Strange Katakana Words Words you may have trouble deciphering

    slide that says how to sound fluent in japanese using katakana

    Why, it was just yesterday that I teamed up with Koichi to kick some Katakana butt on edufire. A rather special class, it was – none of your usual vocabulary fluff. We’re talking real, useful katakana and it’s guaranteed to knock the Christmas socks off any native Japanese speaker when they hear you, or Tofugu isn’t a wonky bean-curd fishman! So, let’s get stuck right in to this 2-part blog post – Gakuranman x Tofugu – Fluency through Katakana Special!

    I went for a vintage look with the slides – what do you reckon? Is the ‘Fugu a classic fish yet or still wet around the gills?

    pale yellow powerpoint slide explaining romaji hiragana katakana kanji

    So, there are four Japanese alphabets, but you already knew that, right? For those of you just starting out, let me explain:

    Romaji – Simply Japanese written with the English alphabet. Steer well clear of this lest you want to end just floundering around in Japan. You’ll need to be able to read the signs, so at a bear minimum you should learn the hiragana and katakana alphabets.

    Hiragana – The Sexy Alphabet. For Sexy People. Why? Because it’s curvaceous, dynamic and feminine. Well, not really feminine, but I like to think of it as so ;). So soft and curly.

    Katakana – Hard, angular and rough. The natural masculine alphabet, right? You’ll notice that the strokes are generally straighter and the letters more rigid.

    Kanji – And kanji, everyone’s favourite, originating from China. Be thankful that it’s Japanese you’re studying – the Chinese need to learn about 10,000 kanji in contrast to Japan’s 3000 basic kanji!

    the katakana alphabet in chart on powerpoint slide

    And here is above, just for your reference. The amazing katakana alphabet!

    katakana explanation slide

    Now we’re getting to the meat of it! There are so many uses for katakana, you can’t even count them on one hand! You probably know that it’s generally used for writing foreign words, but what else? Perhaps you know it’s for emphasising words too? Good! But there are more uses, oh yes! It’s used to write onomatopoeia, those lovely buzz-words that sound just like they’re written, as well as scientific and medical terms that have kanji that are simply to difficult to waste time remembering. You’ll also find that katakana is used to write people’s names, joins two words together and generally compresses everything down into one tiny little word. The most popular type are the 4-syllable words!

    The examples on the intro slide are nice and basic:

    • zabon ズボン – Trousers (or for you Americans who can seem to distinguish between underwear and trousers, I guess you’d call them pants).
    • pinpon ピンポン – Ping-Pong! The sound of a doorbell.
    • chuu チョウ – Very/Super/Extra – an emphatic word.
    • homusapiensu ホモ・サピエンス – Homo Sapiens. Us, basically.
    • wanpeesu ワンピース – A one-piece dress. Two words combined.
    • pasocon パソコン – A PC (personal computer). Two words combined and shortened into a classic 4-syllable marvel.
    slide describing how katakana is foreign

    So what’s first? Foreign Barbarians of course! All of the following words come from various countries. Bonus points and Tofugu-shaped cookies to those readers who can identify which word comes form which country in the comment below!

    • piero ピエロ – Clown. Like em or loath em?
    • arubaito アルバイト – Part time work. This word is used a lot in Japan.
    • kureemu クレーム – A claim or complaint about something.
    • sain サイン – A sign. No, no. Not that kind of sign… The signature, autograph kind!
    • jyokki ジョッキ – A beer-mug. Perplexing.
    • chakku チャック – A zip. Ever forget to do yours up?
    • sunakku スナック – A…snack?? Nope, this is a Snack Bar in Japan. Usually a place where men go to drink and chat to the owners and often women who work there.
    • kyasutaa キャスター – A newscaster. Need good vocals for this job.
    • konsento コンセント – You’ll never get my consent to marry my daughter! Not quite…this consent is a mains plug that you stick in the wall.
    • shiiru シール – Stickers! I must get some Gakuranman ones made…
    • uirusu ウイルス – A virus. Used a lot in the media recently with all the chatter of flu.
    • doraibaa ドライバー – A screwdriver! Who would have thought…
    alt tag

    Here’s some more. Just so many to choose from!

    • toranpu トランプ – Cards (Trump cards). Anyone ever played trumps?
    • baikingu バイキング – Oh-ho. Those dastardly Vikings. But no, this means an ‘all-you-can-eat’ restaurant.
    • manto マント – A cloak or a cape. Interesting, I could have sworn it was Tofugu’s arch nemesis, Manta-ray!
    • manshon マンション – An upper-market apartment. Not a mansion.
    • anke-to アンケート – A questionnaire!
    • hocchikisu ホッチキス – A…hot kiss? Hah, you wouldn’t want to kiss this. It means a stapler.
    • noruma ノルマ – A quota (business term, I think).
    • panku パンク – Not a punk rocker unfortunately, but a puncture.
    • furonto フロント – The front of a hotel. A.k.a reception desk.
    • meiku メイク – Koichi’s personal favorite. Makeup.
    • renji レンジ – A range of..? Nope, microwave I’m afraid.
    • rentogen レントゲン – An x-ray. Woo.
    alt tag

    Okay, so let’s check out some hot little onomatopoeia. Ka-ching!

    • pechakucha ペチャクチャ – A rabble of chattering grannies.
    • pikapika ピカピカ – Shiny and sparkly. Most likely where the yellow poke-rat got his name.
    • panpan パンパン – A bloated full stomach. Go figure.
    • kogukogu コグコグ – To drink in gulps and gulps.
    • nikoniko ニコニコ – *Grin*
    • perapera ペラペラ – (Italian Voice) I’m-a so pera-pera. Means fluent!
    • wahuwahu フワフワ – Floaty-light or airy. Also used to describe sickness when you feel faint or drunk.
    • punpun プンプン – Ever seen those cute Japanese girls that fail trying to look angry by puffing their cheeks out? Yup, that’s pun-pun. Anger.
    • butsubutsu ブツブツ – Mumble-mumble-mumble. Sources say Koichi does this a lot.
    • dondon ドンドン – Rapidly. We’ve gotta get going! Up the pace!
    • gerogero ゲロゲロ – Ribbit-ribbit. I love frogs. Anyone know if there are any frogs that are bioluminescent?
    • pakupaku パクパク – Chomp-chomp. Munch-much.

    Well, how are you doing back there? There are some pretty tricky words here, but don’t let them faze you if you are having trouble keeping up! When you’re ready for more, head on over to Gakuranman.com for the continuation and find out splendid words like ‘a flash of pants’, ‘handsome middle-aged man’, ‘close physical contact’ and the euphemism for being fired!

    But that’s not all! The second part to this Katakana Special can be found here on Gakuranman.com: Unusual Katakana Words

    Michael is the author of a fantastic blog called Gakuranman (schoolboy coat man), who writes about Japan, bioluminescence, and how to learn Japanese. Of course, when he isn’t looking at colorful sea creatures, you can even find him on hanging out with neon birds on Twitter. If you missed our fantastic live class, be sure to catch us next time by signing up at eduFire!