Say What?: Unusual Japanese Terms Part I

Unusual Japanese Terms Part I
When teaching English to Japanese, one thing you’ll quickly realize is how fascinated
they are with cultural differences. One way to appeal to students is to highlight these
interesting differences by pointing out interesting facts about the words and phrases in
English they are already familiar with. Let’s take a look at a few examples, this time on
the theme of food:

“American Dog”

What is a truly American dog, a Golden Retriever? No, instead this is
the golden breading on a corn dog. The invention IS American, though, so I appreciate
the credit. Japanese corn dogs are pretty much an exact match to the real deal in my
experience – the frozen supermarket ones anyway.


In the US I knew two different ciders, the alcoholic version occasionally found
at bars and pubs, and the sweeter staple of the holiday season. Both are, of course,
apple-derived. So what is cider in Japan? Well…it’s basically Sprite or 7-Up – that is,
lemon-lime soda. So no apples and no alcohol are involved.

“Hamburg” vs “Hamburger”

Rather than refer to the German city, hamburg in Japan is
a hamburger patty (or alternatively, Salisbury steak but to be honest I only ever saw
that in TV dinners…). It’s served on its own; the bread/bun is reserved for the -ER suffix.
The idea of referring to ground meat as hamburger (as in the US product “Hamburger
Helper”), however, is totally unknown here.


This is one all eikaiwa teachers should make their students aware of: it’s
common in Japan to use potato as shorthand for what we in the US would call “french
fries” or just “fries”. And it’s actually not far off – the Japanese po-te-to is short for “fried
potato”. However, to refer to the actual raw spud, they’ll almost always go back to the
Japanese ジャガイモ (jagaimo; potato vegetable).


For whatever reason, in Japanese this Mexican food item is always plural
with a fairly strong “su” at the end. It may have to do with たこ (tako; octopus) being so
common a word in restaurants. It’s a shame that finding just one good taco(su) in Japan
is hard enough, much less 2+!
As you live and work here, make a mental note of the other funny relations between
English and Japanese-English for use in your own lessons. Happy teaching!