Local Japanese Slang

Did you know that habuteru or habut is not an actual Japanese word, whereas benjo is?  How about bocha?
Habuteru or habut = pouty or grumpy.
“Eh, how come your kid stay so quiet?  She usually talk, talk, talk”.
“She stay all habuts because I told her we not going Castle Park after”.

benjo = bathroom or toilet.  “I come back, I going benjo“.
bocha = bath or bathe.  “I going bocha now!”

First of all, I need to give a shout out to daughter #2’s colleague who came up with this blog topic. She speaks fluent Japanese because her mom is from Japan, although she is a katonk (hey, isn’t that another local Japanese slang word?).

What else…

Bobora – This is a tricky one.  We grew up calling the Japanese tourist boboras – back in the day when they had daikon legs (yet another one!) and wore slippers with the big plastic flower on them.  But our parents referred to pumpkin as bobora.  But go to Japan and ask for bobora and I don’t know what you’ll get – besides a funny look.

Skosh = Little bit.  “I’ll just have a skosh“.  Now, this word is derived from the actual Japanese word “sukoshi” which means little bit – usually as in measurement.  The weird part is that this slang has been picked up by the English language.  It’s even in the Webster dictionary meaning a small amount.

Kukai = doo-doo.  “Aww man!  I went step in dog kukai“.

Butsu-butsu = a small sore.  “I got a butsu-butsu on my leg”.

Kakio = many sores. “Poor thing, she get all kakio leg”.

Shibiri = pins and needles such as when your leg falls asleep.  “Aiya, I get shibiri leg”.

Totan = corrugated metal. “That house get totan roof – noisy when it rains!”.

Kamaboko House = Quonset hut.  “Wow, check out that kamaboko house“.

Hanabata = wet, slimy boogers.  “Eh, your hanabata is about to drip”.

Hanakuso = dried, hard boogers.  “Stop flicking your hanakuso!”.

Buddhahead and Katonk = Interesting story about these 2 slang words.  We refer to a katonk as a Japanese person born on the mainland.  However, when I was looking up the origin of Buddhahead, found out that the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was made up of Japanese Americans (JA’s) from both the mainland and Hawaii.  Well, the Hawaii JA’s called the mainland ones Katonks.  So the mainland JA’s called the Hawaii ones Buddhaheads.  The word Buddhahead may have started out at “butahead” (pig-head) but somehow evolved into Buddhahead.  This, being the Nisei generation.

I think our generation considers a Buddhahead as an old-fashioned Japanese man who expects the wife to wait on him hand and foot.  The Buddhahead will sit at the table and wait for all the food to be served to him.  When he wants more rice, he’ll just tap his chawan with his hashi to let his wife know that he wants more rice.  The same goes for wanting more tea.  And when he’s done, he’ll just get up and walk away from the table – while the wife cleans up after him.  Other similar names for this kine of person is “Samurai” or “Shogun”.

Okay, some of these words are actual Japanese words – but kinda slang in the way we use(d) them.  What other Japanese slang words do you know?  Or maybe phrases such as:

Hold chochin = When someone tags along with a couple who are on a date.  “So what, you going hold chochin for them?”  Chochin is a lantern.  Way back in the day, a person would walk behind someone holding up a lantern on a long pole over the person’s head to give them light.

Now, I know not everyone is Japanese so I’ll take any other Oriental language slangs like manapua.  Just keep it clean.


73 Responses to “Local Japanese Slang”

  1. FromOlaa says:

    KARUTA was a card game with two separate decks. One deck had pictures with a brief description; this was spread out on the floor, face up, inside of the circle of players. The other deck had cards, each with words describing a specific card on the floor. A “referee” would read the card with the words, in Japanese, and the players would try to be the first to locate the appropriate picture card and slap it out of the ring of players. The one who “slapped” the most cards was the winner. This was something my mother used to play with me on rainy days, by being both the “referee” and a player, too. It was a good way to teach kids the language.
    Not Japanese slang, just a “hanabata days” memory.

  2. Seawalker says:


    Jhopanee Tiger Baum, Ben Gay, Mentholatum, and Samongee Solanpas – they all smell the same to me!

