walking on soft dirt or sand
ざっく Roughly grabbing something like sand
さらさら Dry sand sifting or falling
じゃりじゃり Pebbles or sand crunching together
じゃりっ Pebbles hitting each other while they fall
ずぶずぶ・ずぼずぼ Sinking into a swamp or a sand
そくそく Stepping on sand as you walk
でこぼこ Uneven ground
べちょっ Smearing mud or paint
ぼこぼこ Lots of hollows or holes

Actions and Conditions

Walking and Running

うろうろ Wandering aimlessly
えっちらおっちら Walking with great difficulty, barely managing to walk
かっぽかっぽ The sound of horse hooves
さっさ・さっさっ Feet moving vigorously
すたこら Fast paced, eager walking
すたこらさっさ Running away without looking back
すたすた Briskly walking without looking around
せかせか Jogging as if you’re in a hurry
たー・たたー Lightly taking off into a run
たかたか The high pitched footsteps of a child running
たじたじ Staggering or tripping over your feet
だだーっ Powerfully running through
たたたた Running at full speed
だだだだ Rushing forward
たったかたったか Light running
たったっ Walking quickly with long strides
ちょこちょこ Scurrying along with short steps
てくてく Going a long way, trudging along
てけてけ Walking with the same rhythm
どっしどっし Heavily stomping with your weight
とーん Stamping forcefully with your foot
とことこ The small steps of children
とっとことっとこ・とっとっ The rhythm of quick, small steps
とっと Quickly walking
ととと Trotting, jogging
どたばた Noisily running around
とぼとぼ Stooping as you walk a long way, trudging
のさのさ Like you don’t care, haughtily
のしのし Strong, heavy steps, lumbering
のそのそ Hulking and slow, like a slow giant
のっしのっし Walking with huge, clumsy strides, like a giant
のらりのらり Slowly, aimlessly walking
のろのろ・のろりのろり Proceeding at a snail’s pace, slow and sluggish
ぱかぱか・ぱっぱか The sound of light horse footsteps, clip clop
ぱたぱた・ばたばた The pitter patter of footsteps
ひょこひょこ Taking a carefree stroll
ふらふら・ぶらぶら Wandering around without any goal or purpose
よたよた And old, or sick person, weak on their feet
よちよち An infant still learning how to walk
よぼよぼ And old person shaking while they walk
よろよろ Someone who looks like they could collapse at any moment
わたわた Restless and unable to calm down

Waking Up and Getting Up

がばっ Suddenly wake up all at once
さっ Taking the initiative, and standing up willingly
しゃっきり Straight backed
しゃん Standing up straight, looking forward
すくっ・すっく Vigorously standing upright
すたっ Getting up lightly
すっ Getting up casually and carefree
すとん Lightly jumping down
ぬーっ Standing up straight, silently, without doing anything
のっそり Slowly, ponderously getting up
ぱっ Quickly standing up in reaction to something
ばらばら A large number of people standing up and moving one after the other
ひょい Lightly getting up
ぴん Jumping up and standing erect
むくっ・むっく・むっくり Suddenly waking up and getting up
むくむく Squirming while getting up

Sleeping and Laying Down

うとうと・うつらうつら Half asleep, nodding off
うとっ Suddenly hit with drowsiness
こっくりこっくり Your body moving from nodding off
くーくー The sound your nose makes when you’re fast asleep
ぐーぐー・ぐーすか Snoring while you’re fast asleep
ぐっすり Completely and totally asleep
こっくり Completely and totally asleep
こてっ Nodding off with your head suddenly drooping
ことっ Suddenly losing your strength and collapsing
ころっ・ころり Falling asleep from fatigue
ごろっ・ごろり・ごろん Lying down and easily falling asleep
こんこん(昏昏) Laying down and stretching out
すーすー Falling into a long, deep sleep
すやすや Normal, even breathing while asleep
どたん Peaceful breathing while asleep, sleeping soundly
とろっ Feeling tired and heavy
とろとろ Looking sleepy
とろん Dozing, a light doze

Doing Nothing

ぐーたら Not having the willpower to do anything
ごろごろ・ごこりごこり Passing the time doing nothing
ごろんごろん Rolling around idly
のーのー Happily ignoring your surroundings
のんびり To feel at ease, without a job or worries
ぶらぶら Living in laziness and doing nothing
ぶらり Being bored and doing nothing
ぼけっ Living idly and sloppily


うんざり Disgusted and fed up
がっかり Horribly exhausted, losing energy
くたくた・ぐたぐた Horribly tired and worn out
くたっ・ぐたっ・ぐったり Tired and unable to move
げっそり Horribly exhausted and withering away
げんなり Weakening from fatigue and heat
ずたぼろ Mentally and emotionally exhausted
へとへと Completely exhausted and out of breath
ぼろぼろ Mentally and emotionally worn out
よたよた Staggering and unable to walk straight from exhaustion

Shivering and Shaking

がくがく Joints, like knees, shaking
がたがた Shivering violently from coldness or fear
がちがち Teeth chattering from coldness or fear
ざわざわ Goosebumps from a bad feeling
ぞーっ Chills going up your spine from fear
ぞくぞく Body shaking from cold, fear, or excitement
ぞくっ A sudden chill from cold, fear, or excitement
ぞぞ The feeling of unpleasant coldness
ぞっ Visually shaking for a moment from fear
ひくっ・ぴくっ・ぴくり・ぴくん Body, or part of it, spasming suddenly
びくっ Body suddenly, reflexively shaking or trembling
ひくひく Part of your body twitching or cramping
びくびく・ぴくぴく Part of your body shaking from fear
ぴくりぴくり・ぴくんぴくん Continuously shaking for a period of time
びりっ・びりん Body going numb from sudden stimulation
ぴりっ A sudden shaking movement
びりびり Something like glass resonating from an explosion, rattling
ぶるっ Your whole body suddenly shaking from the cold
ぷるっ Vibrating for a moment
ふるふる・ぷるぷる Moved by light shaking or vibrating
ぶるぶる Trembling from cold, fear, or anger
ぶるり Suddenly shaking and moving
ぶるん Waving or shaking something around, like an arm
ぶるんぶるん Continuously, intensely shaking
わなわな Shaking from cold, fear, or anger

Looking and Glaring

うつらうつら Eyes opening and closing, seeing and not seeing, nodding off
かっ Eyes wide open, glaring
きっ An intense look in your eyes and attitude
きょときょと Looking around restlessly over and over
きょろきょろ Turning around looking around restlessly
ぎょろぎょろ Big eyeballs shining keenly
きょろ Charming eyes opening wide
ぎょろ・ぎょろり Glaring intently at someone
きょろり Quickly surveying your surroundings
ぎらぎら A glint in your eyes / not hiding the lust in your eyes
きろっ The sudden movement of your eyes
ぎろっ・きろり Big eyes glaring
ぎろり Glaring threateningly
ぎんぎん Continuously opening your eyes wide
ぐっ Keenly staring at your focal point
じーっ・じっ Not taking your eyes off your target
しげしげ Staring at something over and over, fixedly
じとっ・じとり Glaring with jealously and resentment
しばしば Blinking repeatedly
しょぼしょぼ Blinking wearily after your eyes were open a long time
しょぼっ Eyes that are open but can’t understand what they see
じろじろ Rudely staring at someone over and over
じろっ・じろり Coldly glaring at someone
じろりじろり Rudely sending and obstinate look at someone
ちかちか Strong light irritating your eyes
ちらちら Look out of the corner of your eye over and over
ちらっ・ちらり Glancing out of the corner of your eye for a moment
ちらりちらり Something appearing and disappearing, flickering
ちろっ Sharply glancing sideways
つくづく Gazing intently, unabashedly
とろり・とろん・どろん With eyes dull from drunkenness
どんより Dull eyes, losing life
ぱちり・ぱちぱち・ぱっちり Looking with big, wide eyes
はっきり Seeing the target clearly
ぽつっ・ぽつん Squinting at something small
ぼんやり Only able to see dim outlines
まざまざ Plainly visible before your eyes
まじまじ Staring directly into your face

Eating, Chewing, and Licking

あんぐり Taking big bites with a wide, open mouth
がしがし Chewing something wildly with your teeth
がつがつ Devouring something and giving into your desires
がっぷり Biting something deeply and not letting go
がばがば Continuing to eat food energetically
がぶっ・がぶり Taking a big bite of something
かりかり Lightly chewing on something hard with your teeth
がりがり Trying to munch something hard with your teeth
かりっ・かりり・かりん Biting once into something hard
がりっ・がりり Chewing a mouthful of something hard
くしゃくしゃ・くちゃくちゃ・ぐちゃぐちゃ Eating loudly and vulgarly
ぐちゅぐちゅ Rinsing out your mouth or chewing something
こりこり Biting something hard in your mouth
こりっ Biting into something hard
ごりっ Biting forcefully into something hard
さくっ The light feeling when you bite into something
しこっ Pleasant crunchiness
しゃきしゃき Eating fresh vegetables with lots of texture, like celery
じゅるっ Sipping on mostly liquid food
しょりしょり Refreshing, light crunchiness
じょりじょり Eating something granular and feeling the roughness in your mouth
ずるずる Sipping noodles, or something similar, loudly and vulgarly
つるつる Sipping noodles, or something similar, lightly
ばくっ・ぱくっ A big mouth biting forcefully
ばくばく・ぱくぱく・ばくりばくり・ぱくりぱくり Opening and closing a big mouth repeatedly (usually while eating)
ぱくり・ぱくん・ぱっくん Eating something with a big mouth and swallowing
ばりばり Chewing something hard with your teeth
ぱりぱり Eating something crispy
ぴちゃぴちゃ・ぺちゃぺちゃ Eating while making unpleasant tongue noises
べちゃべちゃ Eating and making vulgar noises
ぺろっ・べろっ Licking quickly
ぺろり・べろり Eating up all the food
べろべろ・ぺろぺろ Running your tongue over something
ぺろぺろ Licking exaggeratedly over and over again
べろん・ぺろん Licking something exaggeratedly once
べろんべろん・ぺろんぺろん Running your tongue over something exaggeratedly, multiple times
ぼりっ Loudly biting something hard
ぼりぼり Chewing something hard with your teeth
ぽりぽり Chewing something hard lightly with your teeth
むぐむぐ Chewing something without opening your mouth
むしゃむしゃ Eating something swiftly
むしゃり Taking one, quick bite
むしゃりむしゃり Eating something quickly, continuously
むにゃむにゃ Muttering with food in your mouth
もぐもぐ Stuffing food in your mouth and chewing over and over
もごもご Mumbling while you eat, chewing your words
もそもそ Eating something dry and unpleasant
もりもり Eating with gusto

Drinking and Getting Drunk

がばがば Continuously drinking alcohol, like beer, a lot
がばっ Drinking a lot at one time with a big mouth
がぶがぶ Drinking a lot quickly
がぷがぷ Drinking quickly and breathing, drink, take a breath, drink, take a breath
がぶっ・がぶり Drinking a lot all at once
がぶりがぶり Drinking a lot over and over again
がぼがぼ Drinking quickly all of a sudden
かぽっ・がぼっ Taking a drink in a good mood
きゅー・きゅっ Drinking down some strong alcohol
くい Lightly drinking something like sake in one gulp
ぐい Gulping down something like sake in one breath
くいくい Continuously gulping down something like sake
ぐいぐい Quickly drinking a lot of something like sake
くー・ぐー・ぐーっ・くくー Drinking something in one gulp
くっ・ぐっ Gulping down something
ぐっぐっ Drinking quickly without stopping for air
ぐでんぐでん Getting black out drunk
ぐたぐた Getting so drunk you can’t even move your body
ぐびっ・ぐぶり The gulping noise your throat makes when you drink alcohol
ぐびぐび・ぐびりぐびり Repetitive gulping from drinking alcohol
こくこく Drinking and tasting delicious flavors
ごくごく・ごっくりごっくり・ごぶごぶ Drinking and making gulping sounds with your throat
こくっ・こくり・こくん・こっくん Sipping or swallowing lightly
ごくっ・ごくり・ごくん・ごっくん Sipping or swallowing and making a gulp sound
こくりこくり Sipping or swallowing slowly as if you’re savoring the flavors
ごくりごくり Drinking continuously with loud gulp, gulp, gulping sounds
ごくんごくん Drinking quickly with gulp, gulp, gulping sounds
ごっくり Drinking loudly in one breath
じゅるっ Swallowing or sipping spit, soup, or a liquid
ずーずー Swallowing or sipping soup, or a liquid with higer-pitch loud sound, like sucking soba noodles
ずーっ・すすっ・ずずっ Swallowing or sipping soup, or a liquid with loudly, like soba noodles
ずるずる Loudly slurping noodles
ずるっ A snort of mucus or soup
ちびりちびり Slowly sipping alcohol
ちゅーちゅー・ちゅるちゅる Sucking a liquid (with a straw) or noodles slowly
ちゅっ A short slurp of soup or a liquid
ぴちゃぴちゃ Wet licking sound an animal, like a dog, makes
ひっく Hiccup, usually of a drunk person
ぺちゃぺちゃ Making tongue noises while drinking and/or eating
へべれけ Getting super drunk, with slurred thinking and speaking
べろべろ・べろんべろん Getting so drunk you can’t move your body normally
ほろっ・ほろり Getting tipsy, or a comfortable amount of drunkness
ぽわん Getting drunk and feeling great, like you’re floating
れろれろ Getting tongue tied from alcohol or drugs

Puking and Vomiting

がらがら・がらがらぺっ Vomiting and gargling
げー・げっ Vomiting food and drinks
げーげー・げろげろ Continuously vomiting food and drinks
げろっ Vomiting instantly
ぷっぷっ Violently vomit in your own mouth
ぺっぺっ Forcefully vomit spit and phlegm
むかっ・むかむか Feeling the urge to vomit in your stomach, holding it down

Saying and Speaking

うだうだ Constantly making excuses and complaints
がたがた Complaining a lot
がみがみ A higher status person giving you a lecture or scolding you with strong words or tone
がやがや Many people talking loudly
きっぱり Saying something clearly with a straightforward expression
ぎゃーぎゃー Making complaints loudly and repeatedly
きゃんきゃん・きんきん Shouting, crying, or yelling with a high-pitch voice
ぐちぐち Making complaints to someone or aloud to yourself
ぐずぐず Muttering complaints
くだくだ・ぐだぐだ・くどくど Doing or saying the same thing over and over again incessantly
ぐたぐた Complaining over and over about things, listing them
ぐちゃぐちゃ Talking forever about meaningless things
ごじゃごじゃ・ごたごた・ごちゃごちゃ Telling various excuses or complaints
こそこそ Whispering secretly
ごちょごちょ Saying something into someone’s ear
ごにょごにょ Muttering so that others can’t hear you
ざっくばらん Explaining your situation frankly
しどろもどろ Making illogical excuses, panicking and making terrible excuses that don’t make sense
しんみり Saying something sadly with a quiet, calm tone
ずけずけ Saying something very straight forward
ずばずば・ずばっ・ずばり Saying or pointing out something straight forward, get to the point in a very outspoken manner
すらすら Speaking really fluently, smoothly
たらたら Complaining about something over and over for a really long time
だらだら Talking about or explaining something really unclearly and taking a long time to do it
ちゃらちゃら Chatting and being really flirty
つけつけ・つかつか Not hesitating to say something, saying whatever you think
つべつべ Annoyingly complaining or theorizing at someone
ぬけぬけ Saying or making something up to show off
はきはき Talking or replying in a clear, friendly manner
ばしばし Saying things without holding back or hesitating
ぴーちくぱーちく Loudly talking with a high pitched voice
ぴしゃっ・ぴしゃり Stubbornly taking one side in an argument
ひそひそ Whispering so the people around you can’t hear
ぶーぶー Whining and complaining a lot
ふがふが The air moving through your mouth because your false teeth fell out
ぶつくさ・ぶつぶつ Continuously complaining in a low voice
ぶつっ・ぶつり Muttering a single word under your breath
べちゃくちゃ・ぺちゃくちゃ・ぺちゃぺちゃ Continuously chatting about frivolous things
ぺらっ Chatting fluently
ぺらぺら Being able to speak a fluent language fluently
ぼそり・ぽつり Saying a single word in a low voice
ぼそぼそ Speaking with a really low, lifeless voice
ぽんぽん Cheerfully showing someone in what you’re saying over and over
むにゃむにゃ Sleep talking, or mumbling
もぐもぐ・もごもご Mumbling, talking without opening your mouth very much
やいのやいの Meddling or pressing someone for information that isn’t your business
れろれろ Getting tongue tied from alcohol or drugs
わいわい・わやわや Many people talking loudly

Coughing and Choking

えへん Coughing violently and clearing your throat
おほん Clearing your throat for attention
かーっ Coughing up phlegm into your mouth from your throat
かっ Violently breathing in phlegm or spit
ぐぐっ Food or air caught in your throat
けほけほ Choking slightly
げほげほ・ごほごほ Strong coughing fit
こほこほ・こんこん Light cough
ごほん Coughing strongly once to clear a blocked throat
こほんこほん A light, halting cough
ごほんごほん Strongly coughing many time
ぜーぜー Breathing through phlegm


がやがや A crowd of people gathered together talking noisily
きーきー A noisy, shrill voice
きゃーきゃー・ぎゃーぎゃー Yelping out of joy or fear
ぎゃんぎゃん Making a big fuss, bawling
ごたごた Noisy complaining and fussing
ざわざわ A bunch of people causing a commotion
じゃんじゃか Something like a musical instrument making a lot of noise
ちゃんちゃか The playful noise of a banquet or dinner party
てんやわんや A large number of people scrambling over each other in total confusion
どがちゃが Getting chaotic
どさくさ Confusion or a scandal
どさどさ A crowd of people jumbling together one after another
どたどた The sound of people heavily and recklessly moving around
どたばた・どたんばたん Noisily running or stomping around
どやどや The sound of many footsteps going in and out of somewhere
どんちゃか・どんちゃん Boisterous revelry, the sounds of music and enjoyment at a banquet or party
ぱたぱた The sound of busily moving around
やいやい An uproar unable to settle down
わーわー A raised voice crying or screaming
わいわい・わやわや A large group of people making a lot of noise
わっ A large group of people stirring all at once
わっさわっさ A crowd yelling all at once
わんわ Noisiness

Laughing and Smiling

あっはっは・あはは・わはは Cheerfully, loudly laughing
あはあは A rude laugh with your mouth open
いひひ A wily, laugh with your mouth pulled to the sides
うっしっし Chuckling to yourself after you did something well
うはうは Laughing in a loud, rude voice after making a large profit
うひひ A mean laugh of someone who has a scheme or plan
うひょひょ Accidentally letting out a small, happy laugh
うふっ A short, low laugh
うふふ With your mouth only open a little, as if you know something they don’t know
えへへ A shy, embarrassed laugh
おほほ・ほほほ With a narrow mouth, acting refined
かかか Laughter that seems happy, but is despicable
がはは A long, hearty, loud laugh
からから A hearty laugh, without a care or worry
きゃー A shrill laugh
きゃっきゃっ The laughter of children playing and having fun
ぎゃはは Laughing vulgarly when you encounter something that is good for you or that you can take advantage of
くーっ・くっ Trying not to laugh, but laughing anyway
くくっ Laughing, but trying to hold back
くすくす Laughing quietly, unable to hold it in, chuckling
くすっ・くすり Letting out just a little bit of a laugh
くすん A light laugh out of your nose
くっく・くっくっ Laughing quietly, unable to hold it in
けけ A weird, high laugh
けたけた High laughter that sounds fake or superficial
げたげた Loud, rude laughter
げたっ Rudely laughing with a loose expression
けっけっ A mocking laugh, making fun of someone
けらけら・けろけろ Innocent, high laughter
げらげら Openly vulgar laughter, guffaw
ころころ Laughing and rolling happily because something is really funny or fun
どっ・どっと Many people laughing together loudly
にーっ Smiling in an eerie way to imply something
にかっ Smiling with your teeth showing
にこっ・にこり・にっこり Smiling happily to show that you’re happy
にこにこ Laughing and smiling brightly, showing gratitude
にたっ・にたにた A broad, evil grin, unable to hide your joy
にたりにたり Repeatedly smirking smugly
にっ Smiling lovingly without making a sound
にっこにこ Laughing and smiling with the utmost happiness
にやっ Unintentionally smiling and showing your joy
にやにや・にやり Giving a faint, cold smile
にんまり Smiling with satisfaction because things went your way
はっはっ・ははは Laughing without a worry or care
ひっひっ・ひひひ Shifty laughing of a bad person or villain
ぷー・ふっ・ぷっ Busting out with laughter at something funny
ふっふっ A fearless smile
ふふ A suppressed laugh, without being able to hide your joy
ふふん Laughing through your nose, looking down on someone else
へっへっ・へへへ Laughing meanly, triumphantly
へらへら A frivolous, superficial laugh
ほくほく Laughing or smiling because you gained something, usually money or profit
ほっほっ Laughing loudly as if you’re out of breath, like Santa’s laugh
わーっ A sudden, loud laugh


あーん・うわーん A child crying loudly without considering the people around it
あんあん・えんえん A person crying loudly
うえんうえん Spinelessly crying or whining with your mouth shaped like the へ character
うるうる・うるるん Moved to tears
うるっ Unintentionally crying
えーん A child crying because it wants attention
おーおー A person crying loudly from sadness
おいおい An adult crying pitifully
おぎゃーおぎゃー A baby bawling
ぎゃー・ぎゃーぎゃー An obstinate kid shouting
ぐしょぐしょ Lots of tears flowing
ぐすぐす Crying and sniffling
ぐすっ・ぐすり Sniffling, moved to tears
ぐすりぐすり Sniffling and snorting snot
くすん・ぐすん・ぐっすん The sound of your nose sniff when you cry
しくしく Crying gently, or feeling pitty for someone or something
ひーひー Crying out with a pitiful voice
ひっく A crying hiccup, similar to hyperventilation
ひっひっ Sobbing but trying to hold back
べそべそ Crying while grumbling
ほろっ・ほろり・ぽろり To shed a single tear out of sympathy or from being emotionally moved
ぼろぼろ Crying large tears
ぽろぽろ Tears that won’t stop falling
ほろりほろり・ぽろりぽろり Tears spilling down your cheeks one at a time
めーめー Crying like a spineless baby
めそめそ Uncontrollably crying with no self respect
よよ A woman feebly bursting into tears
わーわー・わーん・わんわん Bawling without caring about where you are
わっ Suddenly, violently bursting into tears

