This article introduces lots of Japanese kanjis, words, idioms and slang terms as well as sayings about money!
Kanjis for Money: 貝 = 金 ???
You may have noticed that a lot of kanji characters contain 貝 in themselves (e.g. 買, 資, 費, 財, 貯, 販, 購, 貿). But how can 貝 (かい), meaning “a shell” be related to money? – this is because cowrie shells used to be used as currency in ancient China.
Here is a list of Japanese words that are related to money and employ kanji characters containing 貝.
貝 + *
財: 財産 (ざいさん) “property/asset”
貯: 貯(た)める “save”, 貯金(ちょきん) “savings”
販: 販売 (はんばい) “selling”
購: 購入 (こうにゅう) “purchase”
賭: 賭(か)ける “bet/stake”
賭(か)け事 (ごと) “gambling”
賄賂 (わいろ): bribe
貨幣 （かへい） “currency”
貿: 貿易 (ぼうえき) “(foreign) trade”
買: 買(か)う “buy”
資: 資本 (しほん) “capital”, 資本主義 (しほんしゅぎ) “capitalism”
費: 費(つい)やす “spend”
費用 (ひよう) “cost/expense”
貧：貧 (まず)しい/貧乏 (びんぼう) “poor”, 貧困（ひんこん） “poverty”
Japanese Words about Money
Literally, 自腹 means “one’s belly/stomach”. However, it figuratively means “paying money by oneself”; here, 腹 (はら, “stomach”) is a metaphor for “one’s asset”.
As my company didn’t pay the participation fee for me, I joined the seminar by paying it by myself
This word is often used in the expression “自腹を切る”, which literally means “cut one’s stomach”, i.e. 切腹 (seppuku) and actually means “pay money by oneself”.
I want to avoid paying money by myself.
Literally, 太っ腹 means “a fat belly”, but actually means “generous”. It may sound negative, but it’s actually a positive word and you can “彼は太っ腹で優しい人だ” meaning “He is a generous and kind person”.To remember this word, you may picture a stereotypical rich man who is obese and very generous, drinking wine, smoking a cigar, etc.
It’s so generous of you to give me all the volumes of this manga.
Shipping fee is free? What a generous company it is!
奢る means “pay for someone/treat someone”. In Japan, it’s very common, whether you like it or not, for older people or men to 奢る (treat) young people or women. For instance, older students often 奢る or pay more than freshmen in the same club. (e.g. at Izakaya, 1st-year students pay 1000円, 2nd- and 3rd-year students 2500円, and 4th-year students 4000円). This reflects the hierarchical structure of the Japanese society (i.e. the younger should respect the older using keigo.)
田中先輩、晩飯 (ばんめし) 奢ってくださいよ〜
Tanaka-senpai, could you buy me dinner?
I’ll treat you today.
ケチ means “be stingy”, and is used to describes people who are unwilling to share things (including money) with others. けちん坊（ぼう） and ケチンボ are both old-fashioned (humorous) ways of saying ケチ.
彼はケチだから絶対 (ぜったい) に人（ひと）に奢らない
Because he is stingy, he never treats others.
You won’t tell me the answer? You’re stingy.
割り勘 means “split the bill”. Some women expect men to treat them during the date, and therefore hate a man who always splits the bill, calling him 割り勘男 (“split-the-bill men”)
It’s OK to split the bill, right?
彼氏 (かれし) とデートするときはいつも割り勘で、最悪（さいあく）
Whenever I go out with my bf, we always split the bill, which is sh*t
I prefer splitting the bill when I go on a date with someone.
金欠 literally means “be lacking in money” and describes when you are broke in a casual way.
Sh*t, I’m broke this week.
カツカツ is a casual word that means that you barely make ends meet and do not have enough money to spend without hesitation.
カツカツだから車 (くるま) なんて買（か）えないよ
Because I barely make ends meet, I cannot afford to buy a car.
へそくり means “secret savings” and is often used to describe money you hide from your partner.
夫 (おっと) には内緒（ないしょ）で、へそくりを使（つか）ってこのコートを買（か）った
I bought this coat using my secret savings without telling my husband.
たかる means to scrounge off someone for money (ask money from someone through their generosity), especially those who are “close” to you such as your relatives, friends and senpai.
宝 (たから) くじが当(あ)たった次(つぎ)の日(ひ)から、親戚（しんせき）がたかるようになった。
Since the day after I won the lottery, my relatives have been trying to scrounge money from me.
食える/食えない literally means “can/cannot eat”, but it also figuratively means “can/cannot earn enough money to make a living”.
I cannot earn enough money to make a living with this job.
翻訳 (ほんやく) で食っていきたい
I want to make a living as a translator.
Derogatory Expressions related to money
成金 means a nouveau riche, a person who has recently become rich and loves to show off their wealth. It originated from 将棋 (しょうぎ; shōgi), Japanese chess; when “歩” (a pawn/foot soldier) enters the promotion zone (the last 3 rows nearest to the opponent), it suddenly 成(な)る (becomes) “金” (gold general).
The nouveau riche bought many pictures at the auction.
彼はBitcoinに投資 (とうし) して成金になった
He became a nouveau riche by investing in Bitcoin.
守銭奴 means a miser/money-grubber and is composed of the interesting combination of the following three kanji characters:
- 守 (しゅ) “protect”
- 銭 (せん) “money”
- 奴 (ど) derogatory term for “a person”
Therefore, it literally means a “protect-money person”, i.e. someone who tries to keep their money away from others.
(Note) This is a highly advanced word even for Japanese people, but still an interesting word to learn and remember.
いつもお金（かね）の話 (はなし) ばかりして、お前(まえ)は守銭奴か
You’re always talking about money. Are you a miser/money-grubber?
金の亡者 means people who are obsessed with money, where 亡者 (もうじゃ; a very rare word) means “The dead person whose spirit remains in this world”. Therefore, it figuratively describes people who are seeking for money desperately, wandering around like a zombie.
Because he is a person obsessed with money, he does whatever it takes to earn money.
現金 (げんきん) なやつ
現金なやつ literally means “a cash-person” and describes people who easily change their opinion and/or attitude for the sake of money.
After I said to my son “If you get 100 marks, I will give you money”, he started studying seriously. He is such a “cash-person”
ヒモ/ひも usually means “a string”, but also means “an indolent man who financially depends on his girlfriend excessively like a parasite and is reluctant to work by himself”, e.g. living in her house without paying the rent, and even asking her for an allowance to spend on gambling. This is a derogatory term for men who exploit and abuse their girlfriend financially, and therefore shouldn’t be used to describe those who stay home to manage their household and take care of their children instead of working outside
I spoiled my boyfriend too much and he has become a ヒモ (depends on me financially).
猫 (ねこ) に小判（こばん）
猫に小判 means “to give something valuable to people who don’t appreciate it”. It literally means “(give) gold coins to a cat” and is very similar to the expression “豚(ぶた)に真珠（しんじゅ）”, which is the translation of “cast pearls before swine”.
彼 (かれ)のような味音痴 (あじおんち) の人（ひと）に高（たか）いワインを買（か）うのは、猫に小判だ
It is pointless to buy expensive wine for 味音痴 people like him.
Note: 味音痴 means “have a bad sense of taste”; see 音痴 (onchi) Meaning “Bad at Singing” in Japanese
自転車操業 means “rob Peter to pay Paul”, i.e. “the state where if you stop borrowing money, you cannot pay your debt and will go bankrupt”, e.g. pay your credit card bill by using another credit card. It literally means “bicycle operation” in the sense that if you stop riding a bicycle, you fall.
I’m running my company by robbing Peter to pay Paul.
To do my assignments due tomorrow, I skipped all the classes today. I’m completely doing “bicycle operation”.
金に魂を売る literally means “sell one’s spirit to money” and figuratively means that you do some word which you are not interested in or don’t want to do in return for good money.
Because I want to pursue my dream, I won’t sell my spirit to money.
株 (かぶ) が上 (あ)がる
Literally, 株が上がる means “(The price of) a stock rises”, and figuratively means someone’s reputation increases.
彼に優 (やさ) しい一面（いちめん）があることを知って、彼の株が上がった
After I had known that he has a kind side, his stock rose (for me).
Literally, 財布の紐が固い means “the purse string is tight”, and figuratively means that someone is frugal. You can also say 財布の紐を締（し）める meaning “tighten one’s purse string” to indicate that you become more frugal.
Young people nowadays are very frugal.
- お小遣(こずか)い : “allowance”
- お金（かね）持（も）ち: “rich”
- ボンボン: a slang and derogatory word meaning “rich”
- 億万長者 (おくまんちょうじゃ) : “billionaire”
- 金(かね)ズル: a slang word meaning “a gullible person whom you make money from”
- ATM/財布(さいふ): literally “ATM/wallet”; also a slang and derogatory term meaning “people (esp. a partner) whom you have a relationship for money”
- 億(おく)ション: a slang word meaning “an apartment worth more than 1億円 (0.1 billion yen)”
“Losing money means losing relationships”
= If you lose money, you often lose your (shallow) relationship with your partner, “friends”, and relatives (, who たかる (sponge off) you).
“Don’t think that your parents and money will be there forever”
“Buy cheap things and lose money”
= “If you buy cheap things of lousy quality, you may rather waste lots of money (because they don’t last long, or need to fix them frequently). For instance, if you buy lots of cheap clothes on sale and realise that you don’t really like them, that’s 安物買いの銭失い.
“Bad money goes quickly”
= If you earn money in a bad and effortless way (e.g. gambling, theft), you lose them very quickly.
“The rich do not fight with each other”
タダより高 (たか) いものはない
“Nothing is more expensive than (something) free.”,
= if you get something for free, you often end up paying some cost later, e.g. you’re asked to do a favour or buy something.
The Japanese translation of “Time is money”