【Japanese Vocabulary】 Words in Japanese that originate from other languages 【外来語 Vol.1】

Tokyo Culture Japanese 2019.07.18
Japanese, in general, is hard to learn. All the grammar, vocabulary, sayings, and whatnot. However, if you get to know the background to these it might help you to learn the language. In this series, we will explore the Japanese language along with its background. In this case, that is the origin of the words. Get to know the words in Japanese that aren't actually Japanese.
Aren't these Japanese?
Gairai-go 【外来語: がいらいご】
Gairaigo, this word can be broken down into three parts, which are [外=outside], [来=come] and [語=word, language], meaning "Word that came from outside (of the country)".
There are many of these kinds of words in Japanese and we will be introducing just a few of them this time.
Some of the words may be familiar, but some are not yet well known. Sometimes, even a Japanese person may not know the origin of the word.
Our favourite Japanese dish
#1. Tempura【天麩羅:てんぷら】
One of the most popular dishes in Japan.
Tempura is definitely delicious and seems like it has made its position in the Japanese cuisine, however, this word is borrowed from the Portuguese word "tempêro" meaning "seasoning".
  • Freshly cooked tempura.
  • The tempura meal

Background of Tempura

This dish indeed has made its position in Japanese cuisine, however, not many people know that the word originates from another country.

According to one of the theories, it is said that during the Muromachi period, while it was the age of discovery in Europe, the Portuguese came into Japan somewhere around the 1540s and handed down their culture to the Japanese back then. In which, one of them was Tempura.

*There are many other theories to how this dish got its name, and this is just one of them.
A salmon delicacy
#2. Salmon Roe, Ikura 【いくら】
Yes, the word for salmon roe is also a word that originates from another country.
This time it's Russia.
The word Ikura comes from the Russian word [икра](ikrá) meaning "roe".

The word "Ikura" in Japan is particularly used for the salmon roe, but in Russian, it is used for any fish roe.

The Japanese salmon roe is normally rinsed and cured in saltwater then sometimes marinated in soy-sauce based sauce to give it that extra flavours.
  • The ikura and salmon rice bowl

Brief history

It is said that the word Ikura came into Japan during the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, 1906. Back then the Russian people ate salmon roe as a substitute for caviar and that spread around in Japan as Ikura. Since then, till now salmon roe has been in the market as Ikura.
The fluffy and moist sponge cake from Portugal
#3. Castella 【カステラ】
This simple yet tasty delight now famous in Nagasaki prefecture was once brought into Japan by the Portuguese. 
  • The item on the left-hand side of the picture is the Castella.

Background of Castella

Castella was brought into Japan during the 16th century, by the Portuguese and spread around the area now known as the Nagasaki prefecture. Since then it has developed into a Japanese confectionary.
Tempura, Ikura, Castella, all these delicious foods that developed in Japan once originated in another country.
It is interesting to look into the history to fully understand the Japanese language.

Oh, and in case you feel hungry from reading this article, here are a few places we can recommend you to cure that craving!
Tempura : Hakata Tempura Takao, at JOINUS Yokohama.
Ikura: Suntory, the Premium Malt's Ocean Grill, in Okinawa. or "Crab, Salmon and Salmon roe Rice Bowl" at Sawanoya in Ishikawa.
Castella: at Bunmeido

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