Cool Japanese Words: What Textbooks Don’t Tell You

Cool Japanese Words: What Textbooks Don’t Tell You

Cool Japanese words for different situations that’ll make you an instant hit with the locals and throw you into the heart of Japan.
November 19 2021 Learn Japanese Japanese


Japan is jam-packed with friendly locals and home to an enchanting culture that infatuates people worldwide. Including us.

Fun fact: The locals LOVE foreigners who speak Japanese (no matter your ability), and especially if you speak the cool expressions they use in daily life.

So to hold conversations and make the most of your time in Japan, you’ll want to keep some cool Japanese words and phrases in your back pocket.  

In this blog, we give you the coolest, funniest and most mind-blowing words & phrases so you can learn Japanese in style.

Are you ready?

Cool Japanese Words you need to know

Want to sound like a local? No problem – these words and phrases are an easy trick to get you sounding Japanese quick. Hey, that rhymes! Let these video clips of real Japanese locals from our Japanese Course show you how it’s done!

Sugoi! (すごい) = incredible, awesome! moshi moshi? (もしもし?) = hello? (on the telephone)


tanoshi sō desu ne (楽しそうですね) = that’s fun! daijōbu desu (だいじょうぶです) = it’s all good!


toriaezu bīru! とりあえずビール!= a beer to start with!


 P.S. Find more clips like these in The Memrise App and in all our 22 language courses.


Some cool words to say in Japanese conversations

Sometimes just a simple word or two can keep the conversation flowing smoother than sashimi.

  • naruhodo (なるほど) = oh, I see! (casual)
  • yabai (やばい) = crazy (the good or bad kind, depending on context)
  • ossu (おっす) = what’s up? 
  • benkyō ni narimashita (勉強になりました) =  literally “I’ve learned something”
  • kimoi (キモい) = gross!


Which one’s your favourite? If you need to start simple, discover how to say hello in Japanese and other basic Japanese phrases.


Cool Japanese words and meanings around food

Japanese food is an obsession. And for good reason: have you had a taste? It’s mouth-wateringly delicious in all shapes, sizes and soy sauces.

These phrases give you a brilliant insight into Japanese food culture.

  • 胃袋をつかむ (iburo o tsukamu) = literally “to grab someone by the stomach”, meaning making someone like you through your cooking!
  • 口寂しい (kuchi sabishi) = literally “my mouth is feeling lonely” meaning “I’m peckish” 
  • 食い倒れ (kuidaore) = literally to ‘ruin yourself’ by eating too much food, sometimes described in the West as a ‘food coma’.
  • ワンバン (wan-ban) = literally “one bounce”, describing a custom of Japanese people: Before you bring food into your mouth, let it bounce on the bowl of rice once to get a bit of sauce on to your rice.


Respect your food! Cool sounding Japanese words you need to say

To make sure you pass the Japanese manners and etiquette test... make these phrases stick.




いただきます (itadakimasu) = thank you for the food (said before the meal) ごちそうさまです (gochisōsama desu) = thank you for the food (said after the meal)


1st day of work? Cool words to know

Japan is an extremely hot destination for business jobs. These two phrases will help you ace Japan’s office etiquette on day 1. So let’s do this!


hataraku toki wa hataraku, asobu toki wa asobu (働くときは働く、遊ぶときは遊ぶ) = work hard, play hard

Expect a karaoke session or a few beers in the local izakaya (Japanese pub) to bond with your colleagues!

This is a seriously cool one. Say otsukare sama desu (お疲れ様です) to say hello between colleagues and also to acknowledge their hard work.

Interesting, right? Find out more super cool things about Japanese culture to know when learning Japanese.


Cool Japanese words with deep meanings

Time to get a little profound. The Japanese language has some beautiful words (*reaches for tissues*) that express concepts and/or emotions and aren’t easily translated into other languages.

A Japanese local will be SERIOUSLY impressed if you reference one of these. For example:


  • ikigai (生きがい) = a purpose for living

  • natsukashii (懐かしい) = nostalgia for the past or close memory, something which gives you a slight smile

  • furusato (ふるさと) = where our hearts long for!

  • kokoro-kubari  (心配り) =  literally “handing out hearts”, meaning mindful for everyone and everything

  • hanafubuki (はなふぶき) = cherry blossoms falling in spring

  • komorebi 木漏れ日 = sunlight filtering through the trees


As well as some funny ones we can all relate to. We’ve been there!


  • kūki o yomu (空気を読む) = literally ‘Read the air’ to mean “to get the hint”

  • kūki yomenai (空気読めない) = when you can’t read the room. Literally ‘read the air’

  • irusu (居留守) = pretending to be out when someone knocks on the door

  • kimazui (気まずい) = literally ‘bad tasting air’, referring to awkward moments

Feeling inspired? The next section could be for you.


Cool Japanese tattoo words

That’s right, everyone wants to identify with Japan right now.

Just for fun: here are the top 3 cool Japanese words for tattoos picks from the Memrise Japanese team.

  • 正正堂堂 = (Strong confidence)

  • 一心 = (One heart)

  • 一期一会 (ichigo ichie)  = every encounter (with a person) is unique and have a meaning

  • 七転八起 (nanakorobi yaoki)  =  fail 7 times but get up 8 times

  • 不言実行 (bugen jikkō)  = don't say, just do

  • 唯一無二 (yui-itsu muni)  =   unique irreplaceable existence

  • 一日一生 (ichinichi isshō)  = a day is a smaller version of a life. A life is a layer of many days, and each day should be lived like it's your whole life

Read our blog on Japanese Kanji for more mind-blowing Japanese culture tattoos, and discover more cool Japanese kanji words and an easy trick to understand them.

Or dive into our Japanese Script course to start learning.

So there you have it. A round trip of the cool Japanese words you’re going to use to thrive in Japan.

Learning Japanese with Memrise


Our Japanese courses are designed to get you to confidently speak in real life, as fast and efficiently as possible. Which is why our video and audio clips of native Japanese speakers present you with cool words and phrases to use in different situations in Japan.

Have we caught your attention? Spend 5 minutes learning for free now to see why 60 million people learn with Memrise.


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