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My English can’t be understood overseas? What is WaseiEigo (Japanese English)?


Language is complicated. I’m Japanese.Even though I’m a native speaker,I sometimes find Kanji, pronunciation and dialect, that I don’t understand. The other day, I went to an Izakaya(Japanese style,inexpensive, ordinary restaurant / bar) and I found an interesting menu “豆富サラダ” .So, I ordered it enthusiastically “I’ll have MAMETOMI Salad please!!” In a moment,

everybody there burst into laughter…What did I do??  The correct menu is read “TOFU salad” Do you know that? Tofu has two differenttypes of Kanji.I want to make an excuse.We usually see the Kanji of Tofu written as “豆腐”!(Let me excuse my ignorance..). The same case happens sometimes in Japanese.

How about English? There are slight differences like British English and American English.But after all,English is the common language in the world.I believed if I have the right vocabulary, everybody should understand what I want to say around the world.Even if I can’t speak fluently or correctly.But, in fact, there are many words that couldn’t be understood overseas at all,despite saying them again and again or changing their pronunciation.Or those words sometimes were misunderstood from what I meant to say. As a result,we were not on the same wavelength. This is weird..something is wrong.. Then I asked English native speakers,and it was pointed out that” That is not English!” or “ That is English but the meaning is wrong! “”what you mean?” This is the Wasei Eigo(Japanese English) trap!

<Example> Japanese English  =   Correct English

ワンピース one‐piece (Japanese use it as a one‐piece dress )= dress

クレーム claim (a person who complaints to companies or called claimer in Japanese)= complaint

ハイテンション high tension (Japanese use it when you are so excited and hyper) = hyper

パーカー parker(Japanese usually use it  as a sweatshirt with a hood)=hoodie

ダンボール danball(coinage)=cardboard

アンケート enquete(from French)=questionnaire

ナイーブ naive(Japanese use it as →)=sensitive

マンション mansion(really small apartment is also called a mansion in Japanese)=apartment

サラリーマン salary man(coinage)=office worker

アルバイト arbeit(from German) =part time job

コンセント concent(coinage)=“outlet(A)” “socket(B)

トランプ trump(from tump suit)=play cards

リサイクルショップ recycle shop(coinage)=secondhand store

ビニール袋 vinyl bag(coinage)=plastic bag

ピーマン piment(from French)=green pepper/ bell pepper

マフラー muffler(Japanese use it as knitted scarf)=scarf


These examples are just a small part of it.You can find a lot more.

What I understand from the examples is that,”Wasei Eigo(Japanese English) is not English,it is Japanese.

But there might be many Japanese who believe,these words are correct English.

So, how was  ”Wasei Eigo(Japanese English) made? Since the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century,Western cultures were brought into Japan.Catching foreign languages were written in Japanese Katakana.It made Japanese people think of Katakana as equal to foreign languages.

Mishearing words or abbreviating words,and other using foreign languages except English…All these things turned into the original Katakana.It is errors that look like Chinese Whispers! The origin of ”Wasei Eigo (Japanese English) might be just like that! After World War II, American culture rushed into Japan.Therefore, Japanese people probably considered “foreign language” in relation to English. That’s why, it might still remain a wrong impression that every language written in Katakana (ex:arbeit / piment /pan)  is actually taken from only English. Language continues to change with time.Current abbreviated words or coined words are being created day by day. The words of misunderstanding or mishearing have been connected and  abbreviated. That’s the way ”Wasei Eigo(Japanese English) came into being.So, it’s understandable that English speakers are puzzled to hear it. Pronunciation is another factor to being misunderstood.But, if you get a hint of what it means in English, I have a favor I would like to ask you,tip me off what you say it in English correctly”.






ワンピース=dress (ワンピースは水着のワンピースのこと)


ハイテンション=hyper (tensionは緊張とか張り詰めているという意味なので、high tension は緊張感関係が高まっているとか、高圧電力などに使われる)






サラリーマン=office worker(造語)

アルバイト=part time job(ドイツ語から)

コンセント=“outlet(米)” “socket(英)


リサイクルショップ=secondhand store(造語)

ビニール袋=plastic bag(造語)

ピーマン=green pepper/ bell pepper(フランス語から)




では、何故、和製英語が生まれたのか?という疑問を紐解いてみましょう。明治維新後、 英米からの文化が日本に多く入ってきました。聞き取った外国語をカタカナで日本語表記にしていったので、カタカナ=外国の言葉というイメージが定着したのです。

聞き間違いや省略言葉、解釈を誤ってしまった言葉、また英語以外の外国語も日本独特のカタカナに変換された和製英語。伝言ゲームでの変換ミスです! その上、日本は第二次世界大戦以降アメリカ文化が急速に入ってきたので、外国語=英語と結びつけたのではないでしょうか。だから、英語以外の言葉(アルバイト、ピーマン、パン等)も全ての外来語のカタカナ表記は英語由来と思い込みが今も息づいているのかもしれません。


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