  3. Seawalker says:


    What is identified as a rainy day. For lunch, the conversation of noodles and soup always come up. Nobody thinks to turn down the a/c, so ramen. Aisooos!

  4. Seawalker says:


    Have to scratch when you get one “itchy knee” Haha

  5. Seawalker says:


    make any old kine, go for broke, against all odds, no set rules

    e.g. Some of us washy-washy the toilet bowl first. With the same dirty rag, we then wipe the the seat. No matter, just clean ’em!

  6. Seawalker says:


    Let’s Go Bows! Let’s Go Bows!

  7. sameguydifferentchannel says:

    Happy Boy’s Day, guys!

  8. 4G says:


    Okay – this is totally OT, but slightly related.

    From The Washington Post, “The Debate Over Who Counts as ‘American’ is Nothing New (I’m not a Jap, I’m a half-Jap) (podcast thingy at the end goes into more detail than the written article):

  9. 4G says:

    LOL – kind of suspected, but never really knew (just confirmed) – unko is japanese for #2

  10. KC fan says:

    Not really a slang but,obenjo is the country term for bathroom. I believe the term Japanese use is oteiarai. I remember playing that big chochin small chochin game at socials back in the day.

  11. 4G says:

    Seems like “kakimochi” is slang for arare.

  12. 4G says:

    Usage of “omiyage” seems pretty widespread.

  13. sameguydifferentchannel says:

    Takuan fut = one MEAN one! LOL

  14. sameguydifferentchannel says:

    I’ve heard “kachikachi dance” used for Okinawan kachashi dancing.

  15. KAN says:

    Japanese has lots of onomatopoetic words. “Butsubutsu” is one–I learned that to mean “to complain,” (same meaning as the local phrase “monku monku”) and was supposed to represent the sound of a crab.

  16. dihudfan says:

    to all my uncles I wuz known as Warubozu (rascal), to my aunties, ehko (good boy)…
    to the guys who went lady hunting… C C C ching ching chasers…

    why do people pronounce Karate… Kahrahte… kadahte is right?

  17. Seawalker says:


    First heard it and even sang the song in elementary school. Leave it to our bozo classmates to turn the name into something negative. Comedians, or should I now say, jailbirds!?!?

  18. Seawalker says:


    Hear it all the time from the older rice-heads, an obvious sign of aging. LOL

  19. Seawalker says:

    me no sabe

    sounds Japan-ish, eh? “I wouldn’t know.” One of best tools to use when you old-fut.

  20. Seawalker says:


    not sure if this word is slang or not, but, heck, you got to be mento to not know this in Hawaii as box lunch

  21. khs68 says:

    Tantaran – I always thought it meant making big body or showing off, but according to this Lee Cataluna article there are 3 theories about the meaning of tantaran.

  22. 1oldfut says:

    -“ushi kuso” B.S.
    -just “kuso” often heard in samurai tv shows like
    Toyama no Kinsan (‘das where I tink I got ’em
    -“Yoisho” when pulling heavy stuff li’dat. Don’t
    know where that came from but it helps somehow…

  23. Alan says:

    Hanbon Taran (sp??) — “Half lacking”; as in stupid, idiotic, etc.

  24. khs68 says:

    Uji – Maggot in Japanese. Used to describe gross, inappropriate lewd behavior by men. When talking about a male co-worker: “Why he gotta stand so close? He so uji.”

  25. sameguydifferentchannel says:

    Make (dead) is certainly local.

  26. sameguydifferentchannel says:

    what we know as musubi here is onigiri in Japan.

  27. sameguydifferentchannel says:

    “Chichi” (used as an identifier for one’s own father) always drew giggles from us kiddies in Japanese School.

  28. Seawalker says:


    b.s., full of it, malarkey, hogwash, liar-liar-pants-on-fire, fibber, slick-Rick, a.k.a. da Mayor and da Governor

  29. 4G says:

    Again, not actually slang but adopted from the language and relatively commonly used:

    Baka – stupid

    Obake – ghost

    Urusai – troublesome, irritating

  30. Keoni says:

    Eh, UR, that word for poo is actually from the Hawaiian “kukae” = excrement.
    Funny how the original language terms become all mixed up and sometimes far from the original.

