One of the best parts of learning any foreign language is coming across unique words and phrases that just don’t exist in your native language. This is one of the things that make studying Japanese so interesting, as it is full of these kinds of words. As a result, learning them can really enrich your vocabulary and bring you one step closer to sounding like a native speaker.

Now, it’s not that these words can’t be expressed in English at all (any idea can be expressed in all languages), but describing these concepts in English can be a bit clunky and requires a bit of circumlocution.  What makes them so cool is just how simple and succinct they are.

Here are three fun and useful examples.

積ん読・つんどく・Tsundoku

つんどく is the word for a pile of books you’ve bought but never bothered to read. The kanji that are used to write this word are literally to pile (積) and reading (読). However, this is not the true etymology of the word.  The word 積ん読 is an example of a pun, known in Japan as dajare (side note – Japanese people love puns).積ん読  comes from the phrase 積んでおく (tsundeoku) which means to leave piled up. However, in casual conversation, the ending でおく (deoku) gets contracted into どく (doku) and you are left with the verb 積んどく (tsundoku). This どく (doku), which is a verb ending, just happens to sound identical to the on-yomi of the kanji for reading, 読. So it got swapped in, and voila, a pun was born.

Despite originating from a verb, 積ん読 is a noun and can be used just like any other noun in the language. For example:

あっ、それは私の積ん読なんです。。。 – Oh, yeah that’s my pile of books I’ve never read….

弟はよく本を買うけど、積ん読だ。-My little brother buys a lot of books but never reads them. 

逆切れ・ぎゃくぎれ・Gyakugire

逆切れ, also written as 逆ギレ, literally means reverse cut and refers to a situation where someone gets mad at you because you are mad at them for something that they did wrong in the first place. Put more succinctly, it’s when an offending party gets angry at the person they have already victimized. Haven’t we all met someone like this before?

Let’s look at an example. Takeshi is supposed to meet Akiko for coffee at 3pm, however Takeshi is running late and keeps Akiko waiting for 30 minutes. When he finally arrives, Akiko is angry at him for taking so long. But then Takeshi gets mad back at Akiko and accuses her of making a big deal out of nothing. Takeshi’s reaction in this scenario is an example of 逆ギレ.

逆切れ is a noun, and can also be turned into a verb with the help of the verb する. Here are some example sentences:

逆ギレするなよ!起こるのはこっちの方だよ! – Don’t get mad at me! I’m the one who should be mad at you!

お母さんに「部屋を片つけなさい」と言われて、逆ギレしちゃった。- My mom told me to clean my room and I snapped back at her. 

別腹・べつばら・Betsubara

When you were a kid did you ever try to get out of eating vegetables because you were full, but then diligently informed your parents that you nevertheless still had room for dessert? Well, the Japanese have a word for this magical phenomenon of having multiple stomaches, and it’s called, べつばら,  which literally does mean separate stomach. The original word for stomach is pronounced はら (hara), but due to a phonological process known as rendaku, はら (hara) changes to ばら (bara)  when it appears in the middle of a word.

Just like the above two words, 別腹 is a regular noun. Let’s look at some example sentences:

お腹がいっぱいだけどデザートは別腹だよ – I’m full but I still have room for dessert

別腹って本当にあるの? – Is there really such a thing as having two stomaches? 

These are just a small sampling of the rich and varied vocabulary to be found in Japanese. Keep an eye out for them in your studies and you’ll be sure to impress your Japanese friends and colleagues with how much you know!

Also be sure to check out next article on fun Japanese words!

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