Some interesting results from a survey emerge: the number one Japanese word understood overseas is thought by respondents to be “otaku”. “Anime” comes in at 9, “manga” at 16 and “Nintendo” at 17. See the full list (with English). See below for the vastly superior Sankaku Complex list of Japanese words with international currency.
The first indication that something is amiss with these results is probably the presence of “karoshi” (death from overwork), “mottainai” (wasteful; supposedly a uniquely Japanese concept) and, incredibly, “katori-senkou” (some sort of anti-mosquito device) at ranks 2, 3, and 4, and the complete absence of “sushi” from the list. The survey is obviously too polite to include “hentai”, “futanari” or “bukkake”…
These improbable sounding results deserve a little scrutiny and scepticism (repeating an admittedly appealing headline without due scrutiny is not what this site is about); careful reading of the article in fact soon reveals the proviso “maybe these results would be different if we asked people overseas”, tucked away right at the end of the article, doubtless so as not to impair its skim read impact.
So in fact we have a less charismatic headline of “Our Japanese survey respondents think “otaku” is most likely to be understood overseas”.
Still, I think it somewhat interesting that of a thousand Japanese Internet users, “otaku” was thought to be the number one Japanese word understood internationally.
Not to be outdone, Sankaku Complex has prepared its own dubious investigation of Japanese words with international currency:
There you have it; anime is king, even more widely talked of than Japan’s insignificant capital, and somehow Naruto is more popular than ninja. The Japanese had better resign themselves to the fact that their glorious cultural influence is most strongly felt overseas through anime, manga, games and sex.