Ready to enter the crazy world of Japanese slang?
Before you do, here’s my disclaimer: some of these Japanese slang words are NSFW. They’re also not to be used lightly in every conversation, but to be used appropriately with close friends and peers.
Japanese slang is often hard to learn. It’s almost never taught in textbooks (and what they list as “slang” is really just casual speech, or very outdated). Because Japanese is such a polite language, there’s sometimes a misconception that slang isn’t used often. But, Japanese actually boasts tons of slang words!
It’s hard to teach slang because the words are often blended from a long string of other words or pop culture references. Celebrities influence slang, the internet morphs new shorthand every day, and Japan is notorious for shortening and combining words.
Even more than that, depending on the region of Japan, you’ll hear quite a difference in tones, sentence endings, and various new slang only spoken in that region.
But understanding slang is key to having a deeper understanding of the language and sounding like a native. So, below are some common Japanese slang words, phrases, and swear words you’ll hear. I’ve also included some that are exclusive to Tokyo-ben (Tokyo dialect) and Kansai-ben (Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe dialect), which are two of the most common dialects spoken in Japan.
Everyday Japanese Slang
Most Japanese slang is used for descriptions, greetings, and outbursts of emotion. Unlike English, there aren’t too many slang terms to call other people (at least not ones that are nice to say). You won’t really find a translation for “dude,” for instance. To be slangy with nicknames, you would typically shorten someone’s name and add a cute honorific (or omit the honorific altogether).
This is part of why slang is so hard to translate and learn: you won’t find a direct translation between languages, you have to learn them by context.
But these slang words can be heard everyday around Japan, especially among the younger generation. You’ll hear them often in Japanese dramas and reality shows, too! So they’re easy to pick up and use and sound very natural.
A quick grammar note: slang words can often be written in either hiragana or katakana, but if it’s an i-adjective, the “i” is often written in hiragana, even if the rest of the word is in katakana. That’s because adjectives can be conjugated, and the part that gets conjugated is the “i.” You’ll see them written in either kana, though, and both are correct.
Anway, with all that in mind, here are some Japanese slang words to get you started:
やばい can mean… anything. It covers everything from “terrible”, “ridiculous”, and “crappy” to “amazing” and “awesome.” Its literal meaning is “dangerous,” but is used like “wicked” in English. It could be both good and bad.
This one is incredibly common in everyday speech all around Japan. You’ll also hear it shortened to ヤバ (yaba) often, especially by men.
This is the short, slangy form of the adjective うるさい (urusai), which means to be “annoyingly noisy.” When it’s shortened to ウザイ, though, it takes on a bit of a stronger meaning like “what a pain” or “pain in the ass.” (Although not as rude as using that phrase in English.) It can also be used to describe someone gloomy, with an Eeyore-like personality from Winnie the Pooh. It’s used to express frustration with other people or situations, and it’s often used online as well.
This one is short for 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui), which means something gives you a “bad feeling.” 気持ち悪い is often used to describe any kind of bad feeling, like feeling sick or sad. It can also be used to describe something that repulses you.
As for キモい, it only means “gross,” “disgusting,” or “ew.” You can use it as an exclamation like “Ew!” or say キモいだね (kimoi da ne) to say it’s “Disgusting, right?”
イケメン is used to talk about good-looking men with a very specific style. They’re usually well dressed, intelligent, and slender, with husky voices and aloof personalities. Think of this as Japan’s version of “tall, dark, and handsome.”
It’s often used to talk about celebrities, but any man can be regarded as イケメン. It comes from the word ikeru for “cool” and menzu for the English-derived word for “men.”
マジ or マジで (maji de) is used as an exclamation of “Seriously?!” or “For real?!” It comes from the word 真面目 (majime) which means “serious.”
This is an interesting slang term because it acknowledges just how deep we’ve gone into the digital era. We don’t have a term like this in English! リア充 means is a portmanteau word for “real world”, リアルワールド (riaru wa-rudo), and “satisfied”, 充実 (juujitsu).
It’s used to describe people who would rather be out in the real world, enjoying life. Or, who are satisfied with their real life rather than an online persona. It’s the opposite of オタク, which means someone who is a nerd, an introvert, or a homebody who is dependent on their persona online.
If you want a greeting closest to “What’s up, dude?” or “Yo, man!”… Well, this is it. It’s a shortened form of the greeting おはようございます (Ohayou gozaimasu, “Good morning”). It’s kind of like surfer-speak, and it’s used by guys to greet each other.
半端ない (hanpa nai)
This one is used the same way やばい is. It means “insane,” “kickass,” “awesome,” or “outrageous.” The word hanpa itself means “halfway” or “unfinished.” Since it’s used in its negative form with nai, you’re saying something’s “not half-assed, it’s whole-assed.” And therefore, it’s amazing.
