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18+ Unique Japanese Words for Learners to Know

Different cultures have their own values and ways of looking at things. And as such, when you’ll learn another language, you’ll come across beautiful Japanese words and phrases that are… unique. Untranslatable. Where the literal meaning doesn’t match the actual intended meaning that native speakers understand it as.

And as a learner, it’s good to understand what they “truly” mean.

So, what are the most unique Japanese phrases?

In this quick guide, you’ll learn 18+ unique Japanese words.

Words like “life’s calling,” “a person who doesn’t go outside,” “reason to live,” and more.

Ready? Let’s go.

Want to learn how to write in Japanese? Download your free Japanese Alphabet worksheet here.

1) 新緑 Fresh green leaves

  • Shinryoku

Nature is an important part of Japanese culture. When the leaves on the trees start growing after the winter, the green color is slightly lighter. This is described by the word shinryoku, which directly translates to “new green.”

unique japanese words

2) 一生懸命 Work hard

  • Isshou kenmei

This is a unique word because of the meaning of the kanji characters. It includes the kanji 一生 (isshou) which means “forever” or “life time.” The word has a connotation of working hard like your life depends on it.

unique japanese words

3) いただきます Thank you for the food

  • Itadakimasu

Japanese people love food and this is reflected in the phrase itadakimasu. Before every meal, it’s polite to put your hands together and say this phrase. It shows gratitude for the food and to the person who made it.

Literally, it means, “I will receive” but that’s not exactly the meaning people use it for.

Note: This is a Japanese set phrase.

unique japanese words

4) よろしくPlease take care of me

  • Yoroshiku

This word is also not easily translatable into English. It’s a word that can be used in many situations and it asks the other person to take care of you. You can use this phrase when you’re asking someone to do a favor and when you introduce yourself.

Note: This is a Japanese set phrase.

5) 天職 Life’s Calling

  • Tenshoku

Tenshoku uses two kanji characters meaning heaven, 天,  and employment, 職 . This word describes a profession that you’re destined to from the heavens. In Japan, professions are taken very seriously and it’s not common for people to switch companies.

So, this is how you say “Life’s Calling” in Japanese.

unique japanese words


6) 思いやり Kindness/courteousness

  • Omoiyari

People in Japan show kindness and thoughtfulness to one another in daily life. Having omoiyari, means that you are a considerate and thoughtful person.

unique japanese words

7)雪あかりThe light from the moon on the snow

  • Yukiakari

When there is snow outside, light reflects on the white snow. This word describes how the moon creates light from the snow. These days, winter illuminations are very popular so there is even more light during the winter nights.

unique japanese words

8) 引きこもりA person who doesn’t go outside

  • Hikikomori

In Japan, there is no law where people must go to school. There are children and young adults who don’t come out of their rooms or houses. This is a societal problem and the word for those people is hikikomori.

unique japanese words

9) お疲れ様 Thank you for your hard work

  • Otsukaresama

This unique word is also hard to translate into English. It can be used when you want to acknowledge someone else’s work. It’s commonly heard in workplaces, sports teams, and club activities when the day is over.

Note: This is a Japanese set phrase.

unique japanese words

10) 食い倒れ Eating until you fall over

  • Kuidaore

This is a word that’s associated with Osaka, a city full of delicious foods! Osaka is the origin of foods like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, kushikatsu, and more. It means that you will eat until you pass out or fall over.

unique japanese words

11) がんばれ! Try your best!

  • Ganbare

Ganbare is a word that’s hard to translate into English. It can mean “work hard”, “try your best” or even “good luck.” It’s a nice way to encourage people who are working hard or trying to accomplish something. Try using this word when you’re cheering for  your favorite sports teams!

unique japanese words

12) 夕日 Evening sun

  • Yuuhi

There are many words describing the sun in Japanese. In English we don’t have a specific word for the sun when it is closer to the evening. Yuuhi is different from sunset because it is only talking about the sun and not its movement.

unique japanese words

13) 生きがい Reason to live

  • Ikigai

Ikigai is a word that means your reason for living. This word uses the kanji for life, 生.In Japan, what you do in your lifetime and how you spend it is considered important. If you ever want to have a deep conversation with someone in Japanese, you can ask them what their ikigai is.

unique japanese words

14) 口封じ Preventing someone from revealing something

  • Kuchifuuji

This is a unique word that can be used to describe situations when you try to stop someone from telling your secrets. It’s associated with bribery and the money you pay could be a kuchifuuji. If your friend knows an embarrassing secret that they are threatening to tell, you could give them a kuchifuuji by paying for their meal!

unique japanese words

15)別腹 Separate stomach (usually for eating deserts)

  • Betsubara

This is a unique word that literally translates to “separate stomach.” It describes situations when you’re really full, but you still have room for dessert. Japanese people like to think that there is a separate stomach for main meals and desert. 

unique japanese words

16) 真面目 Straight forward and focused person

  • Majime

If you want to describe someone who is always focused and serious about things, you can use this word. This is the origin of the slang word “maji” which means “seriously?”

unique japanese words

17) 奇妙 Strange, odd, or mysterious

  • Kimyou

This is a word that can describe things that are strange or odd. For example, if you suddenly received an anonymous letter, you could use kimyou. It can also be used to describe creepy locations like forests, cemeteries, or houses.

unique japanese words

18) 微妙 Not good and not bad

  • Bimyou

If you’re not sure if something is good or bad, you can use bimyou. It can be used to describe food that tastes weird or an outfit that doesn’t quite match. 

unique japanese words


Now, you know some unique Japanese words.

If you want to remember these phrases, print out this page.

If you have a favorite Japanese word, leave a comment.

If you think there’s some other word that should be here, leave a comment.

If you want to know how to say some other phrase, leave a comment.

I read ’em all.

– The Main Lingua Junkie

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