Angry, Upset, Antisocial

かーっ Getting upset because something didn’t go as planned
かっ Blowing up out of shame or anger
かっか・かっかっ・がみがみ Agitated by anger or dissatisfaction
かりかり Quick to take offense, tightly wound
かんかん So outraged that you won’t listen to reason
きっ Sudden hardening of your manner or expression
ぞっ Feeling unpleasant
つっけんどん Acting curt or unfriendly
つん・つんつん Facing away disgruntled
つんけん Acting unsociable or crabby
とげとげ A mean attitude, expression, or tone of voice
ぷい Facing away without responding
ぷー Blowing your cheeks out with anger or unhappiness
ぶすっ・ぶすり Blowing your cheeks out with anger or unhappiness, looking sullen
ぷっ・ぶりっ・ぷりぷり Blowing your cheeks out with anger or unhappiness
ぷん Blowing your cheeks out and refusing to speak
ぷんぷん Opening showing your anger or displeasure
ぼさっ Acting unsociable, unfriendly
むーっ Showing your anger or displeasure
むかっ・むかむか Anger suddenly welling up, surge of anger
むしゃむしゃ Losing your calm and getting upset often
むすっ Pouting silently
むっ Being angered by someone’s words or actions
むっつり Ignoring social graces and being blunt and curt
むらむら Anger coming up from the bottom of your stomach, anger welling up

Not Feeling Well

かくっ・がくっ Suddenly losing some of your energy
がっかり・がっくり Discouraged by disappointing results
かくん・かっくん A little disappointed because your hopes didn’t come true
がびーん Hit with disappointment and shock
ぎゃふん Not being able to talk back at all after being accused of something, unable to argue
ぎゅー Knocked down (emotionally) after being accused of something
くしゃっ Losing motivation and hope
ぐったり Completely exhausted from fatigue or sickness
くよくよ Worrying about the past or trivial things
げっそり Losing weight or getting sick from sickness or anxiety
しおしお Disappointed by your own failures
しゅん・しょぼしょぼ・しょぼっ Not energetic, depressed
しょぼん Depressed, losing energy and willpower
しょんぼり Depressed and feeling lonely
しんみり Lonely and quiet, solemn
すごすご Leaving somewhere depressed, dejected
とぼとぼ Walking depressed, trudging along
とほほ Being miserable and pitiful
へたへた Suddenly losing strength and having to sit down
へなへな Losing strength and having to sit down
よぼよぼ Mentally weak, physically growing old


いそいそ Happy and lighthearted
うきうき Happy, cheerfully lighthearted, and full of hope
うしうし Happily and skillfully going about your business
うはうは Full of smiles and happiness
きゃぴきゃぴ Bringing out the happy youthfulness in a bitter woman
ほいほい Happily carefree and without much thought
ほくほく Openly happy and pleased with yourself
らんらん Feeling exhilarated and jumping for joy
るんるん Feeling exhilarated, euphoric, and humming happily
わくわく Your heart fluttering from joy or anticipation


あわわ A reflexive sound made when noticing something suddenly
うぎゃー A surprised scream or shriek
がーん Receiving a psychologically intense shock
がびょーん Horribly, exaggeratedly shocked
ぎく・ぎくっ・ぎくり・ぎくん Someone suddenly touched on a secret of yours
ぎっくん Suddenly taken by surprise and off balanced
きゃー・ぎゃー・きゃーきゃー・きゃっ・ぎゃっ Letting out a scream of surprise, fear, or pain
ぎょえー Completely amazing and surprised
ぎょぎょ・ぎょっ Something suddenly opening your eyes
きょとっ・きょとん Understanding the situation with your eyes wide open
ぐっ Receiving a strong blow to your heart
げー・げっ Observing unexpected things
だー Surprised or dumbfounded
どきっ・どきり・どっきり Heart racing from excitement, fear, or anticipation
ぱちくり Blinking rapidly from surprise
はっ Suddenly noticing something and being surprised by it
ひー A cry of excitement, fear, or pain
ぴくっ・びくり Trembling from a momentary fear
ひっ Holding your breath out of shock
ひっく Terribly surprised
びっくら・びっくり Surprised by something sudden or unexpected
ひやっ・ひやり Momentarily feeling like something bad is about to happen

Flustered, Impatient, and Unable to Calm Down

あくせく(齷齪) Feeling like you don’t have enough time
あたふた Running around in a hurry
あっぷあっぷ Struggling and gasping for breath, about to drown
あわあわ Losing time or a grasp on your senses
いそいそ Exhilarated and enthusiastic
いらいら Unable to do things at your own pace, rushed and in a hurry
うきうき Excited because of joy or hope, cheerful
うずうず・むずむず Itching to do something, impatient to start something
おたおた Flustered or panicked by something suddenly, shocked speechless
おどおど Hesitating or faltering with nervousness or anger
おろおろ Unable to move from surprise or anxiety
がさがさ Noisy and unable to calm down
ぎゃっ Shouting unintentionally in confusion
きろきろ An expression lacking calmness or stability
じたばた Impatiently squirming
しどもど Confused and incoherent
しどろもどろ The subject and words spoken are unclear, incoherent
じりじり Running out of patience
せかせか Feeling impatient and that you’re being hurried
せこせこ・こせこせ Making a big deal out of nothing
そそくさ Feeling like you’re in a hurry to finish
そわそわ Fidgeting from anxiety
ちゃかちゃか Unable to steady your movements or actions
どきどき Your heart beating faster from worry or fear
どぎまぎ Flustered that someone sees right through you
どたばた Noisily rushing around doing things
ばたばた Hurrying around getting things done
はらはら Nervous or worried about something, on edge
びくびく Trembling from anxiety or anger
やきもき Unable to calm down from worry or impatience
わくわく Excited from anticipation, pleasure, or happiness
わさわさ Unable to concentrate or calm down

Hesitating and Faltering

いじいじ Unsure of your behavior or actions
うじうじ Unable to be proactive or make a decision
おずおず Faltering or hesitating from anger or nervousness
ぐだぐだ Acting slow out of unwillingness or laziness
くよくよ Restlessness from worries or regrets
くらくら Unsure of what decision to make due to temptation
ぐらぐら Unsure due to weak resolution, indecisiveness
たじたじ Hesitating because someone is coercing you
まごまご Losing your head because you don’t know what to do
もじもじ Unable to make decisions because of embarrassment or shyness

Thinking and Feeling

うっとり Being fascinated by something beautiful, spellbound
きゅーん Feeling a tightness or pressure in the your chest from sadness or grief
きゅん A tightening in your chest for a moment from strong feelings
さめざめ Sorrowful, bitter feelings
じーん Slowly becoming impressed, moved, or touched by something
じーっ Thinking deeply and quietly
じん Being so touched by something that you’re almost moved to tears
しんみ Feeling pity and a little sad for someone
ぞっ Strongly moved by something and that feeling runs through your body
つくづく Believing something from the bottom of your heart
つらつら Thinking about something for a long time
ぴーん Suddenly thinking of an idea
ぴぴっ・ぴん Strong instincts or intuition
ほろり Feeling sympathy for someone
むくむく A feeling or idea that suddenly came up
もやもや Worrying or wondering what to do

Hurt and Pain

いがいが An itchiness or tickle in your throat
いらいら・ひりひり An irritation in your throat or on your skin from pain or hot food
うずうず Feeling a continuous dull pain
がんがん Pain or noise echoing in your head
きりきり A stomachache with sharp pains
ぎんぎん Head constantly aching badly
ぐさぐさ Receiving a blow to the heart from cold words
ぐさっ・ぐさり The psychological wounds from someone’s words
ごろごろ The ache of something getting in your eye
じーん The sensation of pain or cold
しく  Stabbing pain from a bug
しくしく Continuous spasms of dull pain
しくりしくり Prickling pain over and over
じん Numb or sleeping limbs
じんじん Continuous pain and numbness from the afflicted area
ずきずき・ずんずん Throbbing, grinding pain
ずきっ・ずきり・ずきん Sudden, violent, traveling and throbbing pain
ずきんずきん Continuous throbbing pain
ちかちか Flashing pain in your eyes
ちくちく A stabbing pain like needles over and over, prickling
ちくっ・ちくり・ちくん A sudden stabbing pain from a needle or a bug
ちりちり A cut or skin that feel like it’s burning
どきんどきん・どっきどっき・どっきんどっきん Violent throbbing
びーん Numbness or itchiness spreading through your body
ぴきぴき Twitching and on edge
ひりっ・ぴりっ Feeling a sudden itch, pain, or hot taste
びりびり・ぴりぴり Feeling a continued pain or irritation
ひりり Feeling a pain from something for a moment, tingling, irritation
びりり・ぴりり Numb from a momentary stimulus, tingling, stinging
むずむず・もぞもぞ Feeling itchy like you were bitten by, or have bugs on you

Personality and Disposition

Unconcerned and Composed

あっけらかん Without any hesitation
おっとり So calm that it seems like time is passing slower than normal
おめおめ Without hesitation, calmly
がっちり Shrewdly, being pushy
けりけろ・けろっ・けろり As if nothing happened, nonchalantly
さばさば Without attachment or seriousness
しゃーしゃー Shamelessly not feeling that embarrassing things are actually embarrassing
しらっ・しれっ Acting as if something is not a big deal at all
ずかずか Being nosy, acting and saying things without any hesitation
ずけずけ Saying something that could hurt someone else, blunt
ちゃっかり Acting shrewd but still well liked, cheeky
つけつけ Saying and doing things without reserve, rude
ぬくぬく Doing well on your own, carefree and successful
ぬけぬけ Acting like you didn’t do (something negative) and it is obvious to other people, shamelessly
のーのー Without any worries or concerns
のこのこ Showing up without any knowledge or understanding of what is going on
のほほん Carefree, without worries or concerns
のんびり Mentally and physically relaxed
はっきり Showing your feelings very clearly
やいやい Loudly bothering other people for things, pestering people


ぎんぎん Full of energy and very mobile
しゃきしゃき Dealing with tasks quickly and efficiently
しゃき・しゃっきり Feeling brisk and lively in both body and mind
しゃん Both your movement and thoughts are logical and stable
しゃんしゃん Energetically going about your daily tasks
すくすく Children growing up without complications
ちゃきちゃき Doing things quickly, cheerfully, and efficiently
ぴかぴか・ぴっかぴか A new life shining with hope and happiness
ぴちぴち Young and healthy, or a fresh, lively fish
ぴんぴん Energetic and lively
ぶいぶい Energetic and powerful
もりもり Bursting with energy and motivation

Physique and Figure

Fat and Robust

ころころ Plump and overweight
ずんぐり Short and overweight
ずんぐりむっくり Getting fat, gaining weight, swelling
だぶだぶ Fat, loose and baggy
でっぷり Getting fat or flabby around your stomachand waist
でぶでぶ Shamefully getting fatter
ぶくんぶくん Getting big and flabby
ぶよぶよ Getting way too fat and soft and flabby
ぽちゃっ A chubby face and body
ぼちゃぼちゃ Getting chubby and cute
ぽちゃぽちゃ Chubby, just a little fat
ぽっちゃり Lovely chubby and cute
ぼってり Heavy and fat
ぽってり Chubby and adorable
ぽてっ So fat it looks like your head is just riding your body
ぼてぼて Having undesirable fat on your body
ぽてぽて Plump like a baby with supple skin
むちっ・むちむち・むっちり Supple skin and plenty of flesh in all the right places
がしっ・がっしり・がっちり A study body or bone structure
ぼんきゅぼん Nice proportions: ぼん big breasts きゅ tight waist ぼん big butt
もりもり Bulging muscles, looking strong


がりがり So thin that you can see their bones, skin and bones
すらっ・すらり Long, slender, and well proportioned
ひょろっ・ひょろひょろ・ひょろり・ひょろん Lanky, thin and tall
ほっそり Slim and slender figure

Moving and Changing

Advancing and Moving

がーっ Forcefully moving
ががっ Advancing with great force
がくりがくり Suddenly moving and then going back
がくんがくん Drastic, jerking motions
がんがん Pushing forward, without paying any attention to your surroundings
ぐいぐい Pushing forward, as if you’re being pulled
ぐんぐん Gradually speeding up while advancing
さくさく Things going forward without delay
さっさっ Moving on willingly, without any hangups
さらさら Things moving forward quickly and smoothly
じゃんじゃん Things moving forward and making progress
じりじり Slowly approaching someone
ずい Entering the inside of a house unreservedly
すいすい Feeling comfortable moving forward without resistance, unhindered
すーっ Quiet things moving forward
ずかずか Rudely entering into someone else’s area or space
すっ Moving quickly and quietly
ずっ Things pressing forward even more
すっすっ Things advancing without difficulty
ずっずっ・ずんずん Things strongly pressing forward
すらすら・するする Smoothly advancing without delay
すんなり To calmly advance without resistance
そろそろ Gradually progressing to a certain state
だー Running swiftly, with force
たったっ Flying through the minor details
だっだっ Moving forward, maintaining force
ついつい Advancing against your better judgement
つかつか Striding toward something without hesitation
てきぱき A matter that progresses quickly
どしどし Moving purposefully and proactively
どんどこ Moving something forward without hesitating
とんとん Things continuing to go well for a while
どんどん・ばんばん Forcefully moving forward without hesitating
ほいほい Advancing willingly
ぽちぽち・ぼつぼつ Steadily progressing, gradually
めきめき・めっきり Visably making rapid progress

Falling and Dropping

かたん・かたり Something light and hard falling or dropping
がたん・がたり Something heavy suddenly falling or dropping
がらがら Heavy things falling or collapsing one after another
ことり・ことん Light things falling or collapsing
ごとり・ごとん Heavy things falling or collapsing
すとん Falling straight down
たらたら Liquid rolling down, dripping
ちゃぽん Something falling into water
ちゃぽっ Something falling and hitting water
ちらちら Snow or flowers fluttering as they fall
とーん Something falls and bounces
どかっ A big lump or chunk of something falling all at once
どかどか Something heavy continuously falling
どかり Something heavy falling or hitting
どさっ・どさり・どさん・どたり・どたん A big, heavy thing falling all at once
どさどさ Heavy things falling one after another
どすん A huge, heavy thing falling and crashing
ばさっ・ばさり Something like a vacant body falling
ぱさっ・ぱさり Something like an unrolled paper falling
ばたっ Something heavy forcefully falling
はたり・ぱたり Something light falling
ばっばっ Lots of things forcefully scattering
はらっ Paper or leaves scattering
ぱらっ Rain or leaves thinly falling
はらはら Tears or petals falling one by one
ばらばら Finely falling, falling in pieces
ぱらぱら Rain, hail, or leaves falling sparsely
はらり・ぱらり Something light falling
ばらり Falling while feeling heavy or important
ぼたっ・ぽたっ・ぼたり・ぽたり・ぽとっ A drop of water or a liquid falling
ぼたぼた・ぽとぽと Large drops of liquid rolling or trickling down one by one
ぽたぽた・ぽとぽと Small drops continuously falling
ぼたん・ぽたん Drops of water falling from a high place
ぽちゃっ Something that seems to break when it falls
ぽちゃん Something small falling into liquid
ぽつり A single drop of rain falling
ぽてっ Dropping something carelessly
ぼとり・ぼとん A thing or liquid dropping heavily
ぽとり・ぽとん A thing or drop of water dropping lightly
ぽとりぽとり Falling one by one after a pause
ほろっ・ほろり A single tear spilling over and falling
ぼろっ・ぼろり A thing inadvertently falling
ほろほろ Tears or drops of water flowing
ぼろぼろ Something granular falling in large quantities
ぽろぽろ Tears or grains of rice spilling and falling all over
ほろりほろり Tears, flowers, or leaves continuously falling
ぽろりぽろり Tears or liquids falling in intervals
ぽろん Something falling too quickly

Breaking and Bending

がくり・がっくり Suddenly bending strongly back and forth
かくん・かっくん Suddenly bending back and forth and disconnecting
ぎくしゃく Sharply bending back and forth
ぎくっ・ぎくり Something suddenly bending back and forth
ぎくん Sudden, violent bending back and forth
ぐきり Breaking or spraining a leg, breaking a stick
ばきっ・ばきん Something hard and slim suddenly breaking
ぱきっ・ぱきん Something thin breaking
ばきばき Something dry forcefully breaking
ぱきぱき Thin things breaking one after another
ぱしぱし Something hard and slim bending back and forth
ぱちり Something hard breaking
びしっ・びしり Something small and thin folding or breaking
ぴしっ A small break or crack
ぼきっ・ぼきり A small cylindrical thing breaking
ぽきっ・ぽきり A hard, light, cylindrical thing breaking
ぼきぼき Hard cylindrical things breaking over and over
ぽきぽき Light cylindrical things breaking over and over
ぼきん A hard cylindrical thing completely breaking
ぽきん A light cylindrical thing completely breaking
ぼくっ Strong hitting or breaking
ぽちぽち Dead branches or twigs breaking one after another
ぽっきり Snapping cleanly

Shaking and Swaying

うつらうつら Swaying slowly
がたがた Something heavy swaying unstably
がくん A sudden, violent shake
ぐずり A heavy, shaking movement
くらくら Shaking unstably from dizziness
ぐらぐら Huge, irregular, continuous shaking
くらっ・くらり A sudden, big shake
ぐらっ・ぐらり A sudden, huge shake for just a moment
くらりくらり Repeatedly shaking in a big way
ぐらりぐらり Huge, slow shaking movements
ぐりぐり Rubbing your elbow into someone’s shoulders
ごとごと The even swaying of a train car
じわじわ Swaying in small degrees
たぽたぽ Liquid sloshing in a container
たぷたぷ Something big swaying
だらりだらり Something long swaying loosely
ちょろちょろ Shaking little by little, trembling
とぷんとぷん Water in a container swaying
びろびろ Flicking cloth or your tongue
ふよふよ Something light quietly swaying
ふらふら Shaking from loss of your body’s equilibrium
ぶらぶら Something hanging and swaying, dangling
ぷらぷら Something light swaying in the wind
ふらりふらり Slowly swaying in a big way
ぶらりぶらり Heavily, continuously slowly swaying
ぷらりぷらり Lightly, continuously, slowly swaying
ぶらん Heavily hanging down and dangling
ぶらんぶらん Dangling, or swinging legs back and forth
ぶるぶる・ぶるる・ぶるん Vibrating and shaking
ぷるる・ぷるん Vibrating a little
ぷるんぷるん Trembling slightly
へらへら Fluttering
ぺらぺら Flipping something thin, usually pages
ぽよぽよ Shaking flexibly
ゆさゆさ Something large swaying
ゆさり Something large swaying
ゆさりゆさり Something large swaying over and over
ゆっさゆっさ Something big and heavy swaying
ゆらっ One, huge sway or shaking movement
ゆらゆら Shaking over and over
ゆらり Shaking lightly and slowly, once
ゆらりゆらり Loosly swaying over and over
よろりよろり Legs swinging while crossed


ざくざく Chopping the stalks off of vegetables
さくっ・さくり・さっくり Cutting food with a sharp knife
ざくっ・ざくり・ざっくり Deepy plunging a blade into something
ざぐり・ざっく Hollowing something out by cutting into it
じょきじょき Cutting through thick cloth with scissors
じょきり Cutting cloth once with scissors
すかすか Cutting cleanly with a sharp blade
ずきずき Forcefully cutting something
ずたずた Something that’s been cut many times, making it look worn or ragged
すっぱり・すぱっ・すぱり Completely cut off with a sharp blade
すとん Easily cut down
ずばずば Relentlessly cutting with a blade
ずばり Cutting through something at once
ずばりずばり Viciously cutting many times
ちょきちょき Cutting paper or plants with scissors
ちょきん・ちょっきり Completely cutting something off with scissors
ばさり・ばっさり Exaggeratedly cutting something off with a blade
ばっさばっさ Cutting people down one by one with a sword
ばらり Cutting a thread, group, or joint
ぴちっ Suddenly splitting open from being cut
ぷすり Cutting something like a thread or from a group
びちっ Suddenly, completely cut off
ぷちっ Suddenly, easily cutting something off
ぶちぶち Easily cutting something like soba
ぷっつ Something suddenly coming apart of disconnecting
ぷつっ Belt, rope, correspondence or suddenly being cut
ふっつり Severing ties with something or someone, once and for all
ぷっつり Completely cutting yourself from a group or a relationship
ぶっつん Violently severing ties
ぷっつん Being cut apart by something sharp
ぶつぶつ Cutting something into small pieces
ぷつぷつ Things getting torn to shreds
ぶつり・ぶつん Suddenly, completely cutting
ぷつり・ぷつん Speech or correspondance suddenly being cut off
ぽっきり Cleanly cut, or interrupted
ぽつぽつ Cut into small pieces or interrupted
ぽつり Suddenly cut down the middle

Ripping and Tearing

ずたずた Tearing to pieces over and over
ばりっ Something hard breaking or tearing
ぱりっ Something thin breaking or tearing
ぱりぱり Strong ripping and tearing
ぱりぱり Cloth or paper forcefully being torn
びっ・ぴっ・びびっ Forcefully tearing or peeling
びりっ・ぴりっ Forcefully tearing cloth or paper
びりびり・ぴりぴり Continuously splitting cloth or paper
べりっ Tearing and peeling at once
ぺりっ Forcefully tearing something thin
べりべり Ripping something thick over and over
ぺりぺり Ripping something thin over and over/td>
ぼろぼろ Little tears in cloth
めりっ・めりめり Something brittle ripping, tearing, or breaking


ちょこん・ちょん Small things sticking together
ぴたっ・ぴたり・ぴったり・ぴっちり Completely stuck together with no gaps
ぴたぴた Sticking on after another
びたり On one side
ぴたん・ぴたんぴたん Sticking a stamp to something by pressing it down
べたっ Glued and sticking
ぺたっ・ぺたん Sticking completely to a flat surface
べたり Clinging together in a lump
ぺたり Sticking from being pressed down
べたん Sticking firmly
ぺちょっ Lightly pasting and sticking
ぺったり Lightly sticking to one surface
ぺったんぺったん Sticking and separating
べっとり Sticking something to one side
ぺっとり Sticking something mucousy to one side

Piercing and Stabbing

ぐさぐさ Deeply stabbing with a blade over and over
ぐさっ・ぐさり Stabbing deeply once with a blade
ずばっ Being pierced by an arrow or a spear
ずばりずばり Starply stabbing in your vitals or your core
ずぶずぶ Something soft being pierced
ずぶっ・ずぶり Being stabbed at the base with a blade
ちくちく・ちくりちくり Repeatedly stabbed with something like needles
ちくっ・ちくり・ちくん Stabbed once with something like a needle
つん Lightly poked once
つんつん Lightly poked over and over
ぶすっ・ぷすっ・ぶすり・ぷすり Stabbing something soft
ぶすぶす・ぷすぷす Stabbing over and over
ぶすりぶすり Continuously stabbing with a blade
ぶつっ Sudden, forceful stabbing
ぶっつり A blade forcefully stabbing
ぶつぶつ Making a hole using something sharp over and over
ぷつぷつ Making lots of hole with something sharp
ぶつり・ぷつり Stabbing with something sharp or tapered

Bending, Folding, and Crumpling

うねうね While bending up, down, and side to side
かくんかくん Repeatedly, lightly folding back and forth
かっくり Suddenly lightly bending something
がっくり Suddenly strongly bending something
ぎくぎく Bending awkwardly and jerkily
くい Suddenly bending something
くいくい Lightly bending two or three times
くにゃ・ぐにゃ・くにゃり・ぐにゃり Part of something suddenly bending
くにゃくにゃ・ぐにゃぐにゃ Soft and freely bending
くねくね Bending back and forth like it’s shaking
ぐんにゃり Bending or twisting easily
ジグザグ Bending in the shape of a Z, literally “zigzag” in English
しゃなりしゃなり Your body moving flexibly
しなしな・しなっ Bending and warping
しんなり Something soft folding
なよなよ Weakly bending, delicate
へこへこ Weakly bending easily, pliable

To Be Continued…

(This guide is constantly being updated. Make sure you check back for more!)


