Discover Nikkei Logo

Japanese for beginners

I woke up to a call from Midori , she told me that she had taken a reiki course and asked me if I wanted to have sushi with her for lunch. I had met her at an origami workshop the week before and I liked her, I don't know why I thought a kimono would look perfect on her. I accepted and we agreed on a place and time. I left my house quickly so as not to be late for my karate classes. I have attended since I was a child, I remember dreaming of becoming a samurai. After that I returned home and realized that I had time to read Sugoi magazine, which always has good articles about mangas and animes . I entertained myself so much that I was late and flew out to meet Midori. There was so much traffic that I was delayed further. That situation reminded me that they want to implement something called a “green wave,” a plan to speed up traffic. But at that moment I needed more a “green tsunami ” to take me straight to the restaurant. In the end I was about half an hour late and Midori was upset. I offered to buy her not only sushi but also a generous portion of sashimi and take her to karaoke later. I took as many risks as a kamikaze , but it was of no use. “ Sayonara ,” he told me that day and since then I always try to leave earlier for all my appointments.

Some Japanese words have had a deep impact on Peruvian Spanish. They are not only used in the contexts that would dictate their true meaning, but they are present in any conversation. For Julio Hevia, psychologist and language scholar, there have been so many cultural clashes in Peru that it is not surprising that Japanese phonetics attracts so much.

“They are like constant short circuits that have occurred over time. Japanese immigration not only brought their food and music, but their language also merged with ours. That, added to the wide variety of Japanese programs that are shown on television, has allowed young people to better assimilate some general words.”

Likewise, Hevia, author of the slang book “Speak Player,” maintains that this assimilation occurs with greater intensity in the young population because they are the ones most open to change.

“It is the boys who are more flexible in their language, they transform words, change them, cut them, invert them and that makes them a group that accepts new words more and better. On the contrary, adults or older people are not so permissible,” says Hevia.

Words icons

Much of the reason Japanese words are used naturally in Spanish is their powerful meaning. Japanese offers words that are a definition in themselves. By saying 'samurai', we are not saying that it is just any warrior. The particularity of the word is that it refers to a specific person with defined characteristics.

Japanese culture is so different and unique that words from other languages ​​are not enough to define and explain. Another example is the word 'karaoke', which refers to a Japanese activity. In no other part of the world was singing reading the lyrics of songs so popular. That is why it is now a universal word.

Likewise, Japanese gastronomy traveled and imposed itself on the rest of the world, carrying its words with it. 'Sushi' transcended not only its flavor, but also its name. Who knows if it would have the same success if it were called something else in Peru.

The technology

Technological advances increase our vocabulary and we are now in a context of new invented products and artifacts. Part of the hegemony of this technological revolution is, without a doubt, held by Japan and for Julio Hevia this is also a factor to take into account.

“It is a way to easily acquire Japanese sounds. It seems to me that there is an ease in the contemporary consumer to capture what is proliferating, what can be adhered to. Stable things smell old, even people's memory is from now, short-range, due to technology. We depend on it and that forces us to learn new words,” he says.

As for television, Japanese series like Jiban or Liveman, or the dozens of anime that have been so successful in the medium have familiarized people with Japanese names. It is no coincidence that some non-Nikkei Peruvians now baptize their children with names from Japan. Before it happened with the “Michael” and the “John”, now it is Midori and Ryu.

Many scientists maintain that knowledge begins with language. If so, having a variable language enriched with other influences only increases our knowledge. Welcome, then, the Japanese words.

* This article is published thanks to the agreement between the Peruvian Japanese Association (APJ) and the Discover Nikkei Project. Article originally published in Kaikan magazine No. 42.

Text © 2009 Asociación Peruano Japonesa y Daniel Goya Callirgos; Fotos: © 2009 Asociación Peruano Japonesa

languages Peru
About the Authors

Luis Daniel Goya Callirgos is a communicator and journalist. He has been editor of the Asia Sur Magazine, editor of the Correo newspaper and web editor of the EPENSA Group. He was editor of Eva Magazine and editor of installments of the tourism supplement Viajero, both from Grupo El Comercio. He has won the ETECOM Communication Award in the Digital Press category two consecutive years and obtained first place in the Journalistic Chronicles contest organized by the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences (UPC). He was a finalist in the CONACINE Extraordinary Documentary Project Contest and in the DOCTV IB II Contest. He has been a television reporter, written press columnist and manages one of the most read blogs about television series in Peru.

Last updated January 2010

The Japanese Peruvian Association (Asociación Peruano Japonesa, APJ) is a nonprofit organization that brings together and represents Japanese citizens who live in Peru and their descendants, as well as their institutions.

Updated May 2009

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
Discover Nikkei brandmark New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More

Discover Nikkei Updates

Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
Nikkei Uncovered IV: a poetry reading
Join us virtually and enjoy poetry by Matthew Mejia, Christine Kitano, and Mia Ayumi Malholtra.
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!