This one comes from the Japanese onomatopoeia phrase, ムカムカする (mukamuka suru), which means to get angry, to be pissed off. つく (tsuku) comes from 作る (tsukuru), “to make.” So this phrase is used to say something has made you pissed off, or irritated you. It’s a strong phrase, but a common complaint.
This means, “That!” or “Exactly!” It’s used like English slang when we agree with something someone said, and we simply reply with “This!” Meaning, we were thinking the same thing and 100% agree.
Short for お疲れ様でした (otsukaresama deshita), meaning “you worked hard” or “good job.” You can use it as a slangy goodbye.
Used the same way as マジ, it means “seriously” or “for real.”
This translates as “the lowest.” But as a slang term, it’s used to call someone or a situation “the worst!”
This one means “sly” or “sneaky,” but it can also be used as an exclamation like “You suck!” It expresses both disgust and admiration for someone’s sneaky behavior. Think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — you’re a bit dismayed at his bad behavior, but also impressed he went through with it.
Bimyou means “questionable,” “iffy,” or even “kind of sucks.” It’s somewhere between まあまあ (maa maa, “so-so”) and まずい (mazui, “disgusting”) or ひどい (hidoi, “awful”).
It means “that’s funny” or “hilarious.” It’s actually a verb, but it’s used more like “haha!” in English.
Regional Japanese Slang
Tokyo-ben is what you hear most in the Japanese media, such as on TV, because it’s considered “standard” dialect. Even so, Tokyo is like New York — people from around the country move there, and their slang gets blended together. The Tokyo region does have some slang used most often in that area, though. Here are a few:
- ちょ (cho): Very, totally. Used like とても (totemo).
- すげー (suge-): Amazing. It’s the shortened, more masculine form of すごい (sugoi).
- はずい (hazui): Embarrassing. Short for 恥ずかしい (hazukashii).
- むずい (muzui): Difficult. Short for 難しい (muzukashii)
- うそ！ (uso!): No way! You’re lying!
When most people think of Kansai-ben, they think of Osaka, although it includes all the Kansai region. It sounds more harsh than standard Japanese, because it uses more blunt endings like ya nen, na, and hen. At the same time, it’s more casual and flowing because words become shortened. Here are a few you should know from the region:
- めっちゃ (meccha): The same as ちょ and とても, it means “very.”
- あほ (aho): Idiot.
- おおきに (ookini): Thank you.
- ほんま (honma): Really?
- あかん (akan): Bad, not good
- なんやこれ / なんでやねん (nan ya kore / nande ya nen): What’s this?! What the heck?!
- おもろい (omoroi): Interesting, amusing, funny
- ちゃうで! (chau de!): It’s not like that! That’s wrong!
- しょんどい (shondoi): Tired, exhausted
Japanese Text and Internet Slang
Ah, Japanese text and internet slang. This is where things get really interesting and slightly confusing, fast. When it comes to Japanese text lingo, there’s a lot of combining English letters and Japanese characters into shorthand that makes no sense upon first glance. But knowing these will help you immerse yourself in the language online, and understand what you’re reading on Twitter.
KY is an abbreviation for 空気読めない, which romanized reading “kuuki yomenai.” Thus, it became KY, written in English characters. It means someone “can’t read the air” or is oblivious to the mood of the room or another person.
なう means exactly what it sounds like: “now.” It’s used online to say what someone is doing at that moment, especially on Twitter. An example: ランチなう (ranchi nau). “Eating lunch now.”
Another Twitterverse term, it means “favorite” and is used as a verb. So, you “favorite” a tweet, or “like” a post.
This is short for 構ってちょうだい (kamatte choudai), which means something like “Please let me know (if we can hang out)”. As a slang term, it’s posted online as a way to say “I’m bored, let’s chat” or “Talk to me.”
Yes, just “w.” It’s the Japanese equivalent of “lol” in English text slang. Why “w?” Because the word for “laugh” is 笑い (warai), so it starts with “w.” If you wanted to say “haha” though, you’d use the kanji itself, usually in parenthesis. Like this: (笑)
Like in English, “Google” has become a verb. To say you’re “googling it,” you use ぐぐる in Japanese. There’s also the text shorthand, GGRKS. It means ググレカス (gugurekasu), and means “Google it yourself, scum.” It’s a bit harsh, to say the least, but you’ll see it on the internet.
This is another slangy phrase that comes from English, and it means “Don’t mind,” “No problem,” or “It was nothing.” You can use it in place of 何でもない (nande monai).