Okonomiyaki – Japanese Soul Food at Its Finest

Your first few experiences with food in Japan will probably be the usual: sushi, ramen, udon. But when you want to dig a little deeper, it’s time for Osaka soul food. Okonomiyaki.

With a history as rich as its flavor, Japan’s “pancake/pizza/crepe/omelette” will fill you up and ensure you come back for more.

Jump to Section:

What is Okonomiyaki?


Photo by ume-y

Okonomiyaki is described many ways. “Crepe” and “omelette” are two common comparisons. But you’re bound to hear “Japanese pizza” or “Japanese pancake” most often. These descriptions are all true to an extent but basically wrong.

Okonomiyaki’s is a flour based mixture cooked on a griddle. Thus a cake from a pan, or “pancake.” But it doesn’t have the sweetness of fluffiness the name connotes (at least in the American sense).

Its pizzaness comes from the various ingredients. Just like you can have whatever you want on your pizza, you can have whatever you want on (or in) your okonomiyaki.

In fact, the name okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) means “whatever you like grilled.” The first part of the word “okonomi” (お好み) means “choice” or “preference.” If you use the word “konomi” (好み) in a sentence, it can mean “one’s type.” As in “He is my type.” The second part, “yaki” (焼き) means “cooking,” “frying,” or “heating.” It’s the same yaki in teriyaki, yakisoba, and yakiniku.

As the name insists, you can do what you like. But there are some differences in ingredients that change the style of the dish depending on the region of Japan.

The two main styles are Osaka (or Kansai) style and Hiroshima style.

Osaka Style


Because you can add “whatever you like” the possibilities are endless. But there are certain ingredients which must be present before you can start adding things to the batter. Here are the essentials that make up Osaka style okonomiyaki.

The Flour

  • Nagaimo/Yamaimo: Also known as Taro root, nagaimo/yamaimo is grated into gooey pulp and used to give okonomiyaki batter that special bounce. Both nagaimo and yamamimo are “taro root” in English, but nagaimo is Chinese yam and yamaimo is Japanese yam. Yamaimo’s gooeyness is denser than nagaimo’s, so it’s tougher to mix into the batter. But if you pour it right, it makes for a fluffier pancake. Either root is fine to use when making the powder mix. It’s your choice (Okonomi!). But if you get a pre-mixed okonomiyaki mix from the grocery store, it will probably use yamaimo. So no choice there. If you grate the yamaimo or nagaimo yourself, be careful. Add too much, and your okonomiyaki might be too soft.
  • Tenkasu: Little bits of batter that fall into oil when frying tempura.
  • Beni shouga: Little red sour pickle slivers. Gives a sour kick.
  • Dashi stock: A soup stock containing our umami friend katsuobushi. If the name is unfamiliar, chances are you’ve eaten it (and loved it). Read our article that explains everything about katsuobushi.
  • Eggs and Flour: You know what these are.
  • Cabbage: Arguably the “main” ingredient of okonomiyaki. Each pancake is packed with leafy goodness. All the fiber adds a healthy touch. You don’t want to use North American cabbage for okonomiyaki though. It’s a bit hard. If you’re making okonomiyaki in North America, look for cabbage labelled, “Asian cabbage” or “Taiwanese cabbage.”


  • Aonori: A green seaweed shredded into near powder form and used as a topping.
  • Dried Bonito Flakes: This also come from our friend katsuobushi. This super umami topping is used in a lot of Japanese dishes, but it is absolutely necessary here. The flakes “dance” in the heat of the okonomiyaki.
  • Okonomiyaki sauce: A topping so essential it bears the name of the dish. A dark brown sauce combining Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, ketchup, and a dash of sugar or a teaspoon of honey. The dominant okonomiyaki sauce brand is Otafuku.
  • Japanese mayonnaise: Not just any mayo will do. You need the Japanese kind which is thicker and sweeter than American varieties. Kewpie is the most popular brand.
  • Thin sliced pork belly: Any cut of uncooked pork is fine, but the belly is the fattiest (and tastiest) part. Fat and flour is a great combination. It’s put on one side of the okonomiyaki and fried into the pancake. It can be in long strips or smaller pieces. Ground pork may be used instead, but this is more old fashioned.

Okonomiyaki is a special part of the culture in the Kansai region of Japan. So much so, that they think of it in special ways. Even though okonomiyaki is packed full of carbs, citizens of Kansai consider it “okazu” (御数). Okazu is a dish that goes with rice. In this case, carbs with carbs. People from other parts of Japan think this is weird. Besides “okazu,” another special label for okonomiyaki is “konamon.” In Osaka and the Kansai region, foods made with flour are called “konamon” (粉モン). “Kona” (粉) means powder and “mon” is “mono” (“stuff” or “things”) in the Kansai dialect. Thus okonomiyaki is considered “konamon” in Osaka.

Osaka style may also be referred to as “Kansai style” in parts of Kansai. But the main difference in this sub-style is the mayonnaise. Osaka style always has mayonnaise as a topping. But other cities in Kansai such as Kobe or Hyogo likely will not.

Hiroshima Style


If you saunter into Hiroshima and try to cook up some Osaka style okonomiyaki, a local is likely to approach your griddle and say, “We don’t take kindly to that kinda okonomiyaki in these parts.”

Actually, that wouldn’t happen. Hiroshima people are really nice (though there are definitely a lot of yakuza there) and would probably just make you some of their signature okonomiyaki with a big smile. Don’t ask for “Hiroshima style okonomiyaki” in Hiroshima though. Just ask for okonomiyaki. Asking for “Hiroshima style” implies their style is not the main and truest style of okonomiyaki in existence. And you don’t wanna do that.

What sets Hiroshima style okonomiyaki apart? The ingredients are mostly the same as the Osaka style. The most noticeable difference is the noodles. Hiroshima okonomiyaki is topped with yakisoba or udon noodles and a fried egg. The soba noodles are much more common though. Instead of mixing ingredients into the batter, they are layered. And there’s a heck of a lot more cabbage too, up to four times as much as the Osaka variety. The cabbage is piled on top. As it cooks down, it’s flattened and more cabbage is added. Beansprouts are also a signature Hiroshima ingredient. The most noticeable difference flavor-wise is the sauce. Hiroshima style sauce is sweet, whereas Osaka sauce is a tad spicy.

Okonomiyaki History


The origin of okonomiyaki can be traced back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603). At that time, a man well-known for impacting tea ceremony named Sen no Rikyu is credited with creating something called “funoyaki” (麸の焼き), also known as “fuyaki” (麩焼き). People in northern Shiga prefecture call it “funayaki” in their dialect.

This dish is made of wheat dough which is rolled thin, toasted, and topped with poppy seeds, Japanese pepper miso paste, and sugar. Because the rolled shape looks like a sutra scroll, it was served at Buddhist ceremonies in autumn. In a way, it’s like the Japanese crepe.

Sukesouyaki Origins (And a Myth Dispelled)


From the Edo period to the Meiji period, funoyaki evolved. Sweet bean paste called “nerian” (練餡) replaced the miso paste at the end of Edo period. The sweet treat got even sweeter and was called “sukesouyaki” (助惚焼).

There’s actually a bit of a myth involved in the funoyaki/sukesouyaki evolution. It was started by food researcher Tekishū Motoyama (本山荻舟) in an article on okonomiyaki in the Heibonsha 1964 encyclopedia vol.3 p.455. There were two snacks during the Edo period, “gintsuba” (銀鍔) in Kansai, and “kintsuba” (金鍔) in Edo. The myth says sukesouyaki was a popular variant of the Edo variety. A variant of a variant, if you will.

But this is dubious.

There are no sources in Japanese to support this theory besides the one Motoyama wrote himself. This theory has been spread around English sources thanks to Wikipedia citing it.

Here’s the real story behind gintsuba/kintsuba:

In the Tenna/Tenwa-nenkan (天和年間) era of the Edo period (1681-1684), “gintsuba” was created in Kyoto, around the Kiyomizu temple area. It quickly spread to the surrounding Kansai area. The dough was made from non-glutinous rice flour, top-grade stuff.

The recipe made its way to Edo during the Kyoho (享保) era of the Edo period (1716-1736). The ingredients changed from top-grade rice flour to ordinary wheat flour. Though the main ingredient was downgraded, the name was upgraded from “gintsuba” meaning “silver sword guard” to “kintsuba” meaning “gold sword guard,” because gold sounded fancier. Kintsuba got popular in the Bunka/Bunsei (文化/文政) era of the Edo period (1804-1830). It’s still sold in Japan to this day. But it did not spawn any variants, thus it did not spawn sukesouyaki.

Sukesouyaki was created in the same place and period as kintsuba, but about 100 years earlier. Sukesouyaki was made in the Kanei (寛永) era of Edo period (1624-1645) by Sajibei Ookimoto (大木元佐治兵衛). The hikifuda (引札, announcement flier) he made to introduce sukesouyaki is on display at the Bank of Japan Currency Museum (貨幣博物館, kahei-hakubutsukan).

There we go. Myth busted. Funoyaki spawned sukesouyaki, and there was nothing in between. Onward ho!

In the Meiji period (1868-1912), the sweet sukesouyaki spawned two new savory dishes, “monjayaki” (もんじゃ焼き) and “dondonyaki” (どんどん焼き). Both were created in Tokyo.

Monjayaki (often called “monja”) is a type of Japanese pan-fried batter with various ingredients. It’s similar to okonomiyaki but its batter is more liquid. It was only made in restaurants. Eventually, a portable street food variety was created called dondonyaki.

Dondonyaki is also made of pan-fried batter. But it’s solid and rolled up on a stick. It was sold at festivals, during which the sounds of “taiko” (太鼓) drums filled the air. The sound of taiko in Japanese is “don-don-don.” So it was given the catchy name, “dondonyaki.” It’s still sold at a festivals today and there is also a fried variety.

Monjayaki/dondonyaki went from sometimes food to staple meal after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 caused a food shortage in the Tokyo area. The dish’s ubiquity in Tokyo caused it to move down to Osaka, Hiroshima, and Kobe. People there removed the stick, making the portable dondonyaki stationary. They flattened it out and added green onion. Because it was covered in Worcestershire sauce, it was called “issen-youshoku” (一銭洋食, cheap Western food) to advertise how affordable it was. Around that time, if you poured Worcestershire sauce on any kind of food, it was considered Western food.

Eventually a variant of issen-youshoku called “betayaki” (ベタ焼き) was created in Kyoto. This dish added ingredients like beans, konnyaku, and soy sauce. Another similar dish called “choboyaki” (チョボ焼き) was cooked up around this time. Since choboyaki uses a pan with half rounded dents, it’s considered to be the origin of takoyaki. In Kansai dialect, “beta” means “flat” and “chobo” means “small rounded thing.” Sometimes, all three names, issen-youshoku, betayaki, and choboyaki, are used interchangeably. To further mix things up, these dishes were also sometimes called “issen-yaki” (一銭焼き) or “issen-teishoku” (一銭定食).

This issen-youshoku revolution continued to swirl around Kansai until the end of the the Taisho period (1912-1926). In Kobe the issen-youshoku idea evolved into “nikuten” (にくてん), which is close to the current okonomiyaki (though not quite there). Nikuten tops flour batter with a ton of ingredients and fries it in a pan. The ingredients used differ between regions. The original Kobe recipe uses beef tendon and konnyaku.

The origin of the name “nikuten” in unclear. The first part, niku (肉), is “meat.” But there are three theories surrounding the “ten” (てん) part of the word. One says it’s from “tenkasu” (tempura bits), which are an ingredient. The second says it come from the kanji “転” (flip), because you flip the batter on a pan. Finally, the てん could come from “tempura” (てんぷら) because nikuten uses a lot of oil, like tempura does.

Post-War Evolution


After Japan’s defeat in World War II, food was scarce. And that meant starvation. There were monthly food rations set up by occupation authorities and the government. But distribution was chaotic. Extra flour was added to rations to make up for the lack of rice. (This is why flour is sometimes called “meriken-ko” メリケン粉 in Japan. “Meriken” came from “American” and ko 粉 meaning powder.) This gave issen-youshoku and other flour dishes a big boost in popularity.

Though issen-youshoku began life as a children’s snack, it became a cheap, filling meal for postwar people living in Kansai. But this meant more changes to the recipe. In Hiroshima, bean sprouts were added. But cabbage was the game changer. Cabbage was added to issen-youshoku to make the dish more filling. The leafy green had become popular in Japan around 1904. Even though it’s a winter vegetable, it was cheap year round. It was usually fried or put in soup at home, and its staple status made it a no-brainer when people started adding to their homemade issen-youshoku.

But it didn’t end with cabbage. With little to eat, people started adding whatever ingredients they had available to make the meal more nutritious. Eventually this led to the name “konomiyaki” (which is “whatever you like grilled” as I mentioned earlier). The honorific “o” was eventually added to make the name more polite. And finally we have “okonomiyaki.” For all intents and purposes, we have arrived at the modern incarnation of the dish.

If you’re wondering when egg was added, actually historians aren’t sure. Eggs were expensive before and after WWII, so it’s safe to say they weren’t part of konomiyaki until the post-war period.

In Hiroshima, the issen-youshoku took a similar turn. When American forces distributed flour around 1950, people there added more green onion to issen-youshoku. But it wasn’t very filling. So bulky cabbage was added, as was done in the rest of the country. But Hiroshima went the extra mile, throwing noodles into the mix, making Hiroshimayaki distinct from similarly evolving dishes elsewhere.

Meat was hard to come by after the war. Beef had been mainstream during the Meiji period and amazing dishes like sukiyaki were invented. But the Russo‐Japanese War started in 1904 and put a stop to Japan’s enjoyment of beef. It was only given to soldiers and became unavailable in the rest of the country. This pushed pork into the limelight. As WWII wore on, all meat became scarce and didn’t reappear until the post-war period. This is when issen-youshoku innovators started adding thin slices of meat to okonomiyaki for an inflated price. It’s rumored that dog and cat meat was used as “pork” during Japan’s poorest post-war years. It’s highly likely considering the scarcity of food and the hunger of the population.

The First Okonomiyaki Restaurant? (Shhh…Don’t Tell Osaka)


Photo by Kars Alfrink

This is all well and good for homemade okonomiyaki. But what about okonomiyaki restaurants? We already talked about Kobe’s nikuten. But that was only a step in the okonomiyaki evolution. Okonomiyaki was evolving in Kansai, so it has to be in that region, right? Maybe Osaka?

Actually there are two pieces of information that point to the first okonomiyaki restaurant being in Tokyo! And if it’s true, it may have been created there as well. Don’t tell anyone in Osaka. They’ll kill you dead.

  1. According to a book called “Takoyaki” written by Mana Kumagai, the first okonomiyaki restaurant was located in small alley in Ginza, Tokyo in the early Showa period. But the restaurant was used as a secret meeting place for people doing things the police didn’t like. So the police kept a close eye on this “Ginza Okonomiyaki” shop, effectively squashing the business. This made sure the “okonomiyaki” they invented didn’t spread throughout the area. Yeah, right. Highly dubious if you ask me. That’s like saying, “I created cars before anyone else, but only me and my friends drove them around and it was a big secret so there’s no records, but it totally happened and I invented the car.”
  2. In the 1939 novel series “Ikanaru Hoshino Motoni” (如何なる星の下に) by Jun Takami, there is a okonomiyaki style restaurant called “Horetarou” (惚太郎). The fictional restaurant was based on the real restaurant “Asakusa Sometarou” (浅草染太郎) established in 1937 in Asakusa, Tokyo. So the restaurant predates other restaurants. That doesn’t prove they invented okonomiyaki. But, in the novel, there is a description of two dishes “ikaten” and “ebiten.” Both fit the description of okonomiyaki pretty well. Uh oh. This is one is a bit more plausible.

Osaka’s first okonomiyaki restaurant, Botejyu, was established in 1946, which is 9 years after Asakusa Sometarou. Hmmm…if number 2 is true, that’s no good for Osaka. It’s interesting to think about, but neither of these theories have that much evidence to support them. There’s a lot more evidence supporting the idea that okonomiyaki evolved over time. But who knows? Records get lost. Maybe these theories fit into okonomiyaki’s evolution somehow.

Osaka Develops Okonomiyaki Culture


Photo by jensteele

Whether or not okonomiyaki was invented in Osaka, it’s definitely the city where it caught on and became part of the culture (besides Hiroshima of course). In 1946, an okonomiyaki restaurant called Botejyu was established in Nishinari, Osaka. They served a variety of okonomiyaki such as “tontama” (とん玉, pork okonomiyaki) and “ikatama” (いか玉, squid okonomiyaki). The restaurant eventually got a hold of American mayonnaise from Osaka’s black market. They adjusted the taste to fit okonomiyaki and introduced the mayonnaise topping to okonomiyaki.

In 1957, Botejyu opened a Soemoncho branch in Namba, Osaka. Namba is a well-known “pink district” filled with hostess bars and other night spots. Botejyu’s founder invented their iconic spicy mayo which pairs well with alcohol. This made the restaurant even more famous and in 1957, Botejyu was split into “Botejyu Souhonke” (Original Botejyu) and “Osaka Botejyu.” Sadly Botejyu Souhonke went bankrupt in 2009. But you can still taste the original recipe at Osaka Botejyu.

After the success of Botejyu, okonomiyaki restaurants became popular all over Osaka. There was at least one okonomiyaki restaurant in every Osaka town by 1955. It was a common business venture for married couples and widows who lost their husbands during the war. Soon there were 4 or 5 okonomiyaki restaurants in each town. It’s said there were even okonomiyaki restaurants facing each other in some places. Like an Osaka Starbucks, in a way.

Hiroshima Goes its Own Way


Photo by Takeshi Kawai

At the same time okonomiyaki was conquering Osaka, it swept across Hiroshima in a big way. The first okonomiyaki vendors set up shop in 1950. During this okonomiyaki renaissance, two men, Isao Ise and Zenjiro Nakamura, founded their okonomiyaki empires. They set up their respective establishments in a row of food stalls, which would later be overtaken with okonomiyaki to form “Okonomimura” or okonomiyaki village (more on that later). Ise named his restaurant “Micchan” (みっちゃん) and Nakamura named his “Zensan” (ぜんさん). Hot on their heels came “Reichan” (麗ちゃん) and “Henkutsuya” (へんくつや). And all of these restaurants are open today, if you want a taste of history.

If Hiroshima didn’t have enough okonomiyaki restaurants, a devastating snow storm in 1963 damaged a lot of farms in the Chuugoku region on Japan. The displaced farmers moved to Hiroshima and opened okonomiyaki restaurants, adding to the Hiroshimayaki saturation.

Up until 1965, you could take your own eggs and meat to an okonomiyaki chef in Hiroshima and they would add it to your meal. Those ingredients were rare during the post-war period and many vendors only offered vegetarian okonomiyaki out of necessity. Hiroshimayaki was just BYOE&M (eggs and meat). It was also BYOP (plate). You could use the restaurant’s plates for dine-in, of course. But if you wanted to take your Hiroshimayaki home, you had to bring your own plate. Disposable flatware wasn’t an option at that point.

At first, Hiroshimayaki was just layers of veggies and batter, which was served folded in half. Initially green onions were more common in Hiroshimayaki than cabbage, when compared with its Osaka counterpart. After WWII, green onion was replaced with cabbage because the cabbage prices were more stable and reasonable throughout the year.

After the invention of instant ramen in 1958, Hiroshimayaki’s signature noodle ingredient joined the mix. Yakisoba was the most popular choice, but sometimes udon was allowed in as well. Since the number of ingredients increased so significantly, Hiroshimayaki became difficult to fold in half. So Hiroshimayaki chefs began serving it flat like its Osaka cousin.

With this, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki was complete.

Rest of Japan, Meet Okonomiyaki


Photo by Satoru Fujiwara

With so much love and dedication put in by the citizens of Hiroshima and Osaka, it wouldn’t be long before the rest of Japan wanted a taste. In 1953, Japanese people saw their first television broadcast. If there’s one thing true of Japanese TV today, it’s that food showcasing is wildly popular. And it was like that from the beginning. Even though TV was black and white until 1960, the broadcast images of okonomiyaki made all of Japan hungry. Okonomiyaki’s popularity spread nationwide. And everyone was happy forever.

Where to Eat Okonomiyaki in Japan


In the modern era, okonomiyaki is all over Japan. There are so many places to choose from. But whether you’re visiting or living in Japan, you’ll want to get okonomiyaki from the best restaurants possible.

There are two types of okonomiyaki restaurants:

  1. the kind that let you cook at your table
  2. the kind that cook it for you

Having chef-prepared okonomiyaki usually means the dish is cooked to perfection. Even diners who have made okonomiyaki before won’t have the spatula skills of a pro chef.

On the other hand, making okonomiyaki at your table is an awesome social experience. Even if the food doesn’t come out “perfect,” you’ll have a great time cooking with your friends.

Below is a list of the best restaurants in Japan that serve what you like grilled.



When searching for okonomiyaki, you have to go to Osaka first. It’s basically the birthplace of the dish and most definitely the city that does it best (unless you’re into the Hiroshima style. Then go to Hiroshima).

Here are the 10 best places to get okonomiyaki in Osaka.

1. Mizuno

The go-to place for okonomiyaki in Osaka is Mizuno. The holy grail of okonomiyaki restaurants, if you will. There’s limited seating, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait 30 minutes or more to get in.

The restaurant is located in touristy Dotonbori. But don’t let the modern interior design fool you. This is a family run eatery and has been for over 65 years. The original shop was bombed in World War II, but was relocated, rebuilt, and has been thriving to this day.

The English menu caters to visitors, so it’s easy to figure out what you’re getting even if it’s your first okonomiyaki experience.

The chefs cook the okonomiyaki on a griddle at your table. Some people have complained about the rudeness of the wait staff. I can’t say I was there for the “rudeness” they encountered, but it’s Osaka. The city has a different vibe than the rest of Japan. People used to Tokyo manners may find Osakans “rude.”

