Must Know Japanese Slang Phrases

Two women dressed in casual clothes with dark brown hair are walking and having an animated conversation

The wide array of subcultures in Japan helped create an ever-evolving slang you might hear while visiting the country. However, because Japanese culture centers around politeness, it's important to know your audience when using slang in conversation.

There are four different levels of politeness in Japanese society. “Keigo” is the level of etiquette used in customer service or formal situations. “Desu-masu” describes how to interact with strangers, superiors, and elders and “da-ru” is how people speak with their co-workers and children. Slang is reserved for conversations with close friends and peers.

The slang term “yabai” translates to “dangerous,” but is a versatile word that can have a positive or negative meaning depending on its use. Someone might shout “yabai” if their favorite soccer team scores a goal or if they stub their toe. The meaning of the word is tied to the context of the conversation.

People who are “kūki yomenai” or KY might not be able to tell exactly how someone is using “yabai.” The phrase is used to describe someone who “can’t read the room.”

“Hanpa na” is another slang term that has several uses. It roughly translates to “wild” or “insane.” It can describe a cool guitar solo, an intense thunderstorm, or just about anything that inspires awe or surprise.

If something is neither good nor bad, you can use the word “bimyō”—the Japanese equivalent of “meh”—to describe it.

You may be familiar with the term “kawaii,” which refers to anything cute. If so, you might recognize the word “busukawa,” a combination of the words “busaiku” and “kawaii” that means “ugly cute.” A hairless cat wearing a fluffy sweater…That’s “busukawa!”

Many Japanese slang terms describe humor.  For example, “ukeru” means “hilarious” and indicates amusement—like when someone tells you a funny story. If you’re reacting to something funny in a text message, typing the letter “w” is the equivalent of “lol” or “haha” in the United States. The “w” represents the verb “warau,” which means “to laugh” in Japanese.

The word “Guguru” is also connected to technology. It’s the Japanese way of telling someone to “Google it.”

Japanese has no shortage of words to express that something is bothering you. “Mukatsuku,” “mendoi,” and “uzai” are similar terms that mean “irritating,” “what a hassle,” and “annoying,” respectively.

If you’ve been learning these slang terms with a friend, let them know “otsu!” This loosely translates to “good work today” and is a nice way to say “farewell” at the end of a day.

Learn More:
Japanese Slang 101
12 Japanese Slang Words to Help You Talk Like a Local
Guide to Japanese Slang