Glossary

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This page lists generic Japanese terms that are used across multiple disciplines.

Note on spelling

Japanese changes the pronunciation (and therefore our transliteration) of words depending on their usage. When used in a compound, often (but not always) the appended word's beginning syllable will change. For example, the word kaeshi becomes gaeshi when used in the word kotegaeshi. This phenomenon is known as rendaku or sequential voicing.

The following rules apply:

  • k → g
  • s, sh → z, j
  • t, ch, ts → d, j, dz
  • h, f → b

General

Ashisabaki 
足さばき. Footwork.
Awase
Blending, harmonising.
Barai
Sweep (for example, a leg sweep).
Bokken
Wooden sword modelled on the katana. The term bokken is more commonly used outside of Japan; inside Japan the term bokutō is more common.
Bokutō
Wooden sword; see bokken.
Bu
Set (of something).
Choku
Straight.
Chūdan 
中段. Middle.
Dō 
道. Way; road; path.
Dōjō 
道場 ("place of the way"). Special place used to practise Japanese martial arts.
Dōjō chō
The person who is the head of the dōjō.
Gedan 
下段. Low.
Gi
Clothes.
Gyaku
逆. Reverse; opposite.
Hakama
Pleated trousers worn for practising certain Japanese martial arts. Traditionally worn by samurai.
Hara 
One's centre of balance, said to be approximately an inch below the belly button.
Hidari
Left.
Hidarite
Left hand.
Direction.
Four-foot staff used for jōdō and aikijō.
Jōdan 
上段. High.
Gentle; soft.
Jutsu
Technique; art.
Kaeshi
counter; reversal.
Kamae
Stance; posture.
Kata 
Sequence of movements.
Katate
One-handed.
Keikogi 
Training clothes.
Ken
Sword.
Keri 
蹴り. Kick.
Kihon
Fundamental.
Kiri
Cut.
Kiza 
Sitting as in seiza, but resting on one's toes.
Komi
Drawing near; coming close.
Koryū
A school founded before the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Literally, "old school."
Mae
Front.
Men
Face.
Migi
Right.
Migite
Right hand.
Nagare
Flowing.
Ō
Great; respected (prefix).
Obi
Belt.
Otoshi
Drop.
Rei
Courtesy.
Renzoku
Continuous.
Shōmen
Forehead; head of the dōjō.
Soto
Outside.
Suburi
Individual movement exercise.
Tachi
Standing. Also a type of sword, longer and more curved than the katana.
Sword.
Toma
Long-distance.
Tsuki
Lit. 'thrust'. A punch, thrust with a jō, stab with a sword, or similar movement.
Uchi
Strike; inside.
Undo
Exercise.
Ushiro 
後ろ. Behind; rear.
Waza 
技. Art and technique (e.g., tachiwaza: techniques from standing).
Yoko
Side.

Principles

Ai
Harmony.
Aiki
Harmonising combined with internal power.
Atemi
Tactical striking.
Ki
Energy.
Kokyū
Breath; controlled breathing.
Kuzushi
Unbalancing the attacker.
Ma
Timing.
Maai
Correct distance.
Metsuke
Eye focus.
Musubi
Physical connection to the attacker.
Saho
Conduct.
Sen
Initiative.
Suigetsu
Tranquillity of spirit.
Zanshin
Mindfulness; awareness.

Postures

Agura 
Cross-legged sitting posture.
Kamae 
構え. Posture; readiness.
Kiza 
跪座. Like seiza, but resting on the balls of your feet.
Seiza 
正座 ("correct sitting"). Sitting in a kneeling position, feet flat on the floor.
Shizentai 
Natural posture.
Tatehiza 
立て膝 ("standing knee"). Sitting with the left leg as in seiza, the other almost as when sitting cross-legged. Used for sitting in armour (yoroi).
Za
座. Sitting.

Body parts

Ashi 
足. Foot.
Ashi 
脚. Leg.
Ashikubi 
足首. Ankle.
Atama 
頭. Head.
Dō 
胴. Body. Also karada.
Hana 
鼻. Nose.
Hiji 
ひじ. Elbow.
Hitai 
額. Forehead.
Hiza 
膝. Knee.
Hone 
骨. Bone.
Jinzō 
腎臓. Kidney.
Kakato 
かかと. Heel.
Karada 
体. Body.
Kami 
髪. Hair.
Kanzō 
肝臓. Liver.
Kao 
顔. Face.
Kata 
肩. Shoulder.
Koshi 
腰. Hips.
Kubi 
首. Neck.
Kuchi 
口. Mouth.
Me 
目. Eye.
Mimi 
耳. Ear.
Mune 
胸. Chest.
Nodo 
のど. Throat.
Onaka 
おなか. Stomach.
Senaka 
背中. Back.
Suigetsu 
水月. Solar plexus.
Te 
手. Hand.
Tekubi 
手首. Wrist.
Tsumasaki 
つまさき. Toe.
Ude 
腕. Arm.
Yubi 
指. Finger.

Counting

Japanese counting in the abstract follows relatively simple rules. When counting items however, the vocabulary used changes depending on the type of object being counted.