If you can only try one thing at Mizuno, get their Yamaimoyaki. It’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened and is definitely the most popular dish. It’s made with Mizuno’s signature yam flour, which gives it a smooth texture and sweet flavor. It’s topped with roast pork and scallops.

  • Address: 1 Chome-4-15 Dōtonbori Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 542-0071
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 06-6212-6360
  • Hours: Weekdays 11:00 – 22:00

2. Tengu

Have you ever seen “Jiro Dreams of Sushi?” Take the scenario from that documentary, replace sushi with okonomiyaki, make Jiro dead, and that’s Tengu.

Tengu is actually two restaurants, one run by a man named Waka and the other by Waka’s brother. Waka runs the shop near Nakatsu station and Waka’s brother runs the one near Osaka station (see addresses below for more details).

Waka’s grandparents started Tengu in 1965. Waka and his brother have been carrying on the tradition ever since, albeit in different locations.

The okonomiyaki at Tengu is made by a master chef and brought to your table piping hot. And this artisan okonomiyaki won’t break the bank. Prices can be ¥630, ¥780, or ¥830.

Be prepared to wait. There are only 18 seats at Waka’s location.

  • Waka’s Tengu Address: 3 Chome-15-19 Toyosaki Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 531-0072 (Near Nakatsu Station)
  • Telephone: 06-6372-7676
  • Waka’s Brother’s Tengu Address: 2 Chome-5-2 Umeda Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0001 (Near Osaka Station)
  • Telephone: 06-6345-6782

3. Kuro-Chan

Founded in 1956, it’s also a family business but has maintained the vibe more than Mizuno did. It’s a real hole-in-the-wall restaurant and the prices reflect that. Only ¥530 for small okonomiyaki, ¥730 for medium, and ¥950 for large. Eat fast because others are waiting. It only seats 12.

  • Address: 2 Chome-14-10 Nakamichi Higashinari-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 537-0025
  • Telephone: 06-6972-3841

4. Fukutaro

  • Address: 2 Chome-3-17 Sennichimae Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 542-0074
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 06-6634-2951
  • Hours: Weekdays 5:00pm – 12:00am / Weekend 12:00pm – 12:00am

5. Kiji (Attached to Umeda Station)

  • Address: 9 Kakudachō Kita-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 530-0017
  • Telephone: 06-6361-5804

6. Tsuruhashi Fugetsu

  • Address: 2-18 Shimoajiharacho Tennoji Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 543-0025
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 06-6771-7938

7. Okonomiyaki Chibo

There are actually tons of Okonomiyaki Chibo locations all over Osaka (and Tokyo and Kanto and China). So check out their store location list for more.

  • Address: 542-0076 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Chuo Ward, Nanba, 3 Chome−8−22 EBISUBASHI・ENT B1
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 06-6634-8181

8. Yukari

  • Address: 530-0057 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, Kita Ward, Sonezaki, 2−14−13
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 06-6311-0214

9. Ajinoya

10. Negiyaki Yamamoto

  • Address: 1 Chome-8-4 Jūsōhonmachi Yodogawa-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 532-0024
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 06-6308-4625



Photo by midorisyu

Hiroshima offers so much to visitors. But one of the must-try experiences is the Hiroshimayaki. It’s incredibly difficult to make, more so than the Osaka style, so take the opportunity to get it made by a pro when you can. One of these five restaurants will give you that unforgettable experience.

1. Okonomimura

If you only have time to visit one okonomiyaki spot in Hiroshima, make it this one. Imagine a four story mall wherein each shop is a Hiroshimayaki restaurant. Beautiful.

Take your pick of 25 okonomiyaki joints. If one is busy, just go next door. Or up one floor. Or down. It’s a loud, boisterous, busy place. Eat here for bustling intensity with your meal. It’s a self-described “theme park.”

Okonomimura began as a street full of food stalls. The first two okonomiyaki stalls (Micchan and Zensan) did so well, others followed. Though there were other foods available in the area, the majority of stalls served okonomiyaki. So much so that writer Minoru Kida said of the place, “It’s as if it’s an okonomimura (okonomiyaki village).” And the name stuck.

By 1957, there were about 50 stalls. Things were going well for the food vendors on this street until 1965 when the area was turned into a park. Everybody had to leave. The most successful “Micchan,” “Reichan,” “Zensan,” and “Henkutsuya” were popular enough to establish their own brick and mortar restaurants. But other couldn’t.

Some gave up, but 14 of them didn’t want to quit. They united and decided to create a new Okonomimura in December 1965. And so the official Okonimura was founded. It became a popular destination for school trips coming from all over Japan. The original Okonimura building closed closed in 1990 due to disrepair and safety concerns. So all participating restaurants moved into the current building in 1992.

If you’re not hungry when you set out for Okonomimura, you probably will be by the time you get there. If you don’t take a taxi from Hiroshima station, it’s a 22 minute walk. Good way to burn some calories before you pack them on.

  • Address: 5-13 Shintenchi Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0034
  • Website:

2. Micchan

This is the main location, but there’s more than one so check the website for the one closest to you.

  • Address: 6-7 Hatchōbori Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0013
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 082-221-5438

3. Reichan

  • Address: Asse 2-37 Matsubaracho Minami Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 732-0822
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 082-286-2382

4. Fumichan

  • Address: 1-20 Horikawachō Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0033
  • Telephone: 82-542-8777
  • Address: 1 Chome-12-4 AsahinMinami-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 734-0036
  • Telephone: 82-250-5007
  • Address: 1 Chome-12-4 Asahi Minami-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 734-0036
  • Telephone: 82-250-5007

5. Zensan

  • Address: 6-24 Nagarekawachō Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 730-0028
  • Telephone: 82-877-1058

6. Lopez Okonomiyaki

  • Address: 1 Chome-7-13 Kusunokichō Nishi-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken 733-0002
  • Telephone: 82-232-5277



When visiting Japan, chances are you’ll be in Tokyo. If you’re not able to make it to Osaka, no worries. There’s still plenty of okonomiyaki to be had. Tokyo has a little bit of everything.

1. Asakusa Sometaro

This is in a touristy part of Tokyo, so you’re bound to be nearby it sometime. There’s an English menu for easy ordering (but try speaking some Japanese anyway).

If you remember, this is (possibly) the first okonomiyaki restaurant in Japan. It’s a cook-it-yourself place, so go with some friends. If you’re having trouble making the okonomiyaki, the staff is willing to help. The interior is cozy with tatami seating. That means shoes off and sitting on the floor in front of the griddle (start practicing your seiza). No hurting your wallet here. The most expensive okonomiyaki is only ¥900. Since Tokyo is neutral okonomiyaki territory you can try whichever style you want, Osaka or Hiroshima.

  • Address: 2-2-2 Nishiasakusa Taito, Tokyo 111-0035
  • Telephone: 03-3844-9502

2. Okonomiyaki Kiji Shinagawa

  • Telephone: 03-6712-0256
  • Address: 2 Chome-3-13 Kōnan Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 108-0075 (2nd Floor)
  • Address: 1 Chome-4-5 Roppongi Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 106-0032
  • Telephone: 03-6441-3638
  • Address: 2 Chome-7-3 Marunouchi Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 100-0005 (Basement)
  • Telephone: 03-3216-3123

3. Ushio

  • Address: 3 Chome-10-9 Roppongi Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 106-0032 (2nd Floor)
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 03-5771-8081

4. Chibo

It’s our swanky friends Chibo again. Check their website for more Tokyo locations.

  • Address: 〒150-0013 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Ebisu, 4 Chome−20−3 (38th Floor)
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 03-5424-1011

5. Sakuratei

  • Address: 3 Chome-20-1 Jingūmae Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0001
  • Website:
  • Telephone: 03-3479-0039

Eating Okonomiyaki at Home


Photo by Naoya Fujii

If you can’t find a restaurant that serves okonomiyaki near you, good news: it’s easy to make at home. Well, the Osaka variety is. Hiroshimayaki takes a bit more practice. But it’s still possible. Japanese families may have an electric griddle so the can cook together at the dinner table. If you don’t have one of those, you can use a frying pan on the stovetop.

Let’s check out some ingredients and show you how to make okonomiyaki for dinner tonight.


1. Spatula: hera/へら (in standard Japanese), kote/こて (in Kansai dialect), or teko/てこ (in Hiroshima dialect)

Today many people in Hiroshima call spatulas “hera,” forsaking their native word. If you go to a hardware store, it may be called “okoshigane” (起し金). In okonomiyaki restaurants, it’s called “kaeshi” (返し) meaning “a flipping thing.”

You may want two big spatulas to flip the okonomiyaki and one small one for cutting into small pieces. In an okonomiyaki restaurant, the big one is called “oo-teko” (大テコ) and the small one is called “koteko” (小テコ). In the Kansai area, the name for the small one was shortened from “koteko” to “kote” and became part of the local lexicon. If you don’t have a small spatula at home, don’t worry. Okonomiyaki isn’t hard to cut. In fact, Mami always uses chopsticks to cut her homemade okonomiyaki into pieces.

2. Oiling Brush: Abura-biki or Abura-hiki/油引き

Used with oilcan: Abura-tsubo/油壺

“Abura” means oil and “hiku” means to pull or draw. But the verb is also used for “to oil” or “to grease.” If you want to say, “please oil the frying pan,” the Japanese would be “furai-pan ni abura o hiite kudasai” (フライパンに油を引いて下さい).

“Tsubo” means jar or pot. If you use a big grilling pan, the oiling brush is a necessary. But most people don’t bother with it. Many simply use a paper towel (called “kitchen paper” in Japanese English). Surprisingly, some people use tenugui. Good ones suck up the oil better. And the more you use it, the more oil it absorbs making it work better.

3. Bowl: booru/ボール

Use any bowl to mix the flour. Any bowl at all. Except a dirty one.

4. Whisk: awadate-ki/泡立て器

Whisks mix best, but some people are so lazy they just use chopsticks, forks, or spoons to mix the batter. Lazy, I say!

5. Flour sieve: kona-furui/粉ふるい

This is to avoid lumps, apparently. Only if you care. About PERFECTION!

6. Measuring cup & measuring spoons: keiryou-kappu or keiryou-supuun/計量カップと計量スプーン

For measuring.

7. Scale: hakari/はかり

For scaling.

8. Ladle: otama/おたま

For ladling.

9. Kitchen knife: houchou/包丁

For knifing.

10. Electric griddle: hotto pureeto/ホットプレート

If you don’t mind cooking each okonomiyaki individually, then a frying pan will do just fine. But you definitely need a griddle for an okonomiyaki party. That way you can make multiple okonomiyaki at the same time.

The Necessary Ingredients


Photo by Non Non


If you don’t want to make your okonomiyaki flour from scratch, go ahead and use the pre-made okonomiyaki-ko. (Remember “ko”粉 means powder. Like panko.) When Japanese people have okonomiyaki parties at home, many use store-bought okonomiyaki flour, called “shihan-no-okonomiyakiko” (市販のお好み焼き粉).

If you’re not sure what to look for when visiting the Asian grocery nearest you, check the links below. These are the different kinds that may be available.

One important thing. After you open the okonomiyaki powder, keep leftovers in the fridge. The package may say “store at room temperature,” but don’t do it. The contents won’t spoil, but mites and ticks may decide to burrow in your powder. One Japanese TV show visited 114 houses randomly and found 7 okonomiyaki powder containers had mites and ticks in them.

The powder won’t take up much fridge space, so cram it in there. Or just make more okonomiyaki.


Cabbage is the heart of okonomiyaki. The flour just holds the cabbage together. It’s the most important ingredient in both Osaka and Hiroshima style.

According to the “Larousse Cooking Encyclopedia,” there are over 60 kinds of cabbages. North American cabbage is too hard. If you are outside of Japan, look for an Asian or Taiwanese cabbage. If you are in Japan, look for “harutama” (春玉)/”haru-kyabetsu” (春キャベツ, spring cabbage), “kantama” (寒玉)/”fuyu-kyabetsu” (冬キャベツ, cold/winter cabbage), “marutama” (丸玉)/”guriin booru” (グリーンボール, green ball cabbage), or “chirimen/saboi-kyabetsu” (ちりめんキャベツ/サボイキャベツ, savory cabbage).

The kantama is the best by far, sweet and crunchy. But it’s only available in fall and winter. When choosing a cabbage, look for

  • shiny, dark green leaves
  • a head that feels heavier than it looks

If kantama is unavailable, marutama is fine too. It should be in stores year round. The harutama and chirimen-kyabetsu are a bit too soft, but they’re better than nothing.

Osaka Style Okonomiyaki Recipe


Photo by Jeremy Keith

This is a recipe shared by famous Osaka okonomiyaki vendor, Naniwa Nanitaro. Makes one okonomiyaki pancake.


  • 0konomiyaki flour mix: If not using a pre-made mix, combine:
    • 40g weak flour
    • 60cc of dashi-mixed water
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 teaspoon yamaimo powder (Instead of yamaimo powder, you can grate actual yamaimo/nagaimo. Use 20g per okonomiyaki. This means more liquid coming from the grated root. So decrease dashi-mixed water from 60cc to 40cc.)
  • pork belly and/or squid: 40g (About 3 pork belly strips. Strip cut squid also)
  • cabbage: 100g (Lightly mince. About 1cm pieces. Not too big or too small. This ensures crunchiness. Drain the water well.)
  • tenkasu (aka agedama): 2 tablespoons
  • minced beni shouga: 2 teaspoons
  • egg: one egg


  • okonomiyaki sauce: Otafuku is recommended, but other brands are okay too.
  • aonori: Enough to dust the top of the pancake.
  • katsuobushi: Powder is recommended, but flakes are fine too.
  • mayonnaise: If you want.


  • oil: Preferably sesame oil, but any kind of oil is fine.


  1. Preheat the griddle to 220°C, 428°F.
  2. Measure the powdery ingredients, put them together, and sieve into a bowl. Whisk in the dashi-mixed water little by little to prevent lumps. If you make the dashi-mixed water from scratch, make sure it’s cold when you pour it. Otherwise the batter will be too sticky. If you have time, leave your batter for 2 hours in the fridge to increase fluff while grilling.
  3. Put enough cabbage, tenkasu, benishouga, and batter for one okonomiyaki pancake into a bowl. Add each ingredient to the batter while mixing. Mix quickly. You only have 30 seconds. Don’t over mix. Mixing one by one might be annoying. But if you mix everything together beforehand, water from the cabbage will come out and the okonomiyaki batter will be too watery. Mixing too long releases cabbage water too. That’s why it has to be 30 seconds.
  4. Add the egg. Mix it quickly. You only have 15 seconds. If you over mix it, it releases air from the batter and makes it harden. You want a crunchy outside and fluffy inside.
  5. When the griddle temperature reaches 220°C (428 °F), oil the griddle or pan. Even if the surface is non-stick, oil makes your okonomiyaki taste better.
  6. Pour okonomiyaki batter onto the griddle. Make sure the thickness is about 2cm. Never press okonomiyaki with your spatula to flatten. You’ll lose the fluffiness.
  7. Place your main ingredient evenly. In this recipe, it’s pork, squid, or both. The side with the main ingredients is called “omote” (表, front). The other side is called “ura” (裏, back).
  8. Grill the okonomiyaki for 4 minutes, then flip it over with your big spatula. If you only have small spatulas then use two. Insert them from either side, then flip it over quickly. If you hesitate, disaster maybe. But don’t get upset. As long as you have a spatula, you can shape the mess back into a good round shape.
  9. Flip it again. The omote (front) goes face down. Grill for 5 minutes, then flip it again. Grill the ura (back) for another 3 minutes. Then it’s done!
  10. Serve okonomiyaki on your plate. Brush on sauce and/or mayonnaise. Sprinkle katsuobushi and aonori. Then eat!

This is just one Osaka style okonomiyaki recipe. Depending on the family or restaurant, the ingredients or directions can be different. For example, in Mami’s family, the griddle temperature is set to 200°C. After she flips the okonomiyaki, she turns it to lower heat and puts the lid on. Grill the front for 4 minutes, then the back for 3 minutes or whenever it looks done. Both of her parents are from Osaka. So she knows what’s up.

On the other hand, Otafuku, the famous okonomiyaki sauce company, gives different advice. They say turn the heat up to 240°C. When you flip it, put a lid on.

So, it really is “okonomi” (your preference). You have to find your own way. Some people add cheese, mochi, kimchi or whatever the hell they want. Apparently using small dried shrimp and/or fried squid bits with tenkasu adds flavor too.

WWOROD? (What Would Osaka Restaurant Owners Do?)


Sometimes you really suck starting out. Follow the easy okonomiyaki recipe above as closely as possible. When you’re ready to move on, check out this list of tips from Osaka restaurants. A TV show called “wafuu souhonke” (和風総本家) interviewed 100 okonomiyaki-ya-san (お好み焼き屋さん, okonomiyaki restaurant) owners. Here’s the results of the survey.

1. What do you do with the cabbage?

  • Finely chop (みじん切り/mijin-giri): 58
  • Thinly shred (千切り/sen-giri): 35
  • Finely chop and thinly shred: 5
  • Cut into chunks (ざく切り/zaku-giri): 2


  • Whatever way you cut the cabbage, leave it in the fridge for about an hour to evaporate the water. You don’t want a watery okonomiyaki.
  • If you mince it too much, you can’t get the crunchiness from the cabbage, so don’t make them too small.

2. Secrets of good batter?

None of the restaurant owners wanted to reveal their secrets on this one. However, some said using a dash of milk makes okonomiyaki fluffy and nice. The best ratio is 4 parts okonomiyaki powder, 4 parts dashi water, 1 part milk. So if it’s for four people:

  • okonomiyaki-ko 200g
  • water 200cc
  • milk 50cc

3. The balance of cabbage and batter?

The average balance of cabbage and batter is:

  • cabbage 128.6g: batter 80.6g (for one serving)

87 chefs said you should mix one serving at a time right before grilling.

4. Most popular ingredients to add to batter?

  • cabbage
  • flour + dashi-mix water
  • minced benishouga
  • tenkasu
  • egg

5. How do you mix the batter and ingredients?

  • Mix to allow air in: 53
  • Mix above the grill: 24
  • Mix slowly: 6
  • Mix little by little: 3
  • Mix by moving the bowl: 2

6. Size

The average size is 16.4cm (diameter) and 1.9cm (thickness).

7. Temperature

The average temp is 200°C-ish.


  • The electric griddle temperature goes down quickly. So don’t grill multiple okonomiyaki at the same time or the temperature will drop.

8. What do you do with the pork?

  • Put raw strips on top of okonomiyaki: 64
  • Fry it separately from okonomiyaki: 27
  • Put raw chunks into the batter and mix it together, then fry it: 9

Apparently, many people put the raw strips on top of okonomiyaki while grilling because that way, the pork oil spreads into okonomiyaki and makes it more flavorful.

9. When do you flip and how?

Flip three to four minutes after grilling the back side (when the rim of okonomiyaki turns dry). You shouldn’t angle too much with your spatula. When the okonomiyaki is still raw, flip quickly without hesitating. Don’t press or spank the okonomiyaki.

10. How many times do you flip?

  • twice: 47
  • four times: 36
  • three times: 12
  • once: 5

11. How can you tell when it’s ready?

Half lift the okonomiyaki with your spatula. If it keeps its shape, then it’s cooked well. If it bends, the inside is too soft and not cooked yet.

12. How do you put mayonnaise on?

There is no average. It depends on the restaurant.

13. How do you cut okonomiyaki?

  • Square-block/grid pattern (格子状/koushi-jou): 63
  • Like pizza (ピザ状/piza-jou): 30
  • Whatever the customer likes (お好みで/okonomide): 7

There is a reason so many people choose square shapes. The middle is the slowest part to cook. If you cut okonomiyaki into a grid and start eating from outside, by the time you eat the middle, it’s more likely to be cooked.

When you cut okonomiyaki with spatulas, stand up, keep your upper arms close to your body. Put your weight on the plate/spatulas. Cut quickly. That way, the cut section of each piece will look better.

Hiroshima Style Okonomiyaki Recipe


The main difference between the two styles is layering. Hiroshimayaki is layered rather than mixed like Osaka style. If you’re ready to get layering, let’s move forward. This is much more difficult than Osaka okonomiyaki, actually. Maybe there’s a reason why people from Hiroshima look down their noses at Osaka style and call it “mazeyaki” (mix yaki).

This recipe comes from the great Otafuku sauce company. Makes one okonomiyaki pancake.


  • okonomiyaki powder: If not using a pre-made mix, combine
    • 20g weak flour
    • 30cc dashi-mixed water
    • one drop of mirin
  • katsuobushi powder: 1g
  • tenkasu (fried squid mix adds more flavor): 10g
  • cabbage (shredded/sen-giri/千切り): 300g
  • green onion (finely chopped/koguchi-giri/小口切り): 5g
  • bean sprouts: 30g
  • yakisoba noodles: one package (or 150g)
  • egg: one egg
  • pork belly: 40g (or three strips)


  • aonori: some
  • Otafuku okonomiyaki sauce: 120g
  • Otafuku yakisoba sauce: 20g


  • oil: Preferably sesame oil, but any kind of oil is fine.


  1. Sieve the flour.
  2. Pour dashi-mixed water in the bowl, then a drop of mirin, and then flour. Mix well with a whisk. If you find a lump, push it into the bowl to crush it.
  3. After making the batter, leave it in the fridge for a couple hours. It makes the batter stable and it will be easier to pour on the griddle.
  4. After placing the batter in the fridge, shred the cabbage. The sweetness and hardness of the cabbage will differ depending on the parts. Get rid of the hard center. (Great cabbage cutting tips)


  1. Heat the electric griddle between 160-180℃. (320-356°F).
  2. Coat the griddle with oil.
  3. With the ladle, quickly pour the batter in the center of the griddle. Don’t use it all. You want 5g left to pour on later. Pour 5 times in a clockwise motion. Then  skim the edges to form it. Your ladle should be parallel to the plate. Make the pancake 20cm diameter round. (If you’re not sure how to do this technique, this video has a shortcut/cheat).
  4. Sprinkle katsuobushi powder on top and wait.
  5. Put cabbage on top. Then tenkasu. Then green onion. Then beansprouts. Finally pork strips. If you pile them too high, it will be tough to flip.
  6. Pour the rest of the batter evenly.
  7. When the batter is cooked, flip it with two spatulas. It usually takes only two to three minutes for it to firm up. When it’s cooked, it steams evenly and the ridge rises up a bit. It should easily lift with the spatulas. Don’t force it, or else you’ll rip the batter part. After lifting, move the pancake forward to make space in front of you, then flip it toward you. This requires a wrist snap. Don’t hesitate.
  8. Now it’s flipped so the front (meat side) is face down. You want to cook the meat well. If you don’t hear sizzling soon after you’ve flipped, turn up the temperature to 200℃. If the vegetables fall out of the batter, shape it with your spatula. Leave it alone for about 8 minutes.
  9. When the meat is cooked, you want to steam veggies for a while. If you turned up the temperature, turn it down to 160 to 180℃. Don’t press the okonomiyaki. Use your two spatulas to gently push from the sides to make passageways for air.
  10. When the veggies are steamed, place the noodles on the griddle.
  11. Put some yakisoba sauce on the noodles. Squirt the number three in kanji (三) with the sauce. Mix the sauce evenly and fry it well. Shape noodles to fit the okonomiyaki but make it a little bit bigger so the okonomiyaki ingredients don’t fall off when you flip. Make sure the noodle portion is flat too.
  12. Lift up the okonomiyaki and put it onto noodles. Lightly press to form a bond between the noodle and the batter.
  13. Put the egg on the griddle. Crush the yolk with the spatula and quickly put it on the okonomiyaki when half of it is still soft. If it’s completely firm, it won’t attach well. Don’t worry. The rest of the egg should get cooked by steam coming off the okonomiyaki. Flip the egg when you put it on your okonomiyaki. The top side isn’t cooked yet.
  14. When the egg is cooked, flip it over again. Pour okonomiyaki sauce, aonori, and other toppings on. Apparently, okonomiyaki sauce is most delicious at 40℃, so heat it up in the microwave before serving. You may see Hiroshima style okonomiyaki served with benishouga topping. But don’t be fooled! People from Hiroshima don’t usually put that on top. Then again, okonomiyaki ingredients are suppose to be “okonomi” (your choice), so do what you want.
  15. Finally, you can eat!