    • Rodney says:

      Thanks Keoni! No wonder I couldn’t google the Japanese translation for kakai – it’s Hawaiian! lol

      • Rodney says:

        Is that the origin of the word; “kaka” meaning doo-doo?

        • z says:

          Rodney- Katonk
          My father’s friend told my Dad this WWII story: Local boys and a Mainland Japanese were gambling late at night past curfew in the barracks. The Mainlander would slap the dice cup hard on the floor.
          -“Eh, how come you go katong everytime! You join wake up the sergeant!”

          My Zen teacher from Japan told me bobora means pumpkin named in southern Japan and Okinawa. It also means ‘hollow head’ hence my email address

  31. Izsmom says:

    I think bobora is based on the Portuguese word for pumpkin, abobora. Also kakio is a Hawaiian word for itchy skin, mange, etc.
    My dad was in the 442 and he told me they would call the mainland born JAs kotonks based on the sound it would make of a coconut hit their head (meaning empty head) and the kotonks called them Buddha heads because they were looked at as being stubborn.
    My Baachan was the only one in her immediate family to immigrate to Hawaii, so in the early 70s her three sisters who stayed in Japan, came to visit her here. My Baachan was telling them in Japanese about her life experiences at Ewa Plantation, when my mother noticed that my Baachans sisters were looking a bit confused, my mom then pointed out to my Baachan that she wasn’t speaking completely in Japanese and my Baachan was puzzled and my mom said she used words such as “buta kaukau”‘ “makule”‘ and “pau Hana”. We all had a good laugh.

    • Rodney says:

      Yes, it’s interesting how pidgin became the universal language between all the different ethnic speaking plantation villages. It allowed the different nationalities to communicate with each other.

    • z says:

      pan is Portuguese means bread. The Dutch and Portuguese were the only people allowed to trade with the hermit Japanese kingdom because they saw what the other Europeans nations were doing conquering the world. So lots of thing come from both countries including my hairy arm. Am’pan’ bread bun with sweet azuki beans; tem’pu’ra? Could there be a link?

  32. mows says:

    My mom would call me hoitobo. Hoitobo batchi gatada.

  33. mows says:

    Gasa gasa and urusai. Chiisai chimpo, my friend would say nini chimpo.

  34. Seawalker says:


    one time as I was exiting Makiki Zippy’s on Young, almost hit a car coming fast. slam da brakes. flip da bird. might have said a thing or two. then, my Jhaponee friend in the car says, “itai”. no matter, LMPAO (Pake) anyways.

  35. Seawalker says:


    what goes around, comes around

  36. Masako says:

    I recall in elementary school if someone’s last name was Kawabata we called them Kawabata Hanabata. I heard it later on in the play “Good bye Las Vegas” which was written by Lee Cataluna.

    I think benjo is used in some parts of Japan. While working at Shirokiya the Japanese tourist would ask for the Obenjo. I’ve used it a couple of times in Japan and either got directions or a blank stare.

    I’ve tried to teach our Japan tour guides some Japanese pidgen. This one gal was really sharp and while we were walking down Kawabata Dori in Kyoto I was able to explain Kawabata Hanabata and she got it

    • 4G says:

      I think someone else also mentioned hanabata. The reference was in the literal meaning of the word.

      Your post reminded me of the classic slang term, “Hanabata Days”. It had totally slipped my mind. 😉

  37. GARETH AU says:

    “shi shi” (urine or urinate) Hawaii slang. Probably from the Japanese “shikko” or “o-shikko” (urine), as baby-talk.

  38. GARETH AU says:

    “Erai” meaning “tired” in Hawaii Japanese slang. In Japan, “erai” is used mainly in its original meaning of “great”, as in a great man. So, it’s not recommended to call yourself “erai” in Japan, as people will think you’re calling yourself great! To say you’re tired, “tsukaremashita” or “tsukareta” are safe, standard Japanese words.

