"Chilly" in Japanese

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The Japanese love to borrow foreign words into their language, tens of thousands of them, but when they do, they usually put their own stamp on them.  This year's word of the year is a good example:

Laid-Back Loanword “Chirui” Chosen as One of Japan’s Words of 2021:

The English phrase “chill out” inspired the adjective chirui, which was selected by dictionary publisher Sanseidō as its word of the year for 2021.

nippon.com (12/10/21)

Here they've created an adjective based on the English phrase "chill out".

From the late 2010s, young Japanese have adapted the English into verb forms like chiru suru and chirutteru and adjectives like chiru na and the winning chirui.

Like “chilled out” or the adjectival “chill,” chirui means to be relaxed or at ease. It might be used to describe a Sunday afternoon or the atmosphere of a favorite café. COVID-19 has buffeted the world again in 2021, but many are hoping they can at least enjoy a chirui time over the New Year period.

It is common for loanwords to be imported into Japanese as na adjectives, such as waido na (from “wide”), and considerably rarer for them to transform into i adjectives. There are, however, examples like eroi (from “erotic”), emoi (from “emotional”), and guroi (from “grotesque”), as well as the once-popular term naui (from “now”), to describe something trendy or up to date.

When choosing their words of the year, dictionary publishers aim to pick terms they expect to have some staying power, unlike the buzzwords in the “Words of the Year” contest. Dictionary compiler Ono Masahiro said that because it was extremely unusual for a loanword to become an i adjective, this was a reason for recording it in the dictionary.

There were three words in the top 10 related to COVID-19. Jinryū for the “flows of people” tracked by the government in its containment efforts was in fifth place, webinā (webinar) in sixth, and various ouchi (at home) activities in ninth.

Another Japanese publisher, Shōgakukan, selected oyagacha as its word of the year. This portmanteau puts together oya, “parents,” with gacha, deriving from a word for how low-cost random items are distributed in mobile games. The term is based on the idea that children cannot choose who their mother and father are, and may be fortunate or not in who they get. The publisher chose jinryū as its runner-up.

Here are Sanseidō’s top 10 new words of the year for 2021:

  1. チルいChirui. Deriving from “chill out,” this adjective means pleasantly relaxed in both body and mind, or describes this kind of atmosphere.
  2. ガチャGacha. From the system whereby players get random items in mobile games, which is based in turn on the original gacha capsule toy vending machines, this word is used to talk about things governed by chance. May be applied to complaints about one’s bad luck in the lottery of life, as in the case of oyagacha (parents gacha).
  3. マリトッツォMaritottso. The Italian confection maritozzo—a sweet bun packed with whipped cream—became the latest food craze in Japan in 2021.  [VHM:  I would love to eat one of these!]
  4. 投げ銭Nagesen. Literally meaning “thrown coin,” this has long referred to the money given to, for example, street performers. A new meaning, however, is of money donated to websites that provide free content.
  5. 人流Jinryū. A word for “flows of people” vacationing, commuting, or otherwise traveling, as mass movement became a factor to monitor during the pandemic.
  6. ウェビナーWebinā. The English portmanteau of “web” and “seminar” was adopted into Japanese in a year when a lot of learning went online.
  7. ギグワークGigu wāku. The contracting out of separate jobs to individuals online, or “gig work,” became increasingly common in Japan in 2021. While it can provide new opportunities to companies and workers, there has been criticism that pay and protections for the latter are inadequate.
  8. 更問いSaratoi. Meaning a “follow-up question” or to ask such a question, this term came under the spotlight as journalists found themselves limited to just one question each at Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s press conferences, and argued the importance of checking further details.
  9. おうち〇〇Ouchi. The polite word for “house” became a common prefix for various at-home activities performed during the restrictions of the pandemic.
  10. Z世代Z-sedai. The Japanese word for “Generation Z,” who are drawing interest as they become young adults.

And here are Shōgakukan’s top new words of the year for 2021:

親ガチャOyagacha [Winner]. The phrase “parents gacha” expresses how children cannot choose the family they are born into.

人流Jinryū [Runner-up]. The “flows of people” tracked by the Japanese government using mobile phone and other data to combat COVID-19.

It's always an exciting, fun time for new words and buzzwords in Japan.  As my brother-in-law was fond of saying, "Never a dull moment!"


Selected readings


[h.t. Jim Breen]


  1. Jon Lennox said,

    December 21, 2021 @ 7:28 pm

    The concept of oyagacha sounds rather like a popularization of John Rawls's Veil of Ignorance.

  2. Jim Breen said,

    December 21, 2021 @ 7:44 pm

    更問い (follow-up question; additional question) is not exactly a new word – it was added to JMdict in 2008. It seems it became particularly popular in 2021, thanks to Suga's press conference rules.

  3. John Swindle said,

    December 21, 2021 @ 8:42 pm

    Is 人流 'flows of people' a new coinage or is it borrowed from Chinese? Can't it mean that in Chinese, as well as its other meaning?

  4. unekdoud said,

    December 22, 2021 @ 7:31 am

    Is Z pronounced zee or zed (or something similar)?

  5. Alyssa said,

    December 22, 2021 @ 3:43 pm

    Maybe this distinction isn't very important, but it looks like chirui is based on the adjective "chill" and not "chilly" – the resemblance to chilly is a coincidence due to the Japanese adjective suffix -i being added to "chiru"

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 22, 2021 @ 7:27 pm

    チルい seems to mean approximately the same thing as what wiktionary gives as sense 3 of adjectival "chill" in English. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chill#Adjective. Now, this sense in English is AFAIK comparatively new (as in, I don't think I was aware of it before the past decade and I think I heard it from my daughters and/or other Young People) and may itself have been derived from "chill out." Obviously Japanese could have done the same derivation independently from that process in English, but the implication that "whoa this is a verb in English yet an adjective in Japanese" is a bit misleading.

  7. cameron said,

    December 23, 2021 @ 12:37 am

    I agree with Alyssa and J.W. Brewer, Japanese chirui apparently corresponds to English "chill", rather than "chilly". "Chill", in this sense, dates back to at least the 80s, I think, as a direct extension of the idiom "to chill out".

  8. cameron said,

    December 23, 2021 @ 12:38 am

    I agree with Alyssa and J.W. Brewer, Japanese chirui apparently corresponds to English "chill", rather than "chilly". "Chill", in this sense, dates back to at least the 80s, I think, as a direct extension of the idiom "to chill out".

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    December 23, 2021 @ 12:27 pm

    What exactly are "mobile games" ? There are two mentions of them in the article, both also mentioning "random items", but I failed to make any sense of either.

  10. Ed Hall said,

    December 23, 2021 @ 5:58 pm

    A "mobile game" is a video game played on a smartphone. In many such games an objective is to accumulate imaginary prizes. A "random item" might be anything from a coin of small denomination, an item useful in accomplishing another game objective, even just a complement from the game or a game character.

  11. JoshR said,

    December 23, 2021 @ 7:26 pm

    unekdoud said,
    "Is Z pronounced zee or zed (or something similar)?"

    The Japanese pronounce Z as "zetto."

    Philip Taylor said,
    "What exactly are "mobile games" ? There are two mentions of them in the article, both also mentioning "random items", but I failed to make any sense of either."

    Games played on mobile phones or tablets. In many of these games, you need to collect an inventory of items to progress, and there will be opportunities to get a randomly selected item.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    December 24, 2021 @ 10:35 am

    Thank you Ed & Josh — all is now clear.

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