Do Whatever You Like


Photo by H.Hatanaka

I hope reading this article made you as hungry as I got while writing it (seriously, sifting through okonomiyaki pictures is torture). Hopefully you’ll be able to try both styles in Japan and at home. And your new knowledge of okonomiyaki’s humble origins should make the experience extra satisfying. Just make sure it tastes exactly the way you want it to taste. Otherwise you’ll miss the essence of okonomiyaki.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720]



Meet The World’s Only Hamburger Idol Group: Hamburgirl Z

“Oh, they’re a hamburger themed idol group.”

That’s what Otaben, my friend and subject from our Japanese Idol Otaku interview, said to me as I was leaving. Just minutes earlier he had suggested I go see an idol group’s performance live, so I could experience first hand what he was telling me about in our interview. I agreed, and he gave me a time and place. That’s about when he dropped the “hamburger themed idol group” bomb on me.

Little did he know, I love hamburgers.


I had never been one to be interested in idols. Yet here I was, on a particularly sunny Sunday, standing in front of one of the most well known landmarks in Osaka:  The Tsutenkaku Tower.


An entrance takes you to an underground lobby, where there are souvenir shops and a reception area.


Presumably this is where you pay the admission fee to gain access to the tower’s observation deck. Maybe another time. I had some hamburger idols to see.

As I descended the stairs, I began to hear an upbeat, catchy tune. Perhaps I smelled a hint of hamburgers cooking too, but that may have been my imagination. After turning a corner or two, I found them: A group of cute, smiling girls dancing and singing in hamburger costumes.


Damn! The concert had already started. I stealthily sat down in the back and watched. For the rest of the concert, I attempted to solve the “why are these girls dressed up like hamburgers?” riddle that danced so joyously in front of me.

Enter stage right: The West Japan Hamburgirl Z!


As of this moment, there is no East, South, or North Hamburgirl Z, so for the rest of this article I’m going to refer to them simply as “Hamburgirl Z.” You, dear reader, can pronounce the “Z” part however you want, but true fans will know that this “Z” is pronounced “Zeta.”

Watching their concert, I was able to understand a few things.

First, their purpose, it seems, is to sing and dance about hamburgers. It is almost as if they are promoting the idea of “hamburgers” itself.

Second, each girl was a single hamburger ingredient and wore that ingredient on their head. There was: beef, lettuce, egg, tomato, Awajishima fish, Awajishima chicken, Awajishima W Onion (right), Awajishima W Onion (left), pork/bacon, pickles, avocado, pineapple, mushroom, green pepper, and egg plant. Whoever came up with eggplant clearly has never eaten a hamburger before.

After the concert (this is also where I happened to meet the train-themed Japanese superhero, Rapi:tldier) I went home with more questions than answers. My idol otaku friend, who probably knows more about idols than nearly every other human being on this earth, sent me to see this idol group. Why?

I decided there must be more to it, so I called the Hamburgirl Z producer, Shintaro Yabu. As it turns out, he’s also the chairman of the West Japan Hamburger Association. Now I was getting somewhere. We didn’t talk much on the phone, but he did invite me to go to another Hamburgirl Z performance at the Okamoto Shopping Street in Kobe. I was also promised some time to talk to the girls.

“No Idol, No Burger!” As They Say…

Hamburgirl Z Hambuger Idol Group poster

Before jumping to the actual Hamburgirl Z event, I think it’s important for you to get to know the (Hambur)girls. I’ll reference them later in the story, and if you are familiar with some of their personalities then maybe it will be more like you’re there with me, and not just reading along. Plus, I think their bios are kind of cute.

There are fifteen members and fourteen ingredients. Let’s start with the most important part of the burger first: the beef.



Awaji Beef: Rinya


Name: Rina Maki

Nickname: Rinya.

Ingredient: Awaji Island Beef

Color: Pink

Favorite foods: Horse sashimi, sushi, and chicken nanban (which is fried chicken with vinegar and tartar sauce)

Likes: Nail decoration, making accessories, and watching TV

Special abilities: Classical ballet and badminton

Charming point: Big eyes

Dream: In the future, I’d like to be an actress and a TV personality.

Favorite phrase: “信じれば 誰もがなれる シンデレラ.” It means, “If you believe, anyone can be Cinderella.”



Awajishima Lettuce: Ku-chan


Name: Kurumi Ogawa

Nickname: Ku-chan

Ingredient: Awaji Island Lettuce

Color: Yellow Green

Favorite foods: Hamburger steak

Likes: Listening to music and chatting with people

Special abilities: Playing piano and practicing calligraphy

Charming point: A dimple on one cheek

Favorite phrase: “いつもありがとう♡” (Thank you always♡).



Awajishima Egg: Kana


Name: Kana Morikawa

Nickname: Kanakana

Ingredient: Awaji Island Eggs

Color: White

Likes: Playing piano, shopping, and going out to eat

Special ability: Bending my joints in odd ways

Favorite food: umeboshi

Favorite word: “Smile”

Dream: To be an actress.



Awajishima Tomato: Hinata


Name: Hinata Takasago

Nickname: Nappe

Ingredient: Awaji Island Tomatoes

Color: Red

Favorite food: Any kind of meat dish

Likes: Playing piano and playing with my pets

Special ability: Speaking “Babi-Go,” which is a word game in which you have to add either ba, bi, bu, be, or bo after each letter in the word to match the sound of the letter before it. For example, my name ひなた becomes ひびなばたば!

Charming point: Long legs

Dream: I’d like to be a model or an actress in the future.

Favorite phrase: “Life is full of ups and downs. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”



Awajishima Fish: Akarin


Name: Akari Sudo

Nickname: Akarin

Ingredient: Awaji Island Fish

Color: Blue

Favorite foods: Salted salmon roe, Ika-shiokara (cuttlefish pickled in salt), and macarons

Likes: Singing, sleeping, eating, and cheering for the Hanshin Tigers

Special abilities: Dancing, singing, and 目玉リレー(めだまりれー), which means an “Eyeball Relay.” If you don’t know what that is, here is a youtube video of an eyeball relay done by Michiko Kichise.

Charming point: My cheeks

Dream: To be a dental hygienist who can sing and dance

Favorite saying: “Where there is a will, there is a way.”



Awaji Chicken: Honoka


Name: Honoka Abe

Nickname: The same as my first name

Ingredient: Awaji Island Chicken

Color: Orange

Favorite food: Cheese

Likes: Dancing, acting, and sleeping

Special ability: Being able to memorize all of the lines from a drama and making hengao

Charming point: My thick lips

Dream: I want to be a cool and interesting actress

Favorite phrase: “It must be 大丈夫(だいじょうぶ/fine)!”



Awajishima W Onion (Right): Miitan


Name: Mitsuki Tanigawa

Nickname: Miitan

Ingredient: Awaji Island Onions

Color: Yellow

Favorite foods: Curry udon and melon bread

Likes: Watching dramas and learning to sing songs perfectly

Special abilities: Dancing and singing

Charming point: My smile

Dream: To be an actress

Favorite saying: “Always smile.”



Awajishima W Onion (Left): Rionyan


Name: Riona Tanigawa

Nickname: Rionyan

Ingredent: Awaji Island Onions

Color: Yellow

Favorite foods: Japanese plums and matcha

Likes: Watching dramas and sleeping

Special ability: Dancing and singing

Charming point: My left eye with its double eyelids

Dream: To be an actress

Favorite word: “百花繚乱(ひゃっかりょうらん),” which means, “An abundance of flowers.”



Bacon: Tsuumin


Name: Yuuka Tsutsumi

Nickname: Tsuumin

Ingredient: BACON

Color: Pink

Favorite foods: Cherries and omelette rice

Likes: Listening to music

Special ability: Playing the flute

Dream: I want to be an actress in the future

Charming point: My ears

Favorite word: “ありがとう” (Thank you).



Pickles: Rinary


Name: Rina Kadonaka

Nickname: Rinary

Ingredient: Pickles

Color: Green

Favorite food: Fruit (especially grapes)

Likes: Listening to music

Special ability: Solving a Rubik’s Cube

Dream: To be an actress

Charming point: My cheeks

Favorite term: “Silent Majority.”



Avocado: Mary


Name: Arisa Kume

Nickname: Mary

Ingredient: Avocado

Color: Green

Favorite food: Any food as long as it’s tasty

Likes: Studying and playing guitar

Special ability: reading Kobun(Classical Japanese) quickly

Charming points: My eyes and hair

Dream: To be an actress

Favorite word: “Thank you.”



Pineapple: Chisapo


Name: Chisa Taguchi

Nickname: Chisapo

Ingredient: Pineapple

Color: Orange

Favorite foods: Japanese plums, lemons, and pickles

Like: Watching concerts and performing at concerts. I also like sports

Special abilities: Playing the drums and the piano, playing tennis, and also the javelin throw

Charming points: My dimples shaped like cat whiskers (called にゃんちゅう線, or nyanchu-sen, in Japanese)

Favorite sayings: “There are no limits for effort” and “千日の稽古を鍛とし、万日の稽古を練とす”(せんにちのけいこをたんとし、まんじつのけいこをれんとす),” which means, “Train for a thousand days to acquire skills, then train for ten thousands days to develop them.”



Mushroom: Maimai


Name: Mai Masukawa

Nickname: Maimai

Ingredient: Mushrooms

Color: White

Favorite foods: Pancakes and shao-mai, which is steamed Chinese shrimp dumpling

Likes: Anime, games, and cosplay

Special ability: Drawing

Dream: To be an actress and a voice actress

Charming point: I have a voice fit for anime

Favorite phrase: “みんなで叶える物語(みんなでかなえるものがたり),” which means, “A story to fulfill everyone’s hopes.”



Green Pepper: Yuuri


Name: Yuuri Misaki

Nickname: I’m just called Yuuri

Ingredient: Green peppers

Color: Blue

Favorite foods: Warabimochi (bracken-starch dumpling), yakisoba, and matcha. Actually, we haven’t found a hamburger that uses green pepper yet, so we are trying to make one! Look for it soon.

Likes: Walking, watching TV, and collecting giraffe and stegosaurus merchandise

Special ability: Swimming

Charming point: A redundant tooth and my smile

Favorite saying: “Good fortune and happiness will come to the home of those who smile.”



Eggplant: Minamin


Name: Minami Kubo

Nickname: Minamin

Ingredient: Eggplants

Color: Purple

Favorite foods: Bean sprouts and dried wheat gluten snacks called “ふ菓子 (fugashi)”

Likes: Keeping up with idol news and doing my hair

Special abilities: Singing, dancing, and volleyball

Dream: I want to become a TV personality who also sings

Charming point: My long, black hair

Favorite phrase: “All for one, one for all.”


Note: Sadly, Tomato-girl (Akarin) and Avocado-girl (Mary) couldn’t make it to the Okamoto street event. I’m sorry if you are a fan of theirs as they won’t appear later the article.

The Okamoto Shopping Street Event

I had never been to Okamoto Shopping Street before. I originally assumed there would be a ceiling over the top, covering the street. But, it was completely open and the weather was not great. The stage and the chairs were set up in front of a local bank and there was no roof here either. I arrived extra early so as not to be late this time, which means I had a lot of waiting around to do in the rain. But, apparently I didn’t arrive early enough. Already, the first three rows of seats were spoken for. Umbrellas were draped over chairs and stools, holding these spots for early fans.

Looking through the audience, I actually recognized some of the people there. They were fans who also went to the Tsutenkaku event in Osaka. I wondered if they recognized me, too. As a woman, I certainly felt like I stood out just a little bit. Either way, I admired their dedication and wondered how early they had arrived so that they could be right next to the stage and their idols.


At around noon, the girls appeared on a corner just down the street from the stage. I went to greet them and the man himself: Mr. Yabu, the chairman of the West Japan Hamburger Association. It turns out they had arrived earlier than planned in order to hand out advertisement pocket tissues for a Softbank cellphone store. I thought this was awfully considerate of them. I imagined that the time before a concert would be hectic, but instead they were helping out local businesses… none of which sold hamburgers, by the way.


Mr. Yabu greeted me with a warm grin as I made my way to him. All around me were the girls I had come to see, and every one of them awarded me with a bright and genuinely friendly smile. Their eyes were lit up with anticipation, though not a nervous kind. They were so happy to be there, and I could feel myself getting infected by their energy as well.

Mr. Yabu told me that the girls were going to perform on the stage (ライブ/raibu), sell their goods (物販/buppan), and then work as honorary employees at several of the local shops (一日店長/ichinichi-tenchou), such as clothing stores, goods shops, flower shops, and sweet shops.


He exclaimed to nobody in particular: “We do it in order to help promote the Okamoto Shopping Street!” Maybe he wanted someone in particular to overhear, or maybe he thought I was hard of hearing. He then told me (in a much more normal voice) to enjoy the performance and snap as many pictures as I desired. After the performance, he and the members would be available to answer any of my questions while they were doing buppan (selling goods) and ichinichi-tenchou (1-day honorary employees).

The Hamburgirl Z Performance


After a short rehearsal, their performance began right at 1:00pm. The weather gods must have been smiling upon us, because the rain turned to a light drizzle, just in time for them to take the stage and perform six of their songs. One of my favorites was “にっぽんバーガーダンス”, which literally means, “Japanese Burger Dance.”

Like at Tentsukaku Tower, I found myself getting caught up in their catchy rhythms and upbeat melodies. Somehow, it made me think of a truth my Canadian husband and I uncovered in the early stages of our relationship: Even though we didn’t understand each other’s language, we could understand each other’s hearts through hamburgers. I know it sounds cheesy… but I think we can all agree that a cheeseburger is better than a plain hamburger.


While the Hamburgirl Z idol group was kawaii, adorable, and put on a really fun show, their singing ability was mediocre at best. That being said, I feel the same way about some famous idol groups too. In my interview with the idol otaku, he expressed that idol fans aren’t really looking for a spectacular performance, like the ones that Beyoncé or Ariana Grande can deliver.

The idol craze in Japan is a whole other animal. Fans become part of the event by shouting along to the music. And, they don’t attend these events with the sole purpose of watching a group of commendable, charming, and kind-hearted girls sing and dance to catchy music. Instead, it’s a chance for them to let go and put on a performance of their own by singing, dancing, and cheering on the idols that are just a few feet in front of them.


That is how to enjoy idol concerts. There is a special name for people who don’t let the essence of the concert atmosphere infect them: “Jizo.” I suppose this is because they are stoic and stone-cold, like the Jizo statues you see all over Japan. It’s probably not because they plan to save some children from hell later that evening.

But, this was not like that. The first few rows consisted of a crazed stomping of feet, the thrashing of triumphant fists, and the calls of the Hamburgirl faithful. A pulse could be felt going through the crowd, and it got me shouting too. Those who just stand still and don’t get involved with concerts, much as in life, will miss out on all the fun. It was at this point that I tossed the hamburger wrapper I had walked 25 minutes to get and started jumping and singing along with the other fans.

The most exciting was the one in the video above: “Ikuze! Awajishima Hamburgirl Z.” This one is set up really well for fan participation. If you want to cheer along as well, I’ve translated a guide made by a Hamburgirl Z fan named Tsujicho-san. You can view and download it here.

And, in case you want to watch the whole thing, here’s a playlist I found consisting of six videos, all shot by one of the Hamburgirl Z faithful.

Memorabilia Time!


When the lights faded and the music stopped, their performance moved off stage. It was now time for them to mingle with the fans and sell their memorabilia. Cheki-ken, a ticket for a polaroid picture with a member of their choosing, was available for 500 yen (that’s about $5 USD). Pins (also 500 yen each), and two kinds of posters (1,000 yen each) were also for sale.

If a fan wants closer contact with an idol, a special deal is offered to those who purchase a cheki-ken as well as a pin or poster. Unlike most other idol groups, Hamburgirl Z had never had a hand-shaking event before that day. Did I join? Of course I did! I wouldn’t want to miss out on the first ever Hamburgirl Z hand-shaking event ever!


I purchased a cheki-ken (polaroid ticket) and a poster to become eligible. This came to 1,500 yen total, but I only had two 1,000 yen bills and they didn’t have any change. Apparently this is a pretty common occurrence in small idol events like this, so if you do decide to attend, I recommend bringing some 500 yen coins, just in case. To bring my total up to 2,000 yen, I added a pin featuring Beef Rinya, the leader of Hamburgirl Z. I was happy to see that she actually signed it too. Arigatou, Rinya!


Clearly she was so happy to meet a celebrity such as myself


Next I slowly made my way down a long, colorful line of jubilant vegetable and meat products. I shook hands with each member and was able to do friendly chit chat with each of them. As I went down the line, I kept looking for the bacon Hamburgirl. I couldn’t see her so I began to sweat. She had already become my favorite idol of the group, though that had nothing to do with her talents and everything to do with my favorite food.


Suddenly she appeared out from behind the stage and walked to her place at the end of the line. Then, she moved down an idol. Then another. With each step, she disappeared and reappeared behind a different Hamburgirl–Lettuce, Bacon, Tomato, Bacon, Onion, Bacon, Mushroom, Bacon–and I came to realize that this was exactly how I make my own hamburgers. This was clearly a sign. When I finally got to Bacon Tsuumin, I used my chekkin-ken.

Hamburgirl Z Hambuger Idol Group Polaroid

She wrote a lot on our polaroid. ありがとう!

After I had collected my memorabilia, shook hands, and participated in some casual chit chat, I walked over to the side of Yabu-san again. If you remember, he promised to answer my questions after the concert. It was time for him to follow through on that promise.

How A Hambirgirl Z is Cooked Up


Of course, my first question to Mr. Yabu, their producer, was “how did Hamburgirl Z get created?” Before he could answer I added: “And please don’t say it was something you just cooked up.”

He chuckled politely and replied: “Actually, we kind of did just cook it up, in the sense that it instantly struck us as a great idea. I work not only as their producer, but also as the chairman of the Nishi-Nihon Hamburger Kyoukai.” Translated, that’s the “West Japan Hamburger Association.”

He continued. “In March of 2013, the Association of Awajishima Hamburgers and NHK came together to create the world’s first burger idol group called ‘Awajishima Hamburgirl.’ The group was to be the singing, dancing support for the hamburgers of Awajishima Island.”

I had to take a second to admire their creativity. I’ve heard of creating mascots to promote a product–this is quite common practice in Japan–but a pop group? That’s new to me.


“Our group hired a young, talented mini-orchestra called イーゼル芸術工房 (Easel Geijutsu Koubou/Easel Art Studio) to record the music for our songs. They also became our group’s sound production team. Now, and here’s the kicker, Easel Art Studio is also the honorary director of the West Japan Hamburger Association. Talk about a vested interest in deliciousness!” He impishly grinned.

“I see, so that was the start, then? Yet, you just said ‘Awajishima Hamburgirl,’ but the group I saw today was ‘Hamburgirl Z.’

“Good point,” he said, pointing a finger right at me. He cracked his knuckles and went on: “It’s a bit of a long story, but if you don’t mind…”

“Of course I want to hear it!” I said, before he could weasel out of telling me what happened.

“Okay. At first the group’s name was ‘Awajishima Hamburgirl,’ and at that time we only had three girls. But, those three girls moved on to other things in April of 2014, so we had five new girls take their place. Since the group members changed completely, we felt it fitting that the group name also change. ‘Awajishima Hamburgirl’ became ‘Awajishima Hamburgirl Z.'”

“These five new girls were chosen following a public audition. However, the judges felt bad for the girls who didn’t make it, so another idol group, called ‘Princess Japan Burger’ was formed. That group was short-lived and ended up merging with Awajishima Hamburgirl Z in November of the same year. Soon after, we grew beyond the island of Awajishima, and the group’s name changed once again, this time to ‘Nishi-Nihon Hamburgirl Z’ (West Japan Hamburgirl Zeta). In April 2015 six more girls joined and we became the group you know and love today.”

All within a few deep breaths he finished what I expected to be a longer story.


“So what will you do in the future, then?”

He had his answer ready. “Well, we are actually now thinking of expanding the group into the Tokyo area as well. Actually, we may form a ‘Higashi-Nihon (East Japan) Hamburgirl Z.'”

Now that I knew their origin story, I wanted to know how the girls were chosen. What made a tomato a tomato? Or an eggplant an eggplant? Very plainly, Mr. Yabu said: “It’s all based on my first impression. I decided which ingredient each member would take command of based on how I felt when I first saw them.”

I could see he was quite serious about this topic, so I made sure to keep my internal chuckling internal. In my mind I imagined Mr. Yabu telling a girl “You look like a cucumber, so you’ll take command of the cucumbers!” All that being said, if I was in this group, I’d clearly be bacon.


With such a long line, we had plenty more time to talk, so I asked Mr. Yabu about the Hamburgirl Z’s daily expectations.

“As you’d guess, we attend Awajishima events. Not just hamburger related ones either. Our concerts are held regularly, every weekend, in fact, in Tsutenkaku, where you saw us the first time. We attend special events occasionally, as well, like this one,” he said, waiving a hand around in front of him.

“We also stream a live podcast on SHOWROOM. In addition to that,” he went on, “and a favorite of mine, we create special Hamburgirl Z hamburgers at select hamburger shops.” He said this last bit in an excitement that forced him to rub his hands together. Later that night I found an example of one of these collaborations online. Hamburgirl Z teamed up with a hamburger shop called “Burgerlion” in Osaka this spring. Check out their beautiful creation – A hamburger with baby corn and miso sauce? Oishisou~


It certainly sounds different and I really wanted to try it, but it was only available in March of 2015. Anyone have a spare time machine lying around?

