“Otaku” Number One Japanese Word Overseas?


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:

Anime: 267,000,000
Tokyo: 182,000,000
Manga: 153,000,000
Naruto: 121,000,000
Ninja: 118,000,000
Hentai: 79,700,000
Yen: 57,800,000
Samurai: 55,600,000
Sushi: 55,300,000
Karate: 38,800,000
Tsunami: 34,700,000
Tycoon: 31,400,000
Gundam: 30,100,000
Sumo: 29,900,000
Judo: 22,100,000
Ramen: 18,200,000
Geisha: 15,400,000
Bukkake: 15,200,000
Kamikaze: 14,400,000
Otaku: 14,200,000
Kimono: 11,900,000
Dojinshi/Doujinshi: 6,590,000
Banzai: 5,520,000
Ecchi: 3,010,000
Ikebana: 2,340,000
Futanari: 418,000
Shibari: 353,000
Karoshi: 347,000
Katori-senko: 2,680

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.

Source: Google.

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    Comment by Riiku
    01:43 20/02/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Its either fake, or half of the ppl who answered decided to do it with some humour.

    Comment by Cowpies
    01:47 25/05/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    I loved the "“maybe these results would be different if we asked people overseas”" bit, myself.
    Seriously, they think Karoshi is more prevalent than Sushi, Ninja and (maybe) even Gundam? REALLY?

    And I think Outside of Japan, Nerd/Geek would be used as a cover-all instead of Otaku, no?

    Comment by Zig
    22:06 22/05/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    wait what no kawaii? I'd bet that in reality only anime, tokyo and ninja beats it.

    Comment by :3
    00:01 16/05/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Yen is my name ._.

    Comment by Etoh
    01:47 09/10/2008 # ! Neutral (0)

    What, no karaoke?

    Comment by FlyingPig
    17:25 09/11/2008 # ! Neutral (0)

    Or bento? You can't go more than 10 metres in central London without encountering a shop selling sushi and bento.

    Harakiri. Commonly mangled in English as "harikari", but certainly one of the earliest Japanese words I encountered.

    Comment by FlyingPig
    17:40 09/11/2008 # ! Neutral (0)

    And of course teriyaki and honcho, the latter usually in the set phrase "head honcho".

    Comment by IcyStorm
    09:25 05/06/2008 # ! Neutral (0)

    What is the point of publishing these articles if they aren't actually what they say they are?

    I'm sure anime, ramen, bukkake, and sushi would top the list.

    Avatar of Artefact
    Comment by Artefact

    The point is most probably that they generate great traffic by way of writers too lazy or irresponsible to check what they write about, and readers who don't see past the headline...
    Their dubious results even got some articles written about them in relatively professional sources, so they appear to be correct in thinking they can get away with