Another common shorthand, it means “I need the details!” or “Details, please!” It comes from the Japanese phrase 詳しく (kuwashiku), so it’s the first letter of each syllable when romanized. It’s used to beg someone for all the deets.
This is used everywhere. It’s the abbreviation for ワクワクテカテカ (wakuwaku tekateka). That’s onomatopoeia for your heart is racing and you’re trembling with excitement. You can use this for anything and everything that you can’t wait for.
This obscure kanji, which translates as “moth,” is now used as a shorthand for お疲れ様でした, which we talked about earlier. Why 乙? Because it’s read as おつ, which is the same slang term we covered above that means “you must be tired” or “thanks for your hard work.” You’ll see this as praise for someone online. Like when someone posts the answer to the clickbait title of an article in the comments to save you a click.
Another one based on how it sounds read aloud in Japanese. The number 5 in Japanese is ご (go). So when writing 555, you’re saying “Go, go, go!” It’s used in online gaming primarily. But it’s not the only number you’ll see pop up as internet slang! 888 is also used because it’s read はちはちはち (hachi hachi hachi), which is the onomatopoeia sound for clapping.
こｎ / んｐ / うｐ(kon / np / up)
Those three look like typos, don’t they? But they’re not typos at all! They’re abbreviated slang terms. こｎ is short for こんばんは, or “hello.” The romanized “n” is basically laziness because to get the ん character, you have to press the key an extra time. So they leave it as the romanized “n.”
As for the other two, んｐ is the same as English “np” which means “no problem.” And うp is short for “upload.”
Japanese Slang Insults
Use these words with care! Although some of these can be used jokingly among friends (guys especially), don’t use these words all the time unless you want to be perceived as quite the Western loudmouth jerk. (A real stereotype.)
- ばか (baka): Idiot.
- ダサい (dasai): Lame, out of style, dorky, or sucky.
- お前 (omae): A rude, blunt way to say “you.” It’s mostly used by men to other men as an insult because it literally means “The thing in front of me.” So, this person is so lowly they’re just this thing in your way. It’s sometimes used jokingly or lightheartedly though between friends.
- われ (ware): The same os お前, but more common in Kansai-ben.
- やつ (yatsu): Like calling someone “guy” or “bloke.” It can be used casually between friends, but it’s also a bit insulting because it’s something you don’t have much respect for and think of as “lower” than you.
- ぶす (busu): An ugly woman. It’s kind of used like “bitch” in English.
- 悪ガキ (warugaki): Brat.
Japanese Swear Words
In case you feel the need to let out a curse under your breath, you can do so in Japanese. Again, use caution with these. While くそ is quite common in Japanese, none of these words are safe to throw around lightly.
This is your most common, versatile curse word in Japanese. It means “shit,” “fuck,” or “dammit,” like how all of those can be interchangeable in English. It’s common to hear this one muttered under someone’s breath.
This means “Die!” or “Go to hell!” It’s one that you’ve probably heard in Naruto and other shonen anime and manga.
Exactly what it sounds like: “fuck.” Imported straight into the language from English.
One of the strongest curse words in Japanese. It’s an insult used to call someone an “MF’er” or “shithead.”
“Son of a bitch” in Japanese, although it can also be used as an exclamation of “Dammit!” The literal translation is a “beast” or a “brute.”
Japanese Slang Phrases
Last up, here are some general slang phrases that you’ll hear and see online.
- こんちは (konchiwa): A short form of こんにちは, “hello.”
- 調子どう? (choushi dou?): “How are you?” or “How’s it going?”
- 一だす一は？ (Ichi dasu ichi wa?): “One plus one equals?” It’s used in place of “Say cheese!” when taking a picture, and the response is “に！” (*Ni!”) in Japanese.
- 一杯どう (ippai dou?): A slang way to ask someone if they want to grab a drink. “How about one?”
- とりあえずビール (toriaizu bi-ru): “A beer for now.” It’s such a common thing to say, it’s become a set phrase in Japanese.
- 誰得 (daretoku): It more or less means “Who gets something from this?” or “Why do this?” It’s used like the internet slang, “Y tho?” in English.
- 相変わらず (aikawarazu): “Same as usual” or “Same as ever.” It’s kind of like saying “so-so” in response to “How are you?”
- わりいーね (warii-ne): “My bad.” You can say this instead of ごめん (gomen).
Now it’s Your Turn to Share Japanese Slang!
Did I miss any Japanese slang or other cool Japanese phrases you’ve heard or used? Share it with me in the comments!
If you want to learn more casual speech and slang, make sure to check out JapanesePod101. It’s one of the best ways to listen and learn phrases like these in context!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.