- Takeshi Senuma
Have You Heard About Wasei Eigo? The Interesting English Words Used in Japanese.
When you were traveling around Japan, have you ever listened to a Japanese person speaking English and wondered what the heck they were talking about? What you may have heard is in fact wasei (Japanese-made) eigo (English). It's both strange and sometimes a little funny, so let's look at it in a bit more detail.
What is Wasei Eigo?
Wasei eigo refers to loanwords that are derived from English but which have taken on an independent meaning when used in Japanese. For this reason, wasei eigo words will be understood between two Japanese speakers but will not be understood by native speakers of English. These words have spread widely throughout Japanese society and are extremely common in every day conversation. Upon first hearing a wasei eigo word you may be confused but if you look at it as just another unique feature of Japanese culture you can even start to enjoy them.
Don't be surprised if you hear a Japanese person say "I live in a mansion". This doesn't mean that they live in a massive, lavish estate. In wasei eigo, a mansion refers to a standard apartment complex. There is another word in Japanese, 'apato'. This is also wasei eigo that derives from the English 'apartment' and which is in common usage. In the minds of Japanese people an 'apato' refers to smaller apartment complexes made with wood and light gauge steel.
'Baby car'＝stroller / pushchair
In urban Japan transport options are centered around trains and buses, so for fathers and mothers looking to venture out with small children a 'baby car' is a necessity. You may be thinking that children board small toy cars to go out for food and shopping but rest assured this is not the case. In wasei eigo a baby car refers to a push chair or a stroller. If you think about it as a car into which you put a baby then it starts to make a bit more sense, but still probably feels quite odd. In Japanese there is no specific word or phrase to describe those toy cars in which children can sit, they would simply say something akin to ' A toy car that a child rides'.
Consent ＝socket / outlet
Picture this! Your smart phone has just run out of battery and you need to charge it. You turn to a Japanese person and ask them, "Where is the outlet?" In Japan, this is unlikely to be understood. In Japan, a outlet is referred to as a 'consent'. Why consent, which in English refers to a state of mutual agreement, has come to refer to a socket in wasei eigo has not been established. However, this is perhaps another funny quirk of these Japanese-made faux-English words.
Viking＝buffet / all you can eat
In Japan, if you are told, "Let's go to a Viking restaurant for lunch. It tastes great and will fill you up!" don't be worried. You are unlikely to be greeted by a mountain of Scandinavian pirate food. In Japan, an all-you-can-eat style buffet service is often dubbed a 'Viking" service. The origin of this word in Japanese comes from a service originally started by the Imperial Hotel in which a number of dishes were laid out and each customer helped themselves in a buffet style. They based this offering on the Swedish concept of the smorgasbord. It was in this way that the name 'Viking cuisine' was given to this style of dinning, based on the Viking people from Northern Europe. This later developed into the wasei eigo we know today.
A paper driver＝a person who has a driver's license but no driving experience?
In wasei eigo there are also some words that have no corresponding equivalents in English. One of the most prominent examples of this type of wasei eigo that is often used by Japanese people is 'paper driver'. This expression refers to someone who has a licence but almost never drives or someone who has a licence but because they never drive has no confidence in their driving abilities. If someone tells you that they are a paper driver, don't pressure them to drive.
There are far more than the five examples of wasei eigo introduced in this article that are in common use in Japan. How about learning a couple of these unique phrases during your travels in Japan so that you can enjoy a better standard of communication with Japanese people?
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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