12 “Made-in-Japan” English Terms that Might Confuse English Speakers

istock collage
istock collage

Globalization has given us such incongruous cultural mash-ups as the Hindu-friendly Big Mac and Bulgarian Music Idol, but perhaps nowhere in the world has the interaction between foreign cultures been so fruitful as in Japan. The rise of English as the global tongue has created a whole new subset of language in the Land of the Rising Sun, a sort of fusion of English and Japanese called wasei-eigo (which actually means “made-in-Japan English”). These are words with English roots that have been so thoroughly Japan-ized as to be rendered barely recognizable to native English speakers. So for those hoping to “level-up” (there’s some wasei-eigo for you) their communication skills before traveling to Tokyo, consider memorizing these Japenglish gems.

1. “Baiking

If you eat in Japan, chances are you’ll come across a restaurant advertising a baiking (“Viking”) lunch. But you won’t find customers wearing horned helmets and dining on the spoils of war—baiking just means a buffet. The story goes that Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel was the first in Japan to serve buffet meals, and their “Viking smörgåsbord” (which was in turn named after the Kirk Douglas adventure film The Vikings) caught on as the name for everyone’s favorite way to all-you-can-eat. 

2. “Donmai

It sounds like it should mean “I don’t mind,” but donmai actually comes from the clunky English reassurance, “Don’t pay that any mind,” i.e., “Don’t worry about it!” In other words, “Your fugu sashimi’s poisonous? Donmai.” 

3. “Maipesu”

In Japan’s hyper-speed, group-oriented society, doing something at one’s own pace isn’t exactly an accolade. Which is why the term maipesu (“my pace”) is used somewhat pejoratively to describe someone who dances to the beat of their own drummer or does their own thing. For example, “Yoko Ono is so maipesu.” 

4. “Wanpisu”

You can probably guess that wanpisu comes from the English term “one piece.” But if the sentence, “My cousin’s wedding was beautiful, the bridesmaids all wore lovely one-pieces,” has you imagining a row of ladies posed in matching swimsuits, think again—wanpisu is actually the Japanese word for a woman’s dress. 

5. “Handorukipa

For a wild night out, a handorukipa is a necessity. That’s because Japan has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving—so you’d better hope your buddy is willing to be the “handle keeper” (i.e., designated driver). 

6., 7., and 8. "Konsento," "Hochikisu," and "Shapupenshiru"

Don’t be alarmed if your Japanese co-worker comes to you asking for konsento (“consent”). This just means they want to use your “concentric plug,” i.e., your power outlet. Same goes if they’re looking for a hochikisu (“Hotchkiss”), which means stapler, so named because the E. H. Hotchkiss Company was the first to produce the office staple (pun intended) in Japan. And if they ask for a shapupenshiru (“sharp pencil”), toss ‘em a pencil of the mechanical variety. 

9. and 10. “baiku” / “bebika”

Shock your Japanese friends by telling them that you spent all weekend teaching your 5-year-old daughter how to ride a bike. In Japan, baiku means motorcycle. Likewise, if a toddler goes out for a spin in the bebika (“baby car”), they’re merely riding in a stroller. 

11. “romansugurei”

Rather than Japanese Fifty Shades of Grey fan fiction, “romance grey” actually describes the Anderson Coopers and Richard Geres of the world. Think a handsome older gentleman with grey hair, or what we’d call a “silver fox.”

12. “manshon”

Don’t expect too much if a Tokyoite invites you over to their “mansion”—you won’t find marble floors or an indoor pool, because manshon simply describes a condominium-style apartment complex. (‘Cause good luck trying to fit a real mansion in Tokyo.)

Most Japanese people are surprised to find out that a perfectly grammatically-correct sentence like, “I got wasted at the viking, but luckily the handle keeper will gimme a ride back to my mansion,” sounds like gobbledygook to the average English speaker. But not everyone has embraced the widespread use of wasei-eigo. In fact, one 72 year old man recently made headlines when he sued the Japanese national public broadcaster because he couldn’t understand their Japanenglish-riddled programming. (Thus, he claimed, causing him 1.41 million yen worth of emotional distress.) He lost—which makes you wonder whether, after delivering the verdict, the judge told him, “Donmai.”

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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Why Do We Say ‘Spill the Beans’?

This is a Greek tragedy.
This is a Greek tragedy.
anthony_taylor/iStock via Getty Images

Though superfans of The Office may claim otherwise, the phrase spill the beans did not originate when Kevin Malone dropped a massive bucket of chili at work during episode 26 of season five. In fact, people supposedly started talking about spilling the beans more than 2000 years ago.

According to Bloomsbury International, one voting method in ancient Greece involved (uncooked) beans. If you were voting yes on a certain matter, you’d place a white bean in the jar; if you were voting no, you’d use your black bean. The jar wasn’t transparent, and since the votes were meant to be kept secret until the final tally, someone who accidentally knocked it over mid-vote was literally spilling the beans—and figuratively spilling the beans about the results.

While we don’t know for sure that the phrase spill the beans really does date all the way back to ancient times, we do know that people have used the word spill to mean “divulge” at least since the 16th century. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest known reference of it is from a letter written by Spanish chronicler Antonio de Guevara sometime before his death in 1545 (the word spill appears in Edward Hellowes’s 1577 translation of the letter).

Writers started to pair spill with beans during the 20th century. The first known mention is from Thomas K. Holmes’s 1919 novel The Man From Tall Timber: “‘Mother certainly has spilled the beans!’ thought Stafford in vast amusement.”

In short, it’s still a mystery why people decided that beans were an ideal food to describe spilling secrets. As for whether you’re imagining hard, raw beans like the Greeks used or the tender, seasoned beans from Kevin Malone’s ill-fated chili, we’ll leave that up to you.

[h/t Bloomsbury International]