Numbers

The following section deals with counting in the abstract (one, two, three...).

Units

The numbers one to ten are written and pronounced in the following way:

  1. 一. Ichi.
  2. 二. Ni.
  3. 三. San.
  4. 四. Shi, yon.
  5. 五. Go.
  6. 六. Roku.
  7. 七. Shichi, nana.
  8. 八. Hachi.
  9. 九. Kyū, ku.
  10. 十. .

Tens

When counting above ten, numbers follow the simple pattern of number of tens--unit. For example, twenty-five is written ni-jū-go. The literal English translation would be 'two-ten-five', written that way because there are two units of ten and one unit of five. For multiples of ten, simply omit the units. For example, twenty is ni-jū, thirty is san-jū, etc. For numbers between ten and twenty, omit the number of tens. For example, sixteen is pronounced jū-roku.

The writing of Japanese numbers follows the same convention. Nineteen is 十九 (ten-nine, jūkyū), twenty is 二十 (two-ten, nijū) and twenty-one is 二十一 (two-ten-one, nijūichi).

Although there are multiple ways of pronouncing 4, 7 and 9, when counting above ten usually only one of these is acceptable. Between ten and a hundred, these are:

  • 14: Jūyon (not "jūshi")
  • 17: Jūnana (not "jūshichi")
  • 19: Jūkyū (not "jūku")
  • 40: Yonjū (not "shijū")
  • 70: Nanajū (not "shichijū")
  • 90: Kyūjū (not "kujū")

In general, yon is more common than shi because shi is a homophone with death (死) and is considered unlucky.

Hundreds

The unit for a hundred is hyaku (百). One hundred is pronounced simply as 'hyaku' and numbers above it follow the same convention that was used for numbers above ten. A hundred and one, for example, is pronounced hyakuichi.

There are some peculiarities with counting hundreds. This is because we are counting something and, as mentioned earlier, Japanese changes pronunciation depending on the kind of thing being counted. For hundreds, the pronunciation is altered in the following ways:

  • 100: Hyaku
  • 200: Nihyaku
  • 300: Sanbyaku
  • 400: Shihyaku
  • 500: Gohyaku
  • 600: Roppyaku
  • 700: Nanahyaku
  • 800: Happyaku
  • 900: Kyūhyaku

The altered pronunciation is because of rendaku (sequential voicing) - it does not affect the way the numbers are written. The pronunciation of numbers between 100 and 1000 follows the same rules as between 10 and 100. For example, two-hundred and forty-two would be pronounced nihyakuyonjūni and written '二百四十二'.

Thousands

The unit for a thousand is '千' and pronounced sen. Counting in the thousands maintains the same rules with the exception of the counting of the thousands unit, which behaves in a similar manner to counting hundreds. The way to pronounce a given quantity of thousands is given below:

  • 1000: Issen
  • 2000: Nisen
  • 3000: Sanzen
  • 4000: Yonsen
  • 5000: Gosen
  • 6000: Rokusen
  • 7000: Nanasen
  • 8000: Hassen
  • 9000: Kyūsen

The method of writing and pronunciation remains unchanged. Three-thousand eight-hundred and ninety-nine would be written '三千八百九十九' and pronounced sanzenhappyakukyūjūkyū.

Ten thousands

At this point, Japanese counting differs from Western methods of counting. Instead of counting in thousands up until a million, Japanese switches to counting units of ten-thousand. The unit for ten-thousand is '万' (or uncommonly '萬') and pronounced man. Ten-thousands can be counted with a simple number-man pattern:

  • 10,000: Ichiman or man
  • 20,000: Niman
  • 30,000: Sanman
  • 40,000: Yonman
  • 50,000: Goman
  • 60,000: Rokuman
  • 70,000: Nanaman
  • 80,000: Hachiman
  • 90,000: Kyūman
  • 100,000: Jūman
  • 110,000: Jūichiman

Counting continues in this way all the way to ten million. 990,000 is written as '九十九万' or kyūjūkyūman (ninety-nine ten-thousand). One million thus becomes '百万' (hyakuman or one-hundred ten-thousand). The counting continues in the same way as it worked for hundreds (e.g., 五百万 = gohyakuman or five million / five hundred ten-thousands). Ten million is written as '千万' (senman or a thousand ten-thousands).

There are no new characters introduced until one hundred million, where a new unit is introduced to represent it (億), pronounced oku. After this, there are no new characters until one trillion. The character for one trillion is '兆', pronounced chō.

Counting items

This section deals with counting objects. Japanese changes the pronunciation of numbers and words depending on the type of item being counted or the pronunciation of that item. This is because the number and the type of item being counted come together to form a compound word, which is affected by rendaku (sequential voicing). For example, the characters '一' (ichi / one) and '教' (kyo / teaching) come together to form ikkyo (一教 / first teaching). Similarly, the characters '二' (ni / two) and '本' (hon / book) come together to form nippon (二本 / two books). In the same way, san and hon form sanbon.

Some useful counters are given below:

  • Kyo: ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, gokyo, rokkyo, nanakyo
  • Hon: ippon, nippon, sanbon, yonhon, gohon, roppon, nanahon, kyūhon, jūppon