Another collaboration I found was this one:


As of the publication of this article, they are scheduled to make an appearance on November 15 at the Loft PlusOne West in Osaka. The address is 大阪府大阪市中央区宗右衛門町2-3 美松ビル3F. Apparently they’ll be making a big announcement, too. Perhaps it’s that “East-Japan Hamburgirl Z” we keep smelling hints of? A true Hamburgirl Z fan will be there to find out in person.

The Hamburgirl Z Girls


After spending so much time with Mr. Yabu, I decided it was time to get to the heart of the Hamburgirls. What were they all about, why were they here, and what were their hopes and dreams? The first question I asked, though, was “what kind of messages do you try to convey through your music?”

Rinya, the leader, looked puzzled for a moment. I wondered if I had asked too obvious of a question. Or, perhaps it was too difficult. I wasn’t sure.

“All Hamburgirl Z songs are full of love for hamburgers.” she replied, fidgeting with her hamburger skirt. “We want to have people of all generations interested in hamburgers. We truly love hamburgers, and we want everyone else to love them too. We want to hold hamburger events all over Japan and have a great time with as many people as possible.”


“First Japan and then the world, right?” I offered with a friendly smile and wink. “So, to make people love hamburgers,” I confirmed. “what’s the song that most helps you with that, you think?”

This time, nearly everyone answered at the same time, “It’s 行くぜっ!淡路島ハンバーガールZ (Ikuze! Awajishima Hamburgirl Z).” One of them went on to add that they’re currently working on the music video for that song, and that’s why there are only videos from live shows… for now.

Behind The Scenes With Hamburgirl Z


I directed my next question to the girl with big dimples. “How do you prepare for performances?” I asked.

Ku-chan (Awajishima lettuce) blushed faintly and said: “We have lessons every Wednesday at Tsutenkaku in Osaka, but each of us practice individually at home every day because we want our next performance to be an improvement on our last performance.”

I took a moment to admire that sort of attitude. Certainly, it is an approach that will help one to reach a professional level of skill. Not something you typically see in youths nowadays.

When Ku-chan noticed the short lull in our conversation, she continued on. “We also try to attend as many events that showcase other idols as we can, so we can learn from them. Of course, we learn about hamburgers and Awajishima daily, as well. After all, we are a hamburger idol group based in Awajishima.”


“What an impressive group of girls!” I thought to myself. I was comforted knowing that these are the types of girls that so many children across Japan admire. Like the Grinch, my heart grew a little larger that day… but perhaps that was from all the hamburger I had eaten earlier.

“So you watch other idol groups to learn from them… but don’t you feel a sense of competition too? Do you have any idol rivals?”

My question was met only with silence as I watched the girls look at each other with faces probing for approval. Would acknowledging rivals publicly be considered rude in their world? Or, perhaps there was a Pizzagirl Z group that I didn’t know about?

In the end, it was Mr. Yabu who spoke for the girls. “Our rival is an idol group called “My Dreams,” who performs at Tsutenkaku in Osaka, where we also perform each weekend as well.

I validated his words with: “Yeah, I can see how a rivalry might develop there.” Though, to be honest I was hoping for something a little juicier.

“What about heroes you try to emulate?” I’d get them to say something about other idol groups yet.

Mr. Yabu again: “Originally we tried to emulate キャンディーズ (Candies), but then we switched our focus to ももいろクローバー (Momoiro Clover). At the present time, we are trying to emulate AKB48, who has sister groups all over Japan.”


I asked him if that was also a goal of theirs. A momentary furl of confusion dipped across his eyebrows as he tilted his head slightly to the left. With an attempt to clarify, I said, “Do you hope to have sister groups throughout Japan one day, too?”

To this question his head bolted swiftly up and transitioned into an understanding nod. “Yes, it is a goal of ours,” he firmly stated. “We want to expand into the Tokyo area and make a sister group, “Higashi Nihon (East Japan) Hamburgirl Z. We also want to create more local Hamburgirl groups in places like Nagoya or Kyushu to support each region’s local hamburger shops. Having said that, our most recent goal is to sell our original hamburgers in the Olympic Village during the Tokyo Olympics.”

And with that, he wrapped up his final thought on future endeavors by adding, “Hopefully we can perform concerts to promote hamburgers there, too.”

I attempted to broadcast my encouragement to each of them by saying, “I hope your dreams come true.”

Hamburgirl Z Hambuger Idol Group bacon fighter

I thanked them all so much for their time and generosity for letting me interview them. In kind, they returned their thanks to me. However, I had to ask just one more question because I felt as though my love for hamburgers had grown over the course of this interview. “Where are your favorite places to eat hamburgers?” I asked.

They came up with a list for me:

That last one is kind of cheating, I think.

As I walked back to the train station, I realized that I had become a fan of these girls. I wanted them to win, and I genuinely hoped their dreams would come true. I was a little startled by this change in my personality. I went from someone who had no interest in idols at all to someone who thought one particular idol group was great. Perhaps this is why you see the same, excited fans going to idol events day in and day out.

I had one of the idol scene’s biggest fans try to explain to me why idols and idol events are exciting and fun, and I still didn’t understand. It took a couple events to convert me, and now I understand. But, I’m not sure if you really can understand unless you actually go, in person. And, you certainly can’t judge anyone for going until you go yourself. Good luck, Hamburgirl Z! We’ll cheer for you! (Or at least I will).

Be sure to follow Hamburgirl Z on Twitter. Also, they regularly update their Hamburgirl blog, so check that out as well.

And, oh no! I forgot to tell you about the ichinichi-tencho, didn’t I? That’s when they work at a shop for a little bit as an honorary employee. I think it’s best to see it in action, anyway. Here is a fan video of their ichinichi-tencho work. Also, I appear at 6:20 and 7:30.

Should you want to experience this world of idolatry for yourself, you can visit the Hamburgirl Z group in Osaka. They perform every weekend at Tsutenkaku, though make sure you check the Hamburgirl Z blog for more information.

And lastly, as promised, here’s their best and/or most famous song and its translation: “Bring it on! Awajishima Hamburgirl Z.”

Note: This is the video of the event I visited, which took place in Okamoto, Kobe, Hyogo. Therefore, they introduce themselves at the beginning as Okamoto Hamburgirl Z instead of Awajishima Hamburgirl Z. Also, Tomato-girl and Avocado-girl couldn’t make it, as I mentioned above.

If you would like the translation you can download it here.

And, if you want to learn how to cheer them on, you can get it right here.

They also made the English version of “Bring it on! Awajishima Hamburgirl Z” for you to enjoy. So, Enjoy!

To learn the lyrics to their other songs, you can find them on their blog:

That’s all for me. I’m going to go eat a burger now.

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Why Do Japanese People Say Moshi Moshi on the Phone?

Answering the phone in Japanese seems like easy business. Moshi moshi. Most people know this “telephone hello” even if they don’t know any other Japanese words.

But if you say “moshi moshi” every time you answer the phone in Japan, you’ll end up in bad situations. There are several ways to answer the phone in Japanese. And you need to know the right situation for the right greeting.

But “moshi moshi” is an odd phrase. It doesn’t mean “hello” literally. And there’s a reason it’s mostly (but not always) used on the phone.

What Does Moshi Moshi Mean?

samurai saying moshi moshi to his daimyo on the phone

Photo by Rumpleteaser

If you want a quick, conversational overview of the the meaning of moshi moshi, check out the video Koichi made years back. It features a cat, so you’ll definitely like it.

“Moshi” actually comes from the verb “mousu” (申す), which is a humble form of “to say” (言う). In the Edo period, it was used in normal conversation when speaking to someone of higher status. Initially, the words used were “moushiagemasu” (申し上げます), “moushimasu” (申します) or “mousu” (申す). These all mean “I’m going to say (talk).” Eventually it was shortened to “moushi” (申し) and was used to catch somebody’s attention, like saying “hey!”

Technically, when you say “moshi moshi,” you’re politely saying “I’m going to talk” twice. But it feels more like, “Hey, dude.”

In short, the politeness level of the conjugations goes like this:

申し上げます > 申します > 申す > 申し

There are quiet a few options in this “moshi moshi menu” so be careful about which one you use in which situation.

When Should You Use Moshi Moshi?

japanese friends will say moshi moshi when they get a call

Photo by 瓦力_WALLACE

You should use “moshi moshi” primarily when answering the telephone. But only when you receive a phone call from friends or family.

If there is a long pause or a lost connection during the call, you can use “moshi moshi” to make sure the person is still on the line (again only when the call is from a friend or family member).

For example, when your your friend’s voice becomes choppy, you can say “moshi moshi kikoemasuka?” (もしもし聞こえますか?) which means “Hello, can you hear me?”

That’s the way you’ll use moshi moshi 90% of the time. If you’re answering the telephone and it’s someone other than family or friends on the other line, don’t say moshi moshi. There’s another set of words to use. We’ll get to those later.

You’re not going to use moshi moshi off the phone too much. But when you do it’ll usually be to get someone’s attention. If your friend is spacing out, you can wave your hand in front of their face and say, “moshi moshi.”

Or, if you see someone passed out on the sidewalk, you can tap their shoulder and say, “moshi moshi!”

There is one more non-telephone use of moshi moshi that’s now defunct. According to 20世紀B級ニュース (20th Century B-Grade News) people complained about police officers in 1913. Back then, police would stop people by saying “oi oi” (おいおい), “kora kora” (こらこら) or “oi kora” (おいこら). All of these are impolite ways to say “Hey!”

So on March 6th, 1913, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police announced that officers would no longer use such crude language. Instead they would shout “moshi moshi” to get someone’s attention or stop a robbery. Police don’t do say this anymore, but it may still be on the books as official police conduct.

Other Ways to Start a Japanese Phone Conversation

a handsome man in a bus stop add says moshi moshi

Photo by Taichiro Ueki

If you’re receiving a call from family or friends, moshi moshi is the way to go. But never use it in business situations. It’s considered rude because it’s a shortened phrase.

Younger Japanese people don’t always know not to use “moshi moshi” in formal telephone calls (Honestly. Kids today!). A “moshi moshi” may shock a sempai or two when young kids start making phone calls.

How can you keep from making such a terrible faux pas? Here are alternate ways to receive calls (politely).


The easiest and safest way to answer the phone is saying “hai” (はい). It means “yes,” but on the phone it serves the same function as “hello.” Just remember to identify yourself and your company right after.

“hai, tofugu goudougaisha desu.”
“Hello, this is Tofugu, LLC.”

“hai, kanemochi kabushikigaisha no kouichi desu.”
“Hello, this is Koichi at Kanemochi Co., Ltd.”

Note: Japanese people usually use their family name on the phone. A more polite form of “です” would be preferable as well. See the example below.

“hai, suzuki kabushikigaisha no satou de gozaimasu.”
“Hello, this is Satou at Suzuki Co.,Ltd.”

Let’s say you answer the phone and identify your company but not yourself. The person calling might ask what your name is.

You would use “moushimasu” (申します), the humble form of “say,” after your name. But only use it if the person on the other end has identified themselves. It’s weird to use “moushimasu” if you don’t yet know who you are talking to.

A: はい、スズキ株式会社でございます。(はい、すずきかぶしきがいしゃでございます。)
B: スズキ株式会社のどなたですか?(すずきかぶしきがいしゃのどなたですか?)
A1: 佐藤と申します。(さとうともうします。)/佐藤太郎と申します。(さとうたろうともうします。)

A: Hello, this is Suzuki Co., Ltd.
B: Who am I speaking to?
A1: This is Satou./ This is Taro Satou.

It might be more polite to mention your full name when asked to identify yourself, especially if your family name is common.

“Thank you for your call”

Another way to answer the phone is to thank the person who called with “odenwa arigatou gozaimasu” (お電話ありがとうございます). This means “thank you for calling.”

“odenwa aritagtou gozaimasu. kabushikigaisha tanaka no takahashi de gozaimasu.”
“Thank you for your call. This is Takahashi at Tanaka Co., Ltd.”

Note: Depending on the company, “Kabushikigaisha” (Co., Ltd.) can come before or after the company name. Saying a company name correctly matters in Japanese culture. It’s considered rude to mess up a company’s name, even if it’s just the “co., Ltd.” part.

“I appreciate all you have done for us”

You can also go a step further and thank the caller for everything they’ve ever done ever.

The phrase is “itsumo osewa ni natte orimasu” (いつもお世話になっております) or “osewa ni natte orimasu” (お世話になっております). Use these two on the phone in business situations. There are other variations for other kinds of conversations too.

“osewa ni natte orimasu. beekon piza shibuyaten no itou degozaimasu.”
“I appreciate all you have done for us. This is Itou at Bacon Pizza, Shibuya branch.”

It may seem odd in English, but it’s a common greeting in Japan. Say this as soon as you pick up the phone.

“I’ve received this forwarded call”

When you receive a forwarded call in a business situation, say “odenwa kawarimashita” (お電話変わりました).

If it’s a casual conversation, you could just say, “moshi moshi [name] desu” (もしもし[name]です). If a call is forwarded, the caller already knows the company and the call was forwarded to you. So just say your name.

But, if the call was forwarded from a different department, you might want to say your department name and your name.

“odenwa kawarimashita. kaikei ka no watanabe de gozaimasu.”
“I’ve received this forwarded call. This is Watabane in the accounting division.”

Fun story: Instead of “Odenwa kawarimashita,” some people say “Oden wa niemashita ka?” (オデン煮えましたか?), which means “Is the oden cooked yet?” Apparently someone tried this five times at his job, and four out of five people didn’t notice.

“Pardon me”

As I mentioned before, you can use “moshi moshi” one the phone when there’s a long silence or you can’t hear the person on the other line. But this is not okay for business situations.

Instead say “osoreirimasu” (恐れいります) meaning “pardon me.” After that, say you’re having trouble hearing. But do it indirectly.

Use “the telephone seems to be distant,” which is “odenwa ga tooi you desu” (お電話が遠いようです).

This way it’s nobody’s fault. The telephone just went far away. Don’t say “okoe ga tooi” (お声が遠い) or “your voice is distant” because that’s blaming the person who you are talking to.

“osoreirimasu. odenwa ga shoushou tooi younano desu ga, mouichido osshatte itadakemasu deshouka?”
“Pardon me. The telephone seems to be distant. Could you say that again, please?”

Why Do Japanese People Say Moshi Moshi?

a sleepy fox who can't say moshi moshi

Photo by Yari Hotaka

We’ve got the moshi moshi vocab down pat. Use it on the phone and sometimes elsewhere. But why say it at all? Why not say “konnichiwa” or one of the other forms of hello in Japanese? Why does the telephone get its own special hello?

Historically, there are a three explanations.

Explanation 1: Foxes can’t pronounce moshi moshi

What does the fox say? Not moshi moshi, apparently.

Foxes can’t pronounce moshi moshi properly. “Why would I care about foxes when answering the phone?” A valid question. If you’re not aware of the dangers foxes pose to you and your loved ones, read this article about Kitsune, the magical foxes of Japanese fairy tales.

In short, magical foxes (called kitsune in Japan) are powerful and nasty creatures. They can shapeshift, create illusions, and love to screw people over. So if a malevolent kitsune were calling you on the phone, it would be bad news. That’s why Japanese people started to say “moshi moshi” when answering the telephone. According to legendary Japanese folklorist, Lafcadio Hearn, foxes can’t speak words fully.

  • “…a fox knocks at doors with its tail. If you open, then you will see a man, or perhaps a beautiful girl, who will talk to you only in fragments of words, but nevertheless in such a way that you can perfectly well understand. A fox cannot pronounce a whole word, but a part only—as “Nish . . . Sa. . .” for “Nishida-San”; “degoz . . .” for “degozarimasu, or “uch . . . de . .?” for “uchi desuka?”

And from this the moshi moshi myth was born. The idea of foxes’ speech impediment eventually evolved into the legend of their verbal achilles heel, “moshi moshi.” Or so it stands to reason.

Explanation 2: Ghosts can’t say moshi twice

This theory was uncovered by Friend of Tofugu (or FOT), Gakuranman. You can read all about his explanation on the Gakuranman blog. This origin of moshi moshi is similar to the fox explanation above, which gives validity to both.

Apparently, Japanese ghosts can only say “moshi” once. Why? I dunno. Ghost logic. Some things in life (or the afterlife) are just the way they are.

Let’s say, you’re walking around in the Edo period and see someone you know. You want to call out to them. But it’s nighttime and pretty spooky. If you get close to them and say “moshi,” they may get scared. That means an embarrassing yelp at best or a reflexive punch in the face at worst.

So you speak out “moshi moshi.” This ensures the listener that the voice calling out to them on this dark and spooky night is, in fact, a human friend. Not an inhuman fiend.

Explanation 3: Telephone operators did it

And now for the explanation that seems the most plausible because it’s actually supported by facts.

On December 16, 1890, telephones were first introduced to Japan. Today, this date is telephone day (電話の日/denwa no hi) in Japan. At the time, only rich people were were able to afford telephones. Being rich, they were used to talking down to others. Thus, the standard “telephone hello” was “oi oi” (おいおい) or “hey YOU!” The person on the other end would respond with “Hai, you gozaimasu” (はい、良うございます) or “Hai, you gozansu” (はい、良うござんす). Both of these are humble ways of saying, “Yes, I’m ready” meaning the person calling is ready to talk.

Of course, this abrupt “hey YOU!” got on people’s nerves when telephone operators used it. So the “oi oi” was changed to “moushiagemasu” (申し上げます) which is a humble form of “to say.” (remember the 申す politeness conjugation flow chart?)

“Moushiagemasu” was eventually shortened to “mousu mousu” (申す申す) for male operators and “moushi moushi” (申し申し) for female operators. Some male operators still used “oi oi” for a while though.

The person who made the change to “mousu mousu” or “moushi moushi” on the telephone was Shigenori Katougi (加藤木重教). He was an electrician for the Ministry of Engineering and went on to work for Tanaka Seisakusho (田中製作所). He traveled the United States in 1889 to study their telephone system.

During his visit, Katougi-san learned Americans say “hello” when answering the phone. Katougi’s American hosts asked what what the telephone greeting was in Japan. He wasn’t sure what to tell them. It was either “oi oi,” “moushiagemasu,” “mousu mousu,” or “moushi moushi.” It would have required a lot of explanation (about as much as this article). So he just decided to tell the Americans that Japanese people say “moshi moshi” and it means “hello.”

This gave him the idea of a standardized “telephone hello” which he brought back to Japan. Soon after in 1893, the term “mousu mousu” was shortened to “mosu mosu” and “moushi moushi” was shortened “moshi moshi.”

But after a while there were fewer male telephone operators than female. So “mosu mosu” eventually disappeared and “moshi moshi” became the standard. Historians say this happened in 1902, and both men and women used “moshi moshi” after that.

One cute story from this era (which may or may not be true): There is a song “usagi to kame” (rabbit and turtle) in Japan. The song starts with the lyrics “moshi moshi kame yo kame san yo.”

The story goes: an operator answered a telephone call with “moshi moshi.” The man on the other line answered with “kame yo.” Both were so tickled they sang the rest of the song together.

Never Say “Mushi Mushi” Again

A baby with a toy phone

By now I’m sure you’re a big moshi moshi fan. You’ll wear moshi moshi t-shirts. You’ll stick a moshi moshi sign in your front yard. You’ve gone beyond the avoidance of the erroneous “mushi mushi.” You know when to use which telephone hello and why it’s used. Welcome to the moshi moshi elite.

Next time you answer the phone you’ll certainly not offend any Japanese businessmen. Or inviting trouble from devilish foxes.

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The Gay Of The Samurai

Remember the popular scene in The Last Samurai where Ken Watanabe and Tom Cruise make sweet, tender love? You don’t? Well, perhaps if the story had been more rooted in reality we could have seen that happen.


As it turns out, pre-modern Japan was exceptionally accepting, even encouraging, of male homosexuality and bisexuality. Much like that time we found out that bushido is actually modern-day made-up bullshit, this might surprise you. To be honest, it surprised me, too. I came upon this information while researching an article (still to come) about the current state of the LGBT community in Japan. I wanted to understand the overwhelming societal pressure placed upon people who are LGBT to, well, not be. My hypothesis was that I would find my answers in Japan’s ancient and medieval past, assuming that Japan would be like the West in this regard. I would point to the Japanese version of Judeo-Christian anti-homosexuality beliefs and call it a day. I thought it would be easy.

As is often the case, it turns out I was completely wrong. Japan’s pre-modern society was one that not only tolerated homosexuality and bisexuality, but celebrated and even idealized it. In fact, it appeared to be the rule, rather than the exception, for a majority of Japan’s pre-modern history. How in the world did Japan go from celebrating homosexual lifestyles to being in denial about LGBT issues even existing?

To understand that, we must traverse the annals of history. Let’s go back to the very beginning, right at the moment when Japan was created by the gods.

Sex, And The Creation Of Japan


Japan’s first main religion, Shintoism, is said to have been established as far back as 1,000 BC. Its first known texts, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicle of Japan), were completed in 712 AD and 720 AD, respectively. Both relate the creation myth of Japan. In addition to this, the Nihon Shoki records some of Japan’s early history.

Nothing in the Kojiki or Nihon Shoki mention anything about homosexuality, unless you count the fact that the first three generations of deities described in the Nihon Shoki are all male (one Tokugawa-era author joked that the conception and birthing of these generations must have been logistically difficult). But, maybe this is the point. There is no overt approval of homosexual behavior, but there is no condemnation, either.

Let’s step back a moment, however, and think about what the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki say about sex. The basic question we’re faced with is: does Shintoism view sex as inherently good or inherently evil? Part of the answer lies in the Kojiki—here’s an excerpt in which the deities Izanagi and Izanami create the islands of Japan by, well, totally doing it.

At this time Izanagi-no-Mikoto asked his spouse Izanami-no-Mikoto, saying: “How is your body formed?”

She replied, saying: “My body, formed though it be formed, has one place which is formed insufficiently.”

Then Izanagi-no-Mikoto said: “My body, formed though it be formed, has one place which is formed to excess. Therefore, I would like to take that place in my body which is formed to excess and insert it into that place in your body which is formed insufficiently, and thus give birth to the land. How would this be?”

Izanami-no-Mikoto replied, saying: “That will be good.”

In the Shinto creation story, sex proceeds the birth of a nation and her people. In Judeo-Christian religions, the acknowledgement of human sexuality and their banishment went hand in hand. It’s not surprising, I suppose, that nearly every mention of the word “sex” in the Christian bible is accompanied by ideas of punishment or shame.


I’m not saying that one religion is better than the other, or that either is “right” or “wrong”. I’m simply trying to give you context for what’s to come. Much like the ancient Judeo-Christian religions in the West, Shintoism provided the basis for the belief system in Japan, even as the religion evolved and was influenced by other groups and societies.

