Food-related and other types of slang in Japanese

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New article in The Japan Times (9/9/22) by Jennifer O'Donnell: 

"The study of Japanese slang is challenging and never stops. Luckily, it’s also a lot of fun."

Inspired by Wes Robertson’s slang-focused “Scripting Japan” blog, it deals with terms like "Ore shafu da ne wwww おれ社不だねwwww”.

The four w’s you might be able to recognize as the Japanese equivalent to “LOL.” おれ (Ore) means “I,” だね (da ne) is looking for agreement … but what’s 社不 (shafu)?

Well, if you follow Wes Robertson’s slang-focused “Scripting Japan” blog, you’ll know that 社不 is a relatively recent term — more comically self-depreciating than insulting — that refers to someone who is 不適合 (futekigō, incompatible) with 社会 (shakai, society).

So, who is Wes Robertson, and what are his goals?

A senior lecturer in Japanese studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, Robertson specializes in sociolinguistic perspectives in the study of writing systems. In other words, he looks at how Japanese people interpret text differently depending on what writing system (hiragana, katakana or kanji) is used in combination with certain words. His interest in modern 俗語 (zokugo, slang) came about last year, a couple of years after joining Twitter. Social media works best when you’re able to create content that interests people so, to promote his research, Robertson knew that he would need to create content that captured people’s attention.

Why did he start "Scripting Japan"?

…“I realized that I had trouble reading a lot of Japanese on Twitter despite, well, being fluent in Japanese. I had to look up all these odd phrases and words, and then one day in the process realized that the work I was doing here for myself was the exact level of ‘interesting but not publishable in a journal’ type of research I was looking for.”

The article then describes the main sources for the subject matter of Robertson's blog, including Numan, Niconicopedia, Japanese Twitter, and Netflix with Japanese subtitles, and proceeds to give some specific examples of his favorite finds.

“I like words that have a really vivid image or story behind them that link to Japanese cultural traditions and practices,” he says. In fact, one of his favorite finds has been 金太郎飴シナリオ (Kintarō ame shinario).

The term was inspired by a type of long, taffy-like 飴 (ame, candy) that traditionally featured the face of a young hero from folklore named 金太郎 (Kintarō). No matter what length you cut the sections of this cylindrical treat into, you’ll always be able to see the face in the same way.

A 金太郎飴シナリオ, therefore, is used to describe a video game in which, no matter the choices you make, the outcome will always be the same. It is often used to refer to many 乙女ゲーム (otome gēmu, literally “maiden games”), romantic scenario RPGs that involve making choices to wind up with the person of your dreams.

Another food-related slang term is バウムクーヘンエンド (Baumukūhen endo, Baumkuchen end), which Robertson explains is “a situation where two characters who seemed like they were going to get together at the end of a story don’t end up together.”

Named after the German cake, Baumkuchen are popular gifts given to wedding guests in Japan as a token of thanks from the happy couple. After some research, Robertson believes that the term came from a tweet in 2012 that described the idea of one half of a couple going home to eat Baumkuchen alone while their significant other has run off with someone else, and how lonely that would be.

As we have noticed on many occasions before, Japanese does not have many vulgar swear words, but it sure has plenty of cute, clever, revealing slang.


Selected readings

[h.t. Don Keyser]


  1. Asuitablecase said,

    September 10, 2022 @ 1:35 pm

    In the UK, this kind of candy is called “rock”.

  2. /df said,

    September 11, 2022 @ 8:33 am

    As in "Brighton Rock" and of course in its Blackpool version saucily eulogised by George Formby.

    Apparently it's "stick candy" in Atlantic City, Venice Beach, etc, and not to be confused with "rock candy", even if it might be a "candy" called "rock" and certainly not the sort of thing associated with the unexpurgated Big Rock Candy Mountain.

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