  39. Seawalker says:

    Bobora – This is a tricky one. We grew up calling the Japanese tourist boboras – back in the day when they had daikon legs (yet another one!) and wore slippers with the big plastic flower on them. But our parents referred to pumpkin as bobora. But go to Japan and ask for bobora and I don’t know what you’ll get – besides a funny look.
    Well, @Rod, when you spock one old Jhopanee tourist, we used to call them tofu. White like h3ll, skin all wrinkled, and cold like sh*t. LOL

  40. Seawalker says:

    monku, monku, monku

    At’s what happens when you start to itch, with a bee in front of it.

  41. Seawalker says:


    What my muddah would say when Seawalker brought home a report card full of A’s. Likewise, what my faddah would say when Seawalker brought home a report card full of F’s. Guess what? Yup, lickins’-ville.

  42. Seawalker says:

    Sashimi – when we used to dance with the nice one at the nightclub

  43. Seawalker says:

    Taco Kamaka

    (our best attempt to make fun of our Mexican/Hawaiian neighbor when we were young. eh, maybe we got ’em from Wrestling Hawaii’s Tor Kamaka?)

  44. Seawalker says:

    mosquito bites – all them good lookin’ girls at our school was lackin’ this. hehe

  45. Seawalker says:

    Mom used to say, Seawalker, you smell like hom har.

    (that meant, you hauna. me? pass the ong choy and pork b/c it goes hand in hand with them shrimp paste)

  46. Seawalker says:


    go tutu or better yet, go do-do

    (stink kine!)

    • 4G says:


      • Seawalker says:

        Yes sir! One time granny was making jai for us. But it never smelled like normal jai. She also when do the ‘dew’ half-way. And she was not having a can of Mountain Dew. She when go poo. Big-time 5-2-2!


  47. Seawalker says:

    Dis one for the small kids or old futs waking up numerous times at night.


    (go shi shi)

  48. 4G says:

    Boroboro(s) – junky/casual clothing

  49. 91boz says:

    “Waru Bozu” Prankster or always up to no good. Part of my signature is short for “Giri Giri Bozu.

  50. 4G says:

    I think buddhahead is also used in reference to someone who is hard-headed.

  51. 4G says:

    I’m not sure if these qualify as “slang” since they might actually be Japanese words,

    Warubozu – Bad (mischievous) boy (why is that sooo familiar?) 😉
    Sukebe – Horny
    Nip – Derogatory term in reference to one of Japanese ancestry (based on Nippon?)
    Katsu – Stuff that’s been breaded and fried. Started as Tonkatsu, but has evolved to include stuff like Chicken Katsu and Fish Katsu

    Banana – oh, wait . . . . 😉

  52. 4G says:

    “Chocin” reminds me of the Social game, “Big Chochin, Small Chochin”

    • Rodney says:

      Wow, haven’t heard that in a long time! How did that game go?

      • 4G says:

        LOL – I wonder if I can recall accurately?

        So – basically a group game. The group sits in a circle and someone is “it”.

        The person who is “it” picks someone and goes to stand in front of them. The idea is trick the person into being incongruous between what they say and what they motion with their hands.

        For the person who is “it”, the choices are to exclaim either “big cochin” or “small chochin”. At the same time you say your choice, you motion with your hands. Your palms are pointed inward, toward each other and the distance between them signifies either “big chochin” or “small chochin”. For example, a distance of like eight inches between palms would be considered “small chochin” while a distance of something like a foot or more would be considered “big chochin”.

        Thing is, the person who is “it” can use either hand motion while saying either big or small chochin. So, for example, you could say, “Small chochin” while motioning “small chochin” with your hands, or you could say, “Small chochin” while motioning “big chochin” with your hands (or vice versa).

        The person who was picked by the person who is “it” has to (quickly) repeat what the “it” person said, but use the appropriate, congruous hand motion. I.e., if “small chochin” is said, the respondent must make the small chochin motion with their hands. If the respondent messes up, they are now the new “it” person and the process repeats.

        It was a fun game and I liked playing it. 🙂

  53. 4G says:

    I think another term I’ve heard relative to buddhahead/samurai was taisho.

  54. 91boz says:

    “Wadui Kuchi” Talk stink about someone.

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