So, as you might have guessed, Shintoism was quite sex-positive in general. Only, there was the nagging concept of sexual “pollution” (not entirely analogous to the Christian idea of “sin”), which Pflugfelder, author of Cartographies of desire: male–male sexuality in Japanese discourse, describes below:

While male-female coitus was seen as inherently defiling, obliging those (and in particular males) who had engaged in it to undergo purification before entering in the presence of the gods, Shinto authorities did not so characterize male-male sexual practices, showing far less preoccupation with the theological implications of such behavior than their European counterparts. No explicit condemnation of male-male sexuality appears in the Shinto canon, which in fact remains silent on the topic altogether.

This difference in the perception of male-male sexuality versus male-female sexuality, in addition to Shintoism’s general message that “all sexual love is unconditional good,” helps to set the tone (on this issue) for Japan’s second main religion, Buddhism.

The Introduction of Buddhism


Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 7th century, well over a thousand years after Shintoism had taken root. In theory, traditional Buddhism viewed sex very differently from Shintoism. Sex in Buddhism was linked to desire, something that practicing Buddhists were supposed to overcome. By doing this successfully, one could gain enlightenment and thus escape from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Buddhist monks and priests were also supposed to take vows of celibacy. This, of course, included both heterosexual and homosexual activity. That being said, there were definite ideas about which was worse. Heterosexual activity was actually the greater offense, as Buddhism considered women to be “evil and defiling” by nature. Homosexual activity amongst practicing Buddhists, on the other hand, was treated more like a “lapse in self control.” Take this Vinaya (a regulatory framework for the monastic community of Buddhism, created by the Buddha himself) for example:

At that time the venerable Upananda, of the Sakya tribe, had two novices, Kandaka and Makhaka; these committed sodomy with each other. The Bhikkus were annoyed…: “How can novices abandon themselves to such bad conduct?”

They told this to the Blessed One… [who declared] “Let no one, O Bhikkus, ordain two novices. He who does is guilty of a dukkata offense.”

Gary Leupp, in Male Colors, The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan, explains:

Here their sexual involvement is seen as the result of their environment; perhaps they share a cell with the monk who ordained them. Although their behavior is plainly regarded as “bad conduct,” they are apparently not punished for it. Rather, the monk responsible for them is censured.

Once again, let’s compare this to Judeo-Christian beliefs, where the hierarchy of “bad sex things” is the opposite way around. Christian priests weren’t supposed to partake in heterosexual activity, but male-male sex was a crime for which one could be severely punished. In Buddhism, male-male sex only resulted in a slap on the wrist. Kind of a “Hey, it happens to the best of us, don’t worry about it guys!” sort of thing. Leupp continues:

Only the holiest and most disciplined of Buddhist priests were thought capable of overcoming sexual desire and faithfully observing the Buddha’s command to abjure all sexual activity. The rest of the clergy, it was widely assumed, would yield to temptation with male or female partners.

Basically, the attitude was one of “If you can’t figure out the whole celibacy thing in this lifetime, well, there’s always the next one!” Ascension to nirvana is much less of a one-time shot than admittance into heaven, after all.

I should clarify that I’m speaking about Japanese Buddhism for the purposes of this article. Some Indian and Chinese Buddhist sects had radically different ideas about the nature of sex and homosexual relationships, but they were far enough away that they had little to little to no impact on thinking in Japan.

So were there any actual rules about sex in Japanese Buddhism? Well… kind of. The “five training principles” of Buddhism do include a section on sexual conduct, but the wording of that section is incredibly vague:

“I take the rule of training not to go the wrong way for sexual pleasure.”

On the subject of this principle, Dharmachari Jñanavira, author of Homosexuality in the Japanese Buddhist Tradition, argues, “[u]nlike the Christian penitentials of the medieval period, Buddhist texts do not go into great detail explicating exactly what the ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ ways regarding sexual pleasure actually are. As with other actions, they are subject to the application of the golden mean: ‘[t]he deed which causes remorse afterward and results in weeping is ill-done. The deed which causes no remorse afterwards and results in joy and happiness is well done.’”


I’d like to think that the world might be a better place if everyone lived by this rule.

It took only a century or two for Japanese Buddhism to start developing its own sexual identity. Take the Tachikawa-ryu branch of Shingon Buddhism—later known as the “the main sex cult of Japan”—as an example. Their Tantra included the idea that “the loss of self in the sex act could lead to an awakening of the spirit.” Essentially, sex could actually help move a person toward enlightenment. For Tachikawa-ryu Buddhists, sex not only became a religious symbol, it was also “viewed as good in itself apart from its role in procreation.” That’s a big deal—if your religion doesn’t really care about whether you’re making babies, then it’s going to care less about whether or not you’re having the kind of relationships were procreation is even impossible.

Now, coming from a heteronormative society, you might expect that these teachings were accompanied by imagery that involved men putting their “excess” into women’s “insufficiency”, but that was not the case. As Jñanavira puts it:

Although present, Tantric sexual imagery which involved the unification of male and female was of marginal influence in Japan. Far more pervasive in male Buddhist institutions was the influence of homoerotic and even homosexual imagery where beautiful acolytes were understood to embody the feminine principle. The degree to which Buddhism tolerated same-sex sexual activity even among its ordained practitioners is clear from the popular myth that the founder of the Shingon school, Kooboo Daishi (Kuukai), introduced homosexual acts upon his return from study in China in the early ninth century. This myth was so well known that even the Portuguese traveller, Gaspar Vilela had heard it. Writing in 1571, he complains of the addiction of the monks of Mt. Hiei to “sodomy”, and attributes its introduction to Japan to Kuukai, the founder of Koyasan, the Shingon headquarters. Jesuit records of the Catholic mission to Japan are full of rants about the ubiquity of pederastic passion among the Buddhist clergy. What particularly riled the missionaries was the widespread acceptance these practices met with among the general populace.

As the last sentence indicates, the homosexual activities of Buddhist monks weren’t a sex cult secret. In fact, they were very public, and the Japanese people of that time didn’t care. It made visiting westerners pretty upset, though.

Father Francis Cabral noted in a letter written in 1596 that “abominations of the flesh” and “vicious habits” were “regarded in Japan as quite honorable; men of standing entrust their sons to the bonzes to be instructed in such things, and at the same time to serve their lust”. Another Jesuit commented that “this evil” was “so public” that the people “are neither depressed nor horrified” suggesting that same-sex love among the clergy was not considered remarkable.

So how did this widespread acceptance of homosexuality—so much so that one could argue that, at that time, gay culture and Buddhism were deeply intertwined—come about? There are several possibilities, but I found the two below most plausible:

The Isolation Of Monasteries

Although Japan was small in comparison to its Buddhist neighbors, it had a lot of monasteries. Leupp says there may have been upward of 90,000 Buddhist establishments during the medieval period of 1185-1572. Most of these were small, but a handful contained a thousand or more monks and monks-in-training, all of them male. Mt. Hiei alone had a population of 3,000, and all of them were expected to stay on the mountain, isolated, for 12 years. That’s a long time to be surrounded exclusively by men. This isolation likely encouraged the openness and growth of homosexual culture amongst Buddhist monks and priests.

They Were Looking Up To China


Remember Kuukai, the man blamed by all those western visitors for Japan’s homosexuality “problem”? There may be some truth as to his involvement. The genius monk, credited for the creation of hiragana and katakana, spent some time in China in 806 AD. There, it is said that he learned about the idea of nanshoku (男色 ) or “male colors”.

In the nanshoku tradition, an older Buddhist monk called the nenja would take on a prepubescent boy, called the chigo, as his acolyte. Both the nenja and the chigo were expected to take this relationship very seriously. Some nenja would have to draw up vows of commitment. When the chigo reached adulthood, the nanshoku relationship ended and the nenja would then be free to seek another chigo. Jñanavira goes into more detail:

“However, it must be remembered that the kind of homoerotic liaisons this text recommends take place in very specific circumstances between an adult man and an adolescent youth in the few years before he reaches manhood.  Upon coming of age, any sexual element to the relationship is let go and the bond continues as a close spiritual friendship which is considered to continue beyond the confines of the present life.  The metaphysical  meaning of the relationship lies in both participants’ awareness of the temporality of the affair.  Since the youth’s beauty lasts only a few years before fading for ever, it is considered vain to establish a relationship based only upon physical attraction.  Yet, the role in which physical attraction plays in cementing the bond between the two friends is not denied; it is, in fact, considered a perfectly natural occurrence.  Hence, Faure is right in pointing out that sexual relationships between monk and acolyte were not simply about ‘sex’ but constituted a ‘discourse,’ as he comments: ‘It is in Japanese Buddhism that male love became most visible and came to designate…an ideal of man (and not simply a type of act)’”

Japan followed China’s lead in many ways, and it’s likely they copied this, as well. There are certainly references to similar relationships being formed in Chinese monasteries, as well as amongst people of status—emperors included—who often kept young boys as servants and attendants. I find it hard to believe that such similar traditions developed on their own in such close geographic proximity, especially when you consider how much Japan borrowed from Chinese culture at the time.

Of course, we find the idea of these relationships upsetting now, but they were a reality of the time, so common in monasteries that no one gave them a second thought.

Now, while I will discuss nanshoku and homosexuality closely in the sections to come, I want to make it clear that homosexuality in adults was not caused by nanshoku—instead, it seems that the acceptance of homosexuality in Japan was tied to the initial apathy of the general public toward the practice, and vice versa. As such, the phenomenon bears examination.

Nanshoku and Homosexuality Amongst The Samurai


By the twelfth century, samurai had become the ruling class of Japan. Their numbers swelled from an initial 6,000 samurai in 1,200 AD to hundreds of thousands just a few centuries later. They adopted the tradition of nanshoku readily, largely due to two factors:

Buddhist Education

The samurai were known to respect the values of Buddhism. Because of this, samurai-class sons would typically be sent to monasteries to receive their education. Once there, many would enter into nanshoku with older monks. In this way, the idea of a romantic relationship between a man and a boy came to be considered normal, even optimal, amongst several generations of samurai.

Male:Female Ratio

During the warring states period (pre-1600s), samurai would be out on the warpath for long periods of time, surrounded almost entirely by men. Even after peace came with the Edo Era (post-1603), samurai were required to leave their home villages and live in castle cities to govern and prevent rebellion. As you might expect with this type of setup, there were far more men in these cities than women. As Saikaku Ihara wrote: “[Edo] was a city of bachelors … not unlike the monasteries of Mt. Koya.” This is a euphemistic way of describing Edo as a city with a thriving gay culture.

Wakashudō: The “Way Of Adolescent Boys”


As the samurai expanded their influence, they brought nanshoku out of the monasteries and into they cities. In their version, called wakashudō, prepubescent boys would be apprenticed to an older man. He would learn martial arts, life skills, and, if the boy agreed, be the man’s lover until he became an adult. This was formalized as a “brotherhood contract,” according to Leupp. It was considered to be an exclusive relationship, though many a drama is known to have come about due to the cheating of one party on the other.

According to Gregory Pflugfelder, author of Cartographies of desire: male–male sexuality in Japanese discourse, “the idea was that this wakashudō relationship should have a ‘mutually ennobling effect’ on the pair. They were expected to ‘assist each other in feudal duties in honor-driven obligations such as duels and vendettas. Although sex between the couple was expected to end when the boy came of age, the relationship would, ideally, develop into a lifelong bond of friendship. At the same time, sexual activity with women was not barred (for either party), and once the boy came of age, both were free to seek other wakashū lovers.”

It seems that the wakashudō relationship was “‘something both agreeable and disagreeable’ because ‘to throw away ones life [for one’s male lover] is the ultimate aim of shudō. Otherwise, it becomes something shameful. But then one has no life to give in service to one’s lord—so it is both agreeable and disagreeable.’”

Perhaps you can see from these excerpts how aspects of the “way of the samurai” were being worked into Buddhist tradition during this time. As to whether or not people actually believed in these ideals is up in the air, but there is no shortage of historical anecdotes that seem to suggest they did.

A Lot Of Writing

As wakashudō became the commonplace, we begin to see many more references to it in literature. Of course, authors tended to focus on well-known shoguns or famous warlords—Leupp compiled a list of powerful Japanese people who were known to have “beloved retainers”:

  • Shogun Minamoto Yoritomo
  • Shogun Ashikaga Takauji
  • Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu
  • Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimochi
  • Shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori
  • Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa
  • Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru
  • Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu
  • Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi
  • Shogun Tokugawa Ienobu
  • Shogun Tokugawa Ieshige
  • Shogun Tokugawa Ieharu
  • Shogun Tokugawa Ienari
  • Hosokawa Takakuni
  • Hosokawa Fujitaka
  • Takeda Shingen
  • Oda Nobunaga
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi
  • Toyotomi Hidetsugu
  • Uesugi Kenshin
  • Maeda Toshiie
  • Fukushima Masanori
  • Ogasawara Hidemasa
  • Miyamoto Musashi

(Yeah, that Miyamoto Musashi.)


There was also more general writing about nanshoku and wakashudō that didn’t center on any one political or military figure. We have records of letters between male samurai lovers, poetry, erotic tales… the list goes on and on. There was even a whole subgenre of gay literature devoted to “arguments on the relative merits of men and women”.

For example, in 1640 we see the Denbu Monogatari (The Boor’s Tale). In it, men are bathing in a river to escape the heat. They begin to debate whether the love of a boy or a woman is better. In the end (SPOILERS) the woman-loving side wins, but not before conceding that “male-male erotic pursuits are well suited to the higher circles of the warrior aristocracy”.

Another instance of this ongoing debate can be found in the mid-seventeenth century Iro Monogatari (Tale of Eros) where “an elderly arbiter, after hearing the impassioned arguments of the two sides, counsels that the wisest course is to follow both paths in moderation, thereby helping to prevent overindulgence in either.” In Nishizawa Ippuu’s 1708 Yakei Tomojamisen (Friendly Shamisen of Actors and Courtesans), as well, “a moderator ends the dispute by affirming the equal validity of both ‘ways,’ encouraging each party merely to be devout in his chosen discipline.”

One thing that struck me while reading some of the stories was the way people approached this argument. It’s as if male-male love and male-female love had nothing to do with each other—several other researchers on this topic have come to this conclusion, as well—and neither is judged as being” more acceptable”. Just because you like one doesn’t mean the other isn’t valid. Or, just because you choose one doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the other. It’s treated not much differently than comparing apples to bananas. You can like both. You can eat both. And if someone else doesn’t like bananas then that’s fine, but hopefully they’ve fully-committed themselves to apples, in that case.


Earlier, I mentioned the letters between samurai lovers. Here’s an excerpt from a love letter between Mashida Toyonoshin and Moriwaki Gonkuro, written in 1667.

I made my way at night to your distant residence a total of 327 times over the past three years. Not once did I fail to encounter trouble of some kind. To avoid detection by patrols making their nightly rounds, I disguised myself as a servant and hid my face behind my sleeve, or hobbled along with a cane and lantern dressed like a priest. No one knows the lengths I went to in order to meet you!

Talk about devotion!

There were guidebooks, too,theses on the “proper” way to engage in nanshoku and wakashudō relationships. One such guide was Saiseki (Silkworm Hatchling), written by an anonymous Buddhist monk in 1657. This manual included chapters with titles like: How People Fall in Love; On the Exchange of Glances, How to Answer the First Letter; Favorable and Unfavorable Replies, On Not Talking too Much; On Expressing Much Through Letters, On Taking One’s Leave to Return Home in the Morning, On Feeling Disgusted After One Encounter, On Serving as Nenja, When the Feeling Changes, On Bathing, On Corresponding Through a Messenger, On Wakashu Illnesses, On Various Matters of Etiquette, On Kissing, On Tissue Paper, On Purses on Bed Etiquette, On Smells, On Eyes, On Hair; On Nose Hair, etcetera. Apparently this was quite the popular seller.

Through these debates, stories, and guides, we see samurai and monks depicted as having male lovers, female lovers, boy lovers, and crossdressing lovers. Mostow, in The Gender of Wakashu and the Grammar of Desire, says it best when he concludes that “several works suggest that the most ‘envious’ situation would be to have both many [females] and many [boys].”

From the Samurai Class to the Middle Class


As I mentioned earlier, the Tokugawa Shogunate commanded that all samurai move to castle cities, lest they be stripped of their swords and class. This resulted in huge population booms in some areas. By 1700 AD, Edo had a population of over a million, making it one of the largest cities in the world. Kyoto and Osaka had nearly 400,000 people, and there were plenty of other big cities in Japan, as well. Considering that Edo had only around 60,000 people in the year 1600 AD, that’s an impressive jump. With this influx of people came a substantial need for infrastructure and labor. Peasants migrated to cities to fill this demand.

This was really the first time that there was so much interaction between the samurai and common people, and this meant that the latter group was being exposed to the ideas of nanshoku and wakashudō much more frequently than they had been before. Writing from this period indicated that they were impressed. Leupp compiled the following examples:

“Nanshoku,” according to the Nanshoku Yamaji No Tsuyu (Dew on the Mountain Path of Nanshoku, 1730), “is the flower of the military class.” The popular writer Ejima Kiseki (1667-1736) added, “Nanshoku is the pastime of the samurai. How could it be harmful to good government?” Similarly, a character in the early seventeenth century Denbu Monogatari (Tale of a Boor) argues that “it is precisely because jakudou is so refined that the daimyo from great families, and priests of high rank and office, usually favor this way.”

Wakashudō was seen as a high-class thing to do, so it’s only natural that we begin to see non-samurai emulating this behavior in big cities. Although technically of the lowest class, this trickle-down effect began with the merchants, as their wealth allowed them to take on servant boys and apprentices without worrying too much about the financial burden.

This, however, was not an option for everyone. The solution, of course, was to “rent” a lover. More from Leupp:

The commercialization of nanshoku greatly accelerated during the early Tokugawa period. The expansion of the market and the rise of the bourgeoisie produced both a vast labor market of male and female “sex workers” and a large demand for their services. […] so it witnessed a commodification not only of heterosexual pleasure but of homosexual pleasure as well.

Male prostitutes were in great demand, and their numbers grew rapidly. This meant that anyone, could simply pay for either heterosexual or homosexual sex if they so desired, samurai included. You see, as Japan entered a period of peace, training apprentices for war got to be a bother. On top of that, as the middle class grew, the samurai class became poorer, and their chigo became just another mouth to feed. It was easier for them to take their government-issued stipend to the nearest red-light district and simply pay for what they wanted, when they wanted it.

Soon, prostitution expanded out of brothels and into the theaters. Many amateur kabuki actors were actually just male prostitutes in disguise. These actors were highly sought-after by both men and women. When not on stage, they were likely in bed with a (paying) admirers. Because of this, kabuki troupes were closely associated with male prostitution.

With this, we finally reach the golden age of homosexuality in Japan, which lasted from 1650-1750 AD. Lewis Crompton, author of Homosexuality and Civilization says “it was a prosperous and ‘liberated’ age of extravagance and self-indulgence, infatuated with the refined and ephemeral beauty of the ‘floating world.'”

And boy was it.

It’s around this century that we start to see some of the most interesting writing and art on the topic of nanshoku and wakashudō. Perhaps the most famous is Ihara Saikaku’s Nanshoku Ōkagami (The Great Mirror of Male Love), written in 1687. It is a collection of 40 erotic stories, half of which are about samurai and monks, the other half about kabuki actors. To give you a taste, here are a couple of excerpts from Nanshoku Ōkagami.

The Tragic Love of Two Enemies

When the woman woke in the morning, they were both silent, lying in the same bed. She called her son: “Rise up, lazy boy!” But there was no answer. She went into the room and turned back the blanket which covered them, and saw that Shinosuke had pierced Senpatji’s heart with his sword passed through his own breast and out at his back.

His mother stood there for a long time overwhelmed at the sight of these two lovers’ bodies, and then, in her sorrow and distress, killed herself in the same room.

Fun fact: Did you know that the number one cause for revenge killings during this period was discord between two male lovers?

All Comrade Lovers Die by Seppuku

Then the Lord cut off his left hand and asked, “How do you feel, Korin?”

Korin held out his right hand and said, “With this hand I caressed and loved my lover. You must hate this hand a good deal also.”

The Lord at once cut that hand off. Then Korin turned his back to his master and said, “My back is very beautiful. No other page was as attractive as I am. Look at my beauty before I die.” His voice was weak and low through the mortal pain he was enduring. Then the Lord cut off his head and, holding it in his hands, wept bitter tears for the death of his favorite.

Read the whole thing yourself, if you want. Despite being fiction, it gives a lot of perspective on everything you’ve read up to now. If human civilization had ended in the 1800s and all aliens had to go on was Nanshoku Ōkagami, they’d still have a pretty accurate picture of what  went on in Japan during this period.

With male-male love becoming so mainstream and accessible, wakashudō became less and less relevant. At the same time we see a sharp rise in prostitution houses with boys and male lovers. We also see chigo partners in nanshoku relationships getting older, too. As long as men retained a “youthful appearance”, they could remain prostitutes into their twenties and thirties.

Of course, this situation couldn’t last forever. After nanshoku’s peak in the early 1700s, the demand for male prostitutes begins to decline. Leupp writes:

[C]ity government crackdowns on prostitution took their toll; in each of the three great reform periods (the Kyouhou Reform, 1716-1735; Kansei Reform, 1787-1793; and Tenpou Reform, 1841-1843) urban authorities attacked commercial sex, “lewd” art and literature, and extravagance in general. In 1842 all of Edo’s teahouses were closed in the course of Mizuno Tadakuni’s reform efforts, and the kabuki theaters of Sakai-cho, Fukiya-cho, and Kobiki-cho were forced to move to a ward on the city’s outskirts, Saruwaka-cho, in a section of Edo known as Asakusa. (In Osaka, meanwhile, kabuki-troupe directors were forbidden to send out boy-actors and prostitutes.) Homosexual prostitution was not the main target of this movement, and, like most elements in Mizuno’s reform package, the ban does not seem to have been wholly effective.

These crackdowns made it more difficult for male prostitutes to do business. This, coupled with the fact that more and more women were coming to the cities—by the Meiji Era the ratio of men to women was nearly even—signaled a marked decline in open male-male sexual activity. Then, in 1859, Japan opens its ports to foreigners, and things change even more drastically.

Becoming “Modern”


The shift from homosexual acceptance to homosexual condemnation happened in-step with the Meiji Restoration, foreign influence being a key factor. The ruling elite of this time agreed that they must emulate the West as much as possible. In doing so, they hoped to avoid the fate of China and India, modernize, and become equals with the Western powers.

As you now know, homosexuality was extremely common and open at this time. Plus, there was much popular writing, not to mention (very) lewd art, being circulated too. None of this was a secret.

With the opening of Japan this became a big topic. Newspapers both in Japan and abroad called for the criminalization of male-male relationships. The ruling elite soon agreed, announcing that “same-sex love was ‘unnatural’.”

