What exactly is "gairaigo" or "loan words" in Japanese? - Waku Waku

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What exactly is "gairaigo" or "loan words" in Japanese?

Ever wonder why there seem to be words in Japanese that sound eerily similar to other languages, like English, French, and sometimes even German? As you live and walk around in Japan, you will encounter these familiar-sounding words in your everyday life - I know I have! These words are what we call "loan words" or "gairaigo" (meaning foreign word) in Japanese and they’re more common than you think.

Mochigum

Mochigum

Published on 11 Jan, 12:00

"katakana" (one of the japanese alphabets) written in katakana

Loan words or gairaigo are very easy to find and you don't have to look too hard to find some around you! Most words written in one of the Japanese alphabets called カタカナ (katakana) are written this way because the origin of the word is from a country outside of Japan.

In my little journey of studying Japanese and discovering the wonderful places of Japan, very often I find myself stumbling upon these kinds of words. While most of the "loan words" may sound a bit funny when you try to say them out loud, they certainly make things easier when you don't know a lot of Japanese and you're trying to move around in the city. They are more helpful than you may realize.

Here are some examples of some loan words/ garaigo that you may come across while traveling around Japan:

スーパー (Suupaa) — supermarket

コンビニ (Konbini) — convenience store

デパート (Depaato) — department store

ホテル (Hoteru) — hotel

レストラン (Resutoran) — restaurant

レジ (Reji) — cash register

バー (Baa) — bar

What exactly is

When you are first starting to study Japanese, loan words can save you a lot of trouble when you're trying to move around. If there is anything that you want to communicate and you are having trouble trying to find the right way to express yourself, most of the time these gairaigo will save the day.

I have had way too many experiences where I've been looking to buy something or get to a specific place and don't know the word for the thing or place that I'm looking for. In a moment of struggle and desperation, it's hard to remember the exact concept that you're trying to convey in Japanese.

So knowing these loan words, which (some) are extremely easy to remember, will most likely help you get out of the situation that you may be in. Even one of the first phrases that you learn in Japanese - "where is the bathroom?" - has a loan word on it!

トイレはどこですか? (toire wa doko desu ka?)
トイレはどこですか? (toire wa doko desu ka?)

Not only do Japanese loan words help you get out of trouble, they're also just very fun to learn in general. One of the main reasons why it's so easy for me to remember certain loan words is because they just sound cute or funny to say out loud.

Knowing what country they come from also helps peak my interest in this kind of vocabulary and helps keep my motivation up to learn Japanese. Every time I learn about these new kinds of words, I feel like my knowledge in the language expands and it keeps me interested in it. But just as there are some easy-to-learn loan words in Japanese, there are also some that seem to be weird!

Here are some examples of these words:

ハイタッチ (Hai Tacchi) — "High touch"/ high five

サラリーマン (Sarariiman) — "Salary man"/ Businessman

メール (meeru) — e-mail

バイク (baiku) — motorcycle

"ハイタッチ" (haitacchi) - the japanese word for high five

There are some loan words that make a lot of sense, but there are certainly even more that seem to be a bit harder to get down than others. Don't be discouraged though, learning a language, as hard as it may be, can also be very fun!

I know it can get a bit hard sometimes, but I can assure you that learning Japanese is very interesting and a lot of fun. I know I certainly enjoy it a lot because of these kinds of topics. So keep on doing your best! We are in this together.

For the following article, I'd love to share my experience with one of my favorite things to do in Japan, a word that is also written in カタカナ (katakana): カラオケ (karaoke)!

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Mochigum

Mochigum

Japanese/Mexican 24 year old woman who just moved into Tokyo to try to pursue her career while re-discovering and re-connecting with her roots as she does so.

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