Japanese Words

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Asian loan words in English

by Ann-Marie Imbornoni

Asian Loan Words

Words derived from:


  • aikido, from words meaning "mutual spirit art."
  • bonsai, meaning "bowl plant."
  • futon, a type of mattress.
  • geisha, from gei, meaning "art" and sha, "person."
  • hara-kiri, from hara, meaning "abdomen, bowels" and kiri, "to cut."
  • honcho, from a word meaning "squad leader."
  • judo, from words meaning "soft way."
  • jujitsu, from words meaning "soft arts."
  • kamikaze, is translated literally as "divine wind," from the name of a typhoon that saved Japan by destroying the Mongol navy in 1281.
  • kanji, words using Chinese characters.
  • karaoke, from kara, meaning "void, empty" and oke(sutora), meaning "orchestra." In a case of reverse borrowing, the Japanese word okesutora came from the English word orchestra.
  • karate, from words meaning "empty hand."
  • kimono
  • ninja, from nin, meaning "to endure" and ja, "person."
  • ramen, ultimately from the Mandarin Chinese words for "pulled noodles."
  • rickshaw, from jinrikisha, meaning "person-strength-vehicle."
  • sake, a rice wine.
  • samurai, "warrior."
  • shogun, "general."
  • soy
  • sushi
  • tofu, originally borrowed into Japanese from Chinese.
  • tsunami, meaning a "large ocean wave."
  • tycoon, from taikun, meaning "great prince." Used as a title, the word was originally borrowed into Japanese from Chinese. It was brought to the U.S. after Matthew Perry's visit to Japan in 1853 and 1854. Members of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet used it as an affectionate nickname for the president. Later it was applied to business magnates such as J. P. Morgan.

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