All About Japan

These English Words Don't Mean What You Think!

Learning Japanese First Time in Japan Life in Japan

In co-opting English words into Japanese, sometimes our crafty Japanese pals have assigned our words to things that actually mean something totally different. Join us for a quick primer on some Japanese loan words you might have heard before, and what they really mean!

5. Sumaato (Smart)

Unfortunately, this doesn’t actually mean being intelligent or a snappy dresser, as it’s often used in English. Nope, in Japanese, sumaato means someone with a slim physique—something that’s still generally prized in Japan, although things are gradually changing with the rise of “Marshmallow Girls” and “Sausage Bread Boys.“

4. Tenshon (Tension)

Here’s one you’re bound to hear when hanging out with your new Japanese friends, especially if they like to party. The phrase tenshon ga takai (lit. tension is high) doesn’t mean a super-awkward situation: it actually means being happy, excited, and having fun. Similarly, tenshon ga hikui (tension is low) can be used to describe a gloomy atmosphere or person.

3. Manshon (Mansion)

In Japan, a manshonis an apartment building, not a big fancy house. So why don’t they just call it an apaatomento, you might ask? Well, they do also also use the word apaato to mean an apartment building, but a manshon is actually a condominium: an apartment you buy, which is also typically built from better materials than your typical apaato. While you can also rent manshon rooms, these are usually being sublet out by the owner.

2. Hoomu (Home)

You’ll hear this one a lot at the train station. Hoomu comes from, and is intended to mean, “platform” for some reason. Possibly because there isn’t a syllable for “fo” in Japanese, except in loan words, so they decided to go with "ho" instead to keep things old-school when they chopped off the first part of "platform." This is a pretty good one to learn if you’re going to be traveling in Japan. Otherwise, you might end up in awkward conversations like, “Yes, I want to go home. That’s why I’m asking you which platform to use…” Of course, the expression my home is also pretty common in Japan, so the confusion will not likely last forever.

1. Aisu (Ice)

If a Japanese friend asks you to go to the konbini (convenience store) and “pick up some ice” and you bring back a bag of ice, you’re going to look like a frosty fool. Aisu is short for aisu kuriimu (ice cream), so when your girlfriend tells you that she’s got a hankering for some aisu, you’d better get her down to Cold Stone Creamery pronto.

Ice, as in the frozen water stuff, is known as kohri in Japanese. Confusingly, aisu also means “cold,” as in “iced coffee” as opposed to “hot coffee.” It’s another context call; Japanese is full of them!

For more of these interesting loan words, click on the full story below!

Read full story: