ぎりぎり (or ギリギリ)
Meaning: “only just; by the skin of one’s teeth”
Other Info: There is a famous J-pop song called “ギリギリchop” by the rock band “B’z”, which you may try listening to so that you can memorise this word.
I passed the exam by the skin of my teeth.
“I arrived only just in time”
Meaning: “very specific and niche; only known to fanatics/geeks (=マニア)”
Other Info: It’s a loanword from “maniac” in English.マニアックな日本語の単語を英語で教える変なブログがあるらしい。
I’ve heard that there is a strange blog that teaches very specific and niche Japanese words in English.
Meaning: “(raw food/ingredients) spoil/rot quickly
Other Info: There are two kanjis for はやい: “速い” when the phrase is used in the literal sense, and “早い” when used in the idiomatic sense.彼は足が速い
He runs fast
Mackerel spoils fast/quickly
Meaning: “bothersome; laborious; annoying; something/someone that you can’t be bothered to deal with”
Other Info: Technically, it is 面倒臭い (mendou kusai) but usually pronounced as めんどくさい (mendokusai) or even めんどい (mendoi) as it’s mendokusai to say the word properly.
It is bothersome to wash dishes, so I eat straight out of the pot.
“Which is more important, me or work?”
“Wow, you’re so mendokusai!”
Blog Post: “Gakkī Loss”: Meaning of ロス (“Loss”) in Japanese
Meaning: “to get heartbroken when someone you idolise gets married and you officially ‘lose’ him/her”
Other Info: It is a loanword from “loss” in English. It is usually used with the (nick)name of the person; for instance, loads of men suffered from “ガッキーロス” in 2021 when the Japanese actress Yui Aragaki, aka “Gakky” tied the knot.
When the actor Masaharu Fukuyama got married in 2015, lots of women took a leave of absence from work due to their “Fukuyama loss” (or “Masha loss”, where Masha (ましゃ) is his nickname.)
Blog Post: “Nominication”: Japanese (Old) Drinking Culture After Work
Meaning: “to build a good relationship through drinking together, especially with colleagues after work”.
Other Info: It combines the Japanese word 飲む (のむ, nomu), meaning “drink” and English loanword コミュニケーション (“communication”). Some young people argue that the idea of nominication is getting old-fashioned.
These days, many young people regard “nominication” as unnecessary and old-fashioned.
Meaning “Japanese dramas on air at 9 pm on Monday”
Other Info: It is short for 月曜９時のドラマ, “drama at 9 (pm) on Monday”. There is a word for it because traditionally lots of trendy Japanese dramas are aired during this time slot (but some people say this is not necessarily the case these days). This term is strongly associated with the Japanese actor 木村拓哉 (Kimura Takuya, a.k.a “Kimutaku”), who starred in several 月9 dramas that went viral in the 1990s and 2000s.
I wanna watch today’s 月９ (Jdrama drama aired at 9 pm on Monday), so I’ve gotta go soon!
Related Post: Japanese Money-Related Idioms and Slang
Meaning “a money-grubbing miser whose objective of life is to accumulate money and increase their bank balance”
Other Info: It consists of 守(しゅ, “protect”), 銭 (せん, “money”) and 奴 (ど, a derogatory term for “a person”). This is a very advanced word (even for Japanese people), yet still an interesting one to remember.
He is famous for being a 守銭奴. It wouldn’t surprise me even if he enjoys drinking while looking at his bank balance.
反面教師 (はんめん きょうし)
My boss is always arrogant and irritating, so I see him as 反面教師 (a bad example not to follow) and I try to treat my kohai kindly
It is “the moon and soft-shell turtle”(completely different) to actually study abroad and do“online study-abroad”.
Literal Meaning: “money feeling”
Meaning: “thoughts on how to spend money (esp. the amount of money to spend); one’s perception of the value of money; economical view”
I broke up with my girlfriend because my thoughts on how to spend money didn’t agree with hers.