Opinions like this certainly helped facilitate Japan’s transition into a more homophobic stance. But, they wasn’t the only cause. Leupp writes:

“Thus, Western cultural influence was a major factor in the decline of the nanshoku tradition. But surely this decline also reflects the collapse of the feudal structure that had shaped the development of male homosexuality in Japan. As we have seen, Japan’s nanshoku tradition was not unique in dignifying both partners in role-structure homosexual relationships; […] Such relationships were rooted in, and mirrored, the lord-retainer bond. Even male prostitutes developed in ways that reflected feudal values and institutions. With the fall of the feudal order, these values and institutions were for the most part either weakened or eradicated.”

Values at this time shifted rapidly, with gay culture being increasingly pushed to the fringes of society.

“Nanshoku rapidly moved from the center stage of popular culture to its margins. Homosexual desire was no longer celebrated in literature, theater, and art; rather, it was discouraged as one of the ‘evil customs’ of the past, a national embarrassment given attitudes in the modern West. The concept of of nanshoku-zuki gave way to the German concept of the urning—one suffering from a peculiar psychological disorder. Such an environment was less conductive to the generation of male-male sexual desire than that of Tokugawa Japan; males became less likely to experience, and even less likely to act upon, such desire.”

It seems incredible that a nation once so open to the idea of homosexuality could change its mind so quickly. It makes me wonder whether Japan could make a similar shift back in the direction of LGBT acceptance now. As I hinted at earlier, this will be the subject of an upcoming article, so stay tuned. Until then, if you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend you read my main sources for this article. They are:

Bonus Wallpapers!

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The Day I Met A Japanese Superhero

I never expected to meet a Japanese superhero. We were both at the Tsutenkaku, a famous tower in Osaka, though our goals were completely separate. I was there to learn more about the life of an idol otaku by watching a show by Hamburgirl-Z, a local idol group. The superhero was there to shake hands and meet his fans. Between shows, they stood together so I could snap a picture.

rapi:tldier and hamburgirl z team up

As I watched our blue suited hero interact with fans and pose for pictures, it dawned on me. I had seen him before. It was in a YouTube video that I came across while doing research for another Tofugu article. Trust me, you’ll want to watch this.

As one YouTube commenter so aptly said: “This is officially so bad that it’s good.”

Between shows, I walked up to the Rapi:tldier and gave him my business card. I told him I might write about today’s event. We chatted a little bit, and I promised to show them the article when I was done. That night, after I arrived home, I opened up my laptop. Waiting for me was an email from the Rapi:tldier team, saying they were looking forward to the article. I replied to ask if it would be possible to conduct an interview with the Rapi:tldier himself. “Of course!” they replied almost immediately. We scheduled a time for the meeting and I began my pre-interview research.

First, the basics.

The Rapi:tldier is a ranger-esque super hero modeled after the Rapi:t Train Line in Osaka, which runs between the Kansai International Airport and Namba Station in Osaka Japan. Apparently, “Rapi:t” comes from the German word for “rapid.” It looks like this.

rap:it the train to Osaka

That retro-style design won Wakabayashi Hiroyuki the Blue Ribbon Prize in 1995. If you are in the Kansai International Airport (or need to go there) you can reserve yourself a ticket and ride it.

Our superhero friend, the Rapi:tldier, is based off this train. I’ll let him explain his design in more detail when I talk to him, but I think you can see the similarities, especially in the helmet.

Rapi:tldier the japanese superhero

I read up on the infamous video as well.

When the film was in its planning stages, there was a shared vision regarding the quality of it. It was intended to be great. But after its release, the video became famous for the opposite reason.

The Nankai Electric Railway employees wrote the screenplays, did the acting, shooting, made the props and wardrobe, and created all the computer graphics. None of them had made movies or acted before and their budget was small. Despite their hard work, they weren’t able to make the video they originally envisioned. Still, the spirit with which it was created is felt from start to finish. That’s why it’s no surprise when the Rapi:tldier team expressed to me:

“While our video quality is low, our hearts and spirits will never be beaten by anyone. We are really passionate.”

And, they brought that passion to the interview as well.

It was two weeks after the Tsutenkaku Tower event, where I originally met Rapi:tldier. I was told I should come to the Nankai Electric Railway headquarters for the interview. I gave my name at the front desk, and the receptionist gave me a floor and office number where Rapi:tldier waited. Faced with such formality, I expected the person waiting for me would be dressed in suit and tie.

But, upon entering the meeting room (which was amusingly labeled “The Osaka Secret Police Office”) I saw Rapi:tldier in full costume. He had come to the interview wearing his complete ranger suit. He was sitting next to the supervisor of the Rapi:tldier team. I made sure to snap some evidence that I was actually about to interview the Rapi:tldier himself!

Interview with Rapi:tldier the Japanese train superhero

It felt like my smile was attempting to leap off my face when we did our introductions. I was so surprised, and a little giddy, that Rapi:tldier had chosen to wear his suit.

After our konnichiwas were complete, we sat down at the table. In a Japanese-style meeting, the seat of honor is the seat closest to the alcove, called the toko-no-ma (床の間), while the less desirable seats are those closest to the entrance. This custom still remains in Japan, especially in business, and customers usually sit down in the seat furthest from the door. Thus, following the formalities, Rapi:tldier encouraged me to take the seat of honor. What a gentleman!

It was at this point when I recognized that I had been granted something special, and I knew this was going to be an interesting experience. Making sure they were aware of my appreciation I said, “Thank you so much for this interview opportunity today.” Then I quickly added, “and also thank you for safe-guarding Oasaka for all the tourists.” Rapi:tldier’s facial expression was indistinguishable behind his mask, but to me it seemed like he smiled a bit.

“So, could you tell me your story? How Rapi:tldier was created?” I asked.

Rapi:tlder looked at his supervisor and calmly nodded. At first I thought this was for permission to speak, but it was the other way around. The supervisor turned to me and explained in Rapi:tldier’s stead.

“At the end of last year, the evil goblin Gokibler arrived in Osaka to conquer the world using this city as his central hub. Thus, the Osaka Secret Police (a.k.a. the Nankai Electric Railway) developed a cyborg soldier, Rapi:tldier, to defeat the goblin. Our team started making Rapi:tldier in November 2014. It took us three months and he was finally unveiled on February 16, 2015.”

Rapi:tldier the Japanese superhero with Rapi:t his trusty train friend

“It only took three months?” I wasn’t sure if they were referring to how long it took to design the character, or if they were still telling the story of a cyborg’s creation.

“Yeah, and at that time we, the members of the project team, were so incredibly busy,” the boss replied. “We even had to get permission for his look from the Rapi:t design team.”

Seems like he was talking about designing the character.

“As you can see, he is the representative hero of our train Rapi:t. The pattern of his cape is the same as those on the Rapi:t seats. The design of his belt is the same as the necktie of Nankai Electric Railway staff. The buckle bears the the company logo. And his face resembles the train engine itself. However, we don’t own the rights to the appearance of the train. The original designer does, so we needed his permission.”

“How did you come to design your hero the way that you did?” I asked.

“Actually, Rapi:tldier was originally given a mouth. The Rapi:t train is dark blue and, to us, that seemed like a color more suited for a villain. So I wanted to add a smiling mouth to make him appear friendly. But unfortunately that idea was not accepted by the designer and we had to remove it. It wasn’t as big of a problem as I had originally felt it to be because Rapi:tldier wound up being cool looking anyway. In a way it’s good,” he said while tapping Rapi:tldier on the back, “…because at least now he doesn’t have to worry about eating food. You see, all of his energy comes from batteries.” He looked kind of proud about this fact. I considered taking bacon out of my purse and eating it in front of the Rapi:tldier to see if he’d take his helmet off out of hunger but decided against it.

Rapi:tldier the Japanese superhero driving Rapi:t the train to Osaka

Although Rapi:tldier doesn’t have a mouth, he is still able to speak. In the video, you’ll hear him confirm orders by saying, “Roger.” He also talked to me in the interview, of course.

When I asked what kind of things Rapi:tldier actually does, Rapi:tldier quickly chimed in. “I protect the security of Osaka and keep it peaceful so that tourists can travel around Osaka without any worries!” he said, striking a heroic pose.

The Rapi:tldier team belongs to the Tourism Department of Nankai Electric Railway, so he was created for the benefit of tourists that come to Osaka. He even appears at tourism events in countries other than Japan. Rapi:tldier told me that’s why he learned English, as well as greetings in other languages for when he goes to non-English speaking countries.

When not touring the world, Rapi:tldier patrols Osaka and also introduces great sightseeing spots to people in need. If there’s an incident, he takes the Rapi:t train to get there and he never forgets to buy a ticket either, as seen in the video. You’d think that his superhero status would come with some perks.

“So you are like a PR officer for tourism, then?” I suggested.

Rapi:tldier nodded his head in approval. But he also thought it was important to clarify that his main priority is to keep Osaka’s peace and protect it from the evil goblin. Another heroic pose, this one from a sitting position.

“And you have allies that assist you in your efforts to maintain the peace?” I added. “I saw them patrolling alongside you in the video. Could you tell us about them, too?”

Rapi:tldier the Japanese train superhero posing with a friend

Rapi:tldier slowly raised his hand in the air, “Sure,” he said with force before snapping his fingers twice in the direction of his supervisor. The supervisor opened a pamphlet he had been holding. “Here are all the characters in the video,” he stated while showing me this image:

The Cast of Rapi:tldier

He continued, “Actually, all the actors and actresses in the video work in this very building. We couldn’t get enough people to take part, so some people played multiple roles, some of which aren’t seen in this picture.

“Doctor H is another supervisor at Nankai. Pole M was named after her hobby in real life, pole dancing. She is actually an amateur pole dancing champion. Sometimes there are personnel changes at the company and, sadly, Idol ‘Yumi’ is no longer on our team.”

I offered my sympathies by saying, “That’s too bad. She seemed to be an important person in the story.”

He nodded, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, there’s not much we can do about it now. Like Snoopy once said, ‘You play with the cards you’re dealt,’ right? From that point on, we put forth all of our effort.”

I didn’t expect a Peanuts quote.

“When a door closes, a window is opened. If someone leaves, someone new will come. There are new characters in the second video and they might appear more in the new videos, so please watch for them.”

“I look forward to it!” I excitedly replied. And I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was really moved by their passion for their films, but I wanted to learn more about the people themselves. “You said you’d put forth all your effort, but what is it that Rapi:tldier actually does out there?” I asked.

Again Rapi:tldier took it upon himself to answer. “First, I exercise everyday to keep myself healthy.”

Rapi:tldier trains for his next battle with evil

“Oh, you mean that exercise?” I said knowingly. At the Tsutenkaku Tower event, I saw Rapi:tlider do an exercise called “Nankai Taisou.”

“That’s right,” he replied with gusto. “I love Osaka, but my health is the most important thing for me if I want to keep guarding its people.”

He said all this with a seriousness that we couldn’t help but find funny. We all had a good laugh.

“All kidding aside,” the supervisor said, “Rapi:tldier does work out and sometimes we post the pictures on Facebook. We want to tell children that Rapi:tldier is strong not only because he’s a cyborg, but also because he puts in a lot of effort to better himself. After all, we are just ordinary workers and can’t do somersaults or other cool tricks. But if we exercise and work hard, we’ll be able to do them in the future.”

“Very good. So you also try to convey a positive message to children. What about special powers or abilities? Does he have something like that?”

Rapi:tldier piped up again, “I’m good at sword fighting with my electric sword. I do 真剣白刃取り(shinken-shiraha-dori) too,” he said while waving his lightning bolt sword around. “I also have a ‘wheel cutter’ which I throw like a shurkien. On top of that, in the video you’ll see me doing a lot of pro-wrestling moves against Gokibler’s henchmen.”

Rapi:tldier the Japanese superhero punches

“So, you are training hard to become a better hero, but are there other heroes you try to emulate, or do you have rivals that you compete with?” I asked.

The supervisor fielded the question this time. “We went to the Robot restaurant in Tokyo to study. But we wanted Rapi:tldier to be unique, to be the one and only hero of his kind. So we intentionally avoided emulating other heroes.

“One rival, perhaps,is Inunakin from Izumisano Osaka. He was created by the manga artist behind Kinniku-man, Mr. Yudetamago. We happen to be good friends with him. We meet at events from time to time and we learn from each other so we can progress.

“A really big rival, however, is Kumamon. As you probably know, there are so many mascot characters called ‘yurukyara‘ in Japan. Nankai Electric Railway actually has its own mascot character named Rapi:t-kun, but it was difficult for him to stand out among all the other mascot stars out there.

“Most yurukyara are really cute, so we wanted to steer clear of that when creating Rapi:tldier. In that sense, the true rivals of Rapi:tldier are those yurukyara, and so our truest rival is the king of yurukyara – Kumamon!”

I felt my face flash a smirk as I briefly imagined a massive fight between all the mascots of Japan. Would it be every mascot for themselves, or would they band together to form sides? I wondered who would be chosen as the generals…

Rapi:tldier the Japanese superhero swings on a swing set

Kumamon is such a cute mascot. With Rapi:tldier being a cool, fighting hero, it sounds like a mismatched rivalry. I shook my head out of the bizarre day dream and got back on track.

“Are there any stories you’ve never told anyone?” I asked.

The supervisor nodded. “Well, this part is not a secret, but Nankai Electric company used to own a baseball team, called The Nankai Hawks. They are the Softbank Hawks now, but there are still old fans of that team and Rapi:tldier is one of them. Every once in a while, The Softbank Hawks pay homage to the former team by playing a game in the old Nankai Hawks uniforms. We are hoping to one day throw the opening pitch at one of those games.”

He leaned forward with a small smirk. “Now this is the secret part: we secretly put the Nankai Hawks logo on the back of the Rapi:tldier helmet.” The supervisor seemed pleased to finally confide in someone.

Interview with Rapi:tldier the Japanese train superhero

“An opening pitch,” I exclaimed, “would be fantastic, wouldn’t it? Tofugu loves baseball and I bet that my boss and coworkers would love the story! What about stories related to the actual filming of the video? Anything worth mentioning there?” I asked.

“Well, the first video was actually shot during the winter,” the supervisor began. “But the story was meant to take place in the summer. In one of the scenes, we’re all shown eating soft serve ice cream, but it was so incredibly cold that day. You’d never imagine eating ice cream to be a form of torture,” he joked.

“On the other hand, being inside the Rapi:tldier costume can actually get really hot, especially when we are shooting a running scene. The helmet’s visor fogs up when eating ramen, so he could barely see in front of himself. He had to rely on his instincts to avoid running into Osakans while shooting those scenes,” he said with a hearty laugh.

“What else…?” he pondered. “Oh, at the end of the first show, there is an epic fight scene. One of Gokibler’s underlings is actually ‘Pole M.’ Remember, I mentioned earlier that she is an amateur champion in pole dancing? So I thought she would have excellent reflexes and would be perfect for the ‘ippon-seoi’ (a one-arm grab, over the shoulder throw) stunt. She hit her knee really badly on the ground and got a really nasty looking bruise. God, I felt so bad. Poor Pole M. She’s fine now though,” he said with a disapproving shake of his head. It was evident he cared for his coworkers.

I cringed and clenched my jaw. “Ouch! That sounds so painful!”

Namba station in Osaka

Finally I got to the question I’d been dying to ask. I was ready to find out what all this Rapi:tldier business was about.

“Now that we’ve all learned about Rapi:tldier, his birth and his secrets, I have to ask, what is your ultimate goal?” I questioned.

The supervisor leaned forward placing his elbows on the desk and said, “The goal is to conquer the world.”

Even Rapi:tldier himself was taken by surprise, “What? Conquer the world?” the blue hero asked.

In that moment I could see Rapi:tldier’s internal programming struggling to quantify this statement. I almost expected him to say “does not compute” and blow a circuit. But what is a cyborg to do when he realizes that his supervisor is actually the enemy?

The supervisor quickly snickered, “Nah. Just kidding. Our goal is to make people want to ride Rapi:t. Right now, the train is just a way of getting around. But we want the train itself to become the reason why people ride it.”

Rapi:t the train from Kansai Airport to Osaka

It’s a good idea, I thought to myself. “So you want to make the train one of the attractions that people make a point of seeing when they go sightseeing?” I asked.

“That’s right. Like Rapi:tldier himself, the train Rapi:t is also really unique. It’s filled with things that represent the spirit and culture of Osaka. For example, the design of the seats are all leopard skin pattern because Osakan oba-chans (middle aged women) tend to wear animal patterned shirts for some reason. There are also vending machines inside and spaces for wheelchairs,” he added.

The Rapi:tldier helmet stored in an overhead bin on Rapi:t the train

“We also have overhead compartments for storing luggage, like airplanes do,” the supervisor continued. “And all 252 seats on the train are reserved, so you can travel really comfortably. If you want more luxury, there are super seats available for an extra fee,” he mentioned.

“That’s cool,” I remarked. I told him that I flew in to Kansai airport because Air Canada started a new flight to Vancouver. But I didn’t use the Rapi:t because my parents came to pick me up. I wish I could have.

“Well, you still could,” he stated happily. “Like I said, that’s our goal. We want people to ride on Rapi:t for the joy of it, and not to just use it as a way to get around.”

Rapi:tldier the Japanese superhero invites you to ride Rapi:t the train

I still haven’t tried Rapi:t and I feel bad. But I’ll definitely try it the next time I go to Japan.

As for the details of Rapi:t’s awesomeness, please check out this site and Rapi:tldier will guide you. And Nankai Electric Railway is really welcoming to foreign tourists. They installed a prayer room for people from the Islamic community who visit the station. It’s the first one among all the stations run by Osaka’s railway companies.

Rapi:tldier Loves Tofugu Readers

Rapi:tldier the Japanese train superhero poses with Mami from Tofugu

“Thank you so much for the interview,” I remarked.

They both stood up and said, “You are very welcome,” at the same time.

“Before we leave…,” I pushed, “I have a final question: do you have a message for the Tofugu readers?”

Rapi:tdlier beamed through his mask, “I’m going to work hard, so please root for me! I want to be a world renowned hero.”

His supervisor went next saying, “We have a Facebook page called ‘Rapi:tldier Mania.’ We use it to interact with fans. So, please, check it out, like it, and post whatever you think about Rapi:t, Rapi:tldier, or Osaka.

“Also, there are hidden jokes in the Rapi:tldier videos. For example, if you look at the amounts listed as the rewards on all of the wanted posters, they are so cheap, except for one. There are a lot of  ‘boke/ぼけ’ in the Rapi:tldier series and I want you to find them and post them on our Facebook page as ‘tsukkomi.’”

For those who don’t know, “boke” and “tsukkomi” are a Japanese comedy terms. “Boke” refers to jokes or a funny person who makes jokes. “Tsukkomi” refers to the person who reacts to boke jokes. It’s very similar to the “straight man/funny man” concept in Western comedy tradition.

“Okay, great!” I said. “That sounds like fun! Thank you so much for today!” I concluded.

Rapi:tldier and the supervisor escorted me to the elevator. As the doors were closing, they both bowed and wished me a fond farewell, a politeness I’m sure people will experience if they ride on Rapi:t. Thanks for a keeping a watchful eye on Osaka for us, gentlemen.

Oh, and the answer is yes, they did make a second episode.

Bonus Wallpapers!

[Desktop ∙ 5120×2880 / 1280×720]


Aburaya – Original Edo Period Inn in Haibara, Nara

Aburaya is the name of this old fashioned hatago (旅籠) which means “inn” in Japanese. This particular hatago is located in Haibara, Nara. A man named Motoori Norinaga once stayed here. He was a famous otaku and Kokugaku scholar (student of Japanese classics) from the Edo period. He stopped at this hatago on his way to and from Yoshino, Nara for cherry blossom viewing in 1772.

entrance of aburaya an original edo period inn in nara japan

Unfortunately, the business at this inn came to a halt near the end at the end of Meiji period (1868-1912). But it remains almost exactly as it used to be. And you can look around the old building for free! Not too shabby if you’re a history buff. Let’s pop in and see what Edo period otaku liked so much.

tatami room at an original edo period inn

When you enter, there is a doma (土間), which means dirt floor hallway. It stretches on in front of you from the entrance. On the right there is a tatami room, called a misenoma (店の間/見せの間). You can take your shoes off and step up into the room, if you want. But I didn’t want to. So instead, I continued straight down the dirt floor hallway in front of me.

well in a kitchen at aburaya in haibara nara

I came across a well…

ceiling of kitchen at an edo period inn

And a kitchen. The ceiling is really high and there is an open space at the top. I’m guessing was made that way so smoke could ventilate out.

stairs at aburaya in haibara nara japan

Eventually, you’ll find this super steep staircase. If you climb it, you might expect to see an attic or storage area of some sort. But you’d be wrong. Can you guess what this upstairs was used for?

dining area at aburaya an Edo Period Inn

It’s a dining hall. At Aburaya, they have tables tables set the way they were in the Edo period. You can sit there all you want, but no one will bring you food. But those hungry for historical accuracy will leave satisfied.

lots of information about an Edo Period Inn

Apparently, their food was truly outstanding back in the days of the shogun. At one point, a religious association came to stay here on their trip from present-day Shido, Sanuki City, Kagawa prefecture. One of them loved the food so much, he kept the details of his meals in his diary.

Edo Period Inn sign outside

Well, that’s about it for this place. Are you disappointed? Me too. It wasn’t that much fun for me unfortunately.

However, this place was a really important during the Edo and Meiji periods. It was a really popular overnight destination for those traveling to Ise shrine on pilgrimage. Aburaya Inn was located right in front of Ise-Omote-Kaido Road and Ise-Hon-Kaido Road. Its placement was ideal for people on a pilgrimage because both of those roads led to Ise. Of course, there were no trains or cars back then, so it took days to get to there. Thus, many people would spend a night or two at this inn thus making Haibara a post-station, or post-town, to many weary travelers.

Edo Period Inn Rating

  • Uniqueness: 5/10 – Since there aren’t many inns from the Edo period still around, this place is rather unique. Basically, it was a simple inn back in the day and it remains just as simple today.
  • Fun: 1/10 – Although it was free, there weren’t many things to look at, at least in my opinion. And I barely felt any excitement.
  • Accessibility: 6/10 – It is a 5-minute walk from Kintetsu Haibara station, which is a small countryside station in Nara prefecture. It’s about an hour-long train ride from the bigger stations such as Kintetsu, Nara or Osaka, Namba.
  • Overall: 3/10 – It was quite boring. I’m certain that there are a select few out there that would find this place interesting. But I am not one of those people. I only visited this place because it was close to my parents’ house. I don’t really recommend going there unless you are a history or architecture buff.


Rating: 3/10

Edo Period Inn Access

  • Address: 2672-1 Haibarahagihara Uda City, Nara Prefecture 633-0253
  • Telephone: 0745-88-9418
  • Website: Be serious.