No matter what stage of learning Japanese you are currently in, it can be fun to spice up your vocabulary with Japanese slang words. However, in order for Japanese slang phrases to work in your favour, you need to be sure that you’re using them correctly.
When used right, common Japanese slang words, phrases, and casual speech can add life and ease to your writing and speaking. And it can even make you sound like you’re from certain parts of Japan!
In order to get started with Japanese slang, the best thing to do is choose words that can be used for a wide variety of things. The slang for “awesome” or even “hello” will go a lot further than knowing the slang for a very specific kind of food. Check out some of the most common—and most essential—slang you need to know in Japanese, as well as how to use it.
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What Is Japanese Slang?
The Japanese language has many nuances, and one of those is the numerous slang terms. Referred to as Zokugo (ぞくご), these words and phrases help you make a conversation more casual and natural. You will find slang most prolifically spoken amongst the younger generation, but every generation has its own version of slang.
Why Should You Learn Japanese Slang?
You may not come across slang used in everyday language when you study Japanese formally; the textbooks typically teach polite speech and language. There isn't a Japanese slang dictionary you receive when you start Japanese classes! Often the slang you'll find in textbooks or curriculums is outdated by the time it reaches the classroom.
That's why this post is here – to help you master slang words you may have come across in conversation or popular culture but aren't sure how to interpret.
If you want to boost your Japanese language skills and come across as more friendly when speaking with your Japanese friends, you should learn some slang words and phrases (maybe even some Japanese swear words!).
If you want acceptance from native speakers of Japanese, learning some slang will go a long way. For understanding certain aspects of life in Japan, knowledge of slang will also significantly help you progress with your comprehension.
When you know some casual language and Japanese words, it will also help you express yourself better. This is especially true for thoughts and feelings, which can be difficult to convey in formal Japanese. Knowing slang words in Japanese will help your speech sound more natural and less like a foreigner attempting a new language.
Do you love Japanese exports such as anime and want to understand more? Learning slang words will help you gain a deeper understanding of the context and meaning of your favourite shows.
When Should You Use Japanese Slang?
The caution you need to exercise when using Japanese slang is that it is very easy to offend people. Using certain slang words will make you appear unpolite and uneducated, so make sure you fully understand the meaning of the word you're using before throwing it into casual conversation.
Remember: context is everything when you use slang in Japanese!
You will hear young Japanese people using slang during conversations with friends and the many terms are normally reserved for use amongst close friends. Although you will hear slang in everyday conversation at the workplace amongst colleagues.
Top Japanese Slang Phrases And Words To Know
Let’s get started with Japanese slang by picking out some of the most popular Japanese slang.
#1 Sore Na それな
Let's start with something similar to internet slang. Have you ever been on a forum like Reddit or social media, and someone simply responds to someone else’s comment with simply, “This”?
If someone you’re talking to says something that you completely agree with or that resonates with you, you might want to just say, “Yeah, that!” or “Exactly!”
In this case, you can use sore na.
- Person 1: That test was way too hard.
Person 2: ^ THIS.
- Sono tesuto ha muzukashisugita yo.
#2 Yabai やばい
Ever wanted to use a word in Japanese that means just…everything?
Well, the Japanese word Yabai can mean “super cool” or “really bad” depending on how you sound when you say it.
When you’ve just been overcome with an intense feeling, you can use yabai to accentuate that—so long as you’re able to convey your opinion through how you say it!
- I forgot my homework! Ah, this is bad!
- Shukudai wo wasureteshimaimashita. Aa, yabai!
#3 Gachi (de) がち（で）
When something is “seriously X,” it’s gachi. Gachi is a way to strengthen an opinion that you already have by saying that something is “way X” or “super X.”
- Be careful! That cafeteria’s food is WAY spicy!
- Ki wo tsukete! Sono gakushoku no tabemono ha gachi de tsurai yo!
#4 Chou 超
Chou is very much like gachi in that it also means “very” or “super” [something]. However, while gachi conveys a sense of the unbelievable or unexpected, chou is just a strengthener that can be used any time you’d like to intensify what you’re saying.
- Isn’t my lunch ready yet? I’m super hungry!
- Hirugohan ha mada desu ka. Chou hara hetta!
#5 Maji de マジで
When someone has told you an unbelievable story, your first reaction might be to say, “No way, really?” Maji de is a great way to slip some slang into your vocabulary to convey this “for real!?” idea without risking that you’ll sound genuinely disbelieving—which can be a put-off during casual Japanese conversation.
- Person 1: I got a perfect 100 on my test.
Person 2: No way, for real!?
- Tesuto de 100 ten wo torimashita.
#6 Meccha めっちゃ
Like chou and gachi de, meccha means “super” or very.” It’s mostly used in eastern Japan, but you can find people everywhere who prefer meccha to some of the other options. Use the one that you like best!
- This dress is SO cute!
- Kono doresu ha meccha kawaii!
#7 Ikemen イケメン
If you’ve ever had the need to describe a tall, clean-cut, handsome Japanese guy who’s aloof and dressed nicely or otherwise very attractive—it’s a very specific aesthetic, but you get it—look no further than ikemen.
A combination of the words for “cool” and “man,” ikemen can be used to describe hot guys. Currently, Japan is home to a sumo wrestler named Endo, who is considered particularly handsome, which has resulted in many women calling him Ikemendo!
- He’s so handsome, isn’t he?
- Kare ha ikemen deshou.
#8 Mukatsuku ムカつく
When something just really grinds your gears and irritates you to no end, sometimes the best way to describe it is just, well, “GRRRR!” In Japanese, the onomatopoeia word mukamuka, which means to be really ticked off, is combined with the verb tsukuru (to do) to create mukatsuku, a strong phrase of irritation.
- Everything my brother does just REALLY ticks me off!
- Oniichan no suru koto hitotsu hitotsu ni mukatsuku!
#9 Riajuu リア充
Ever heard of an otaku? This word is commonly associated with nerds who love Japanese culture a lot, but the reality is that the word otaku is not necessarily a positive thing meant to show off how passionate you are about pop culture.
Instead, it conveys ideas that you’re a shut-in who never leaves your room. Riajuu is the opposite, combining words for “real world” and “satisfied.” It describes someone who would rather be out in the world instead of hiding behind an online identity.
- I want to become someone who breaks away from the digital world!
- Riajuu ni naritai!
#10 Ossu! オッス！
Ever felt like the entire ohayou gozaimasu greeting to say “good morning” is way too long? What about ohayou gozasu? Still too many syllables? If you’re in a hurry to quickly say “what’s up, man?” or “Yo!” then ossu might be the right greeting for you. Be aware that it’s primarily used by boys toward boys.
- Yo! How’s it going?
- Ossu! Dou dai?
Another combination word that comes from the English “don’t mind,” donmai is used wherever nande mo nai is permissible. That is to say, it means “no problem” or “don’t mention it.” In other words, “Pay it no mind!”
- Person 1: Ah, I messed up!
Person 2: Don’t worry about it!
- Aa, machigaete shimatta!
How on earth do you use numbers as slang? Well, if you’re familiar with Japanese numbers, you’ll know that the number five is pronounced “go.” If you’re playing online games with friends and you really want to cheer a teammate on, well…555!
- Don’t give up! Go go go!
- Ganbatte! 555!
Just like the sound of 555 equals go go go, the Japanese number eight is pronounced hachi and reads together as hachi hachi hachi. This is an onomatopoeia for clapping, so you can use 888 in place of a clapping emoji if you are texting or using the internet.
- Person 1: I got a 100% on my test!
Person 2: 888 *clapping*
- Tesuto de 100 ten wo torimashita!
- *hachi hachi hachi*
#14 Saitei さいてい
You may have encountered this particular piece of slang in anime or manga, where it is used a lot. Unlike many of the vocabulary pieces that you may have encountered in pop culture Japanese, saitei is actually regularly used in normal life. It literally means “the lowest,” but it’s used as slang to say “Jeeze this is the WORST.”
- It’s already raining? This is the WORST!
- Mou ame da? Saitei da!
#15 Otsu おつ
Just like ossu is a condensed version of ohayou gozaimasu, otsu is a (much) shortened version of otsukaresama desu.
This common Japanese phrase is typically uttered at the end of a workday to appreciate hard work and say, “Great job, you worked hard.” Otsu serves as a slang-ified way to say goodbye and can often be accompanied by raising your hand in front of your face and making a chopping motion. It can also be used on the internet to say thanks.
- Person 1: I put together that project!
Person 2: Great job, thanks!
- Sono purojekuto wo matometa.
Working Slang Into Your Vocab
If you want to spice up the way that you speak Japanese, one of the best ways is to start introducing Japanese slang.
But picking up slang from a textbook or webpage is never going to teach you as much as hanging out with real Japanese people in person or online and noticing when they toss in interesting new phrases! You'll find many Japanese words that enter your vocabulary are learned through conversation, not from formal study.
Don’t forget to immerse yourself in the language and you’ll sound natural and casual before you know it! And the best way to do that is to use the StoryLearning® method. So that means learning through stories, by reading books in Japanese, for example.