Meaning: “messy/dirty room”
Other Info: A playful slang word that mimics yet contrasts with the standard word お部屋, which combines the honorific prefix お and 部屋 (へや, room). For clarity, it is also pronounced as “おべや”
Because my bf is coming, I’ve gotta clean my messy room.
Literal Meaning “A child of a frog is a frog”
Meaning “a child of ordinary parents is also ordinary (doesn’t have much talent)”; “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”
Other Info: Its allusion is that although a baby frog (i.e. tadpole) looks very different from its parent at first, it grows into a frog eventually. It is often used sarcastically, as in the example sentence below.
Antonym: 鳶(とんび)が鷹(たか)を産(う)む, “A black kite breeds a hawk”
I wished my son to realise my past dream of becoming a professional soccer player, but it didn’t come true. At the end of the day, “a child of a frog is a frog”.
Literally “take a mount”
しつこい (or ひつこい)
Other Info: It is also used to describe heavy taste, as in ひつこい味(あじ) meaning “heavy/greasy taste”もう分(わ)かったよ！ひつこい！
I got it already! You (Your repetitive behaviour) are so annoying!
The ramen I had for lunch tasted heavy/greasy, and my stomach still feels heavy.
二枚目 (にまいめ)/三枚目 (さんまいめ)
That actor can play both a cool, handsome role and funny, comical one
Literal Meaning “It will snow/rain a lot tomorrow”
Meaning “It’s so unlike you (to do such a nice thing)”
Other Info: It is used when someone does something nice that they usually don’t (and when apparently it won’t snow/rain in the next day; a metaphor for a rare event). It’s not a very common phrase (probably getting a little outdated) but used in anime/manga at times.
太郎の父: 太郎が早朝(そうちょう)に勉強しているって？ こりゃ明日は大雪だな！
(Taro’s father): Taro is studying early in the morning? Well then, it’ll snow a lot tomorrow!
Meaning: “anyway”; “before anything else”
Other Info. This is another way of saying “とにかく”, and hence とにかく is written as “兎に角” sometimes. This word is sometimes used in writing but rarely in speech. The kanjis 兎 (と or うさぎ, “rabbit”) and 角 (かく, “corner”) are just 当(あ)て字(じ), i.e. kanjis that represent the readings of the word only and not the meaning. “と” and “かく” seem to originate from the old-Japanese words と meaning “that” and かく “this”, respectively.
Anyway, it is great that everyone was safe.
Meaning “It would be inappropriate to say this myself, but…”
Other Info: It is used when you can’t resist bragging about yourself
It would be inappropriate to say this myself, but I was cute and very popular before!
Meaning “perform something without any practice/preparation; wing it”
Other Info: It is often used when you don’t have time to practice/prepare, or when you are audacious enough to perform something without practice.
I ran a marathon without any practice and had leg cramps
Meaning “steadily, little by little”
Other Info: The last character と can be omitted.
I study Japanese steadily, little by little every day
Other Info: Originally, it means “a purveyor to the royal court” but the aforementioned definition is more dominant nowadays.
Blog Post: Japanese Wasei-Eigo List (“Japlish”) and Their Meanings
Meaning: (often in the context of sports) “try to succeed/win/beat someone next time (after a failure/defeat)”
Other Info: It is a loanword from “revenge” in English. It is also used in the sense of “give something another try”, as in the second sentence below (however, some people regard it as wrong/unacceptable due to the gap from the original meaning in English)
As I lost to him last year, I wanna beat him this year.
去年 JLPT N3に落ちたから今年リベンジしたい
Because I failed JLPT N3 last year, I wanna give it another go this year.
Literal meaning: “three-day monk”
Since I started running early in the morning, I’ll try hard not to be “a three-day monk”.
Other Info: It combines two words: 借りる meaning “borrow” and パクる meaning “steal” (slang). The act can be done either inadvertently or intentionally.
Other Info: According to the Japanese tradition, if your 初夢 is about “Mt. Fuji”, “hawk”, and/or “eggplant, you will have a wonderful New Year ahead.
Other Info: It is a casual/abbreviated way of saying 明けましておめでとうございます, which literally means “(The last year) has ended and turned into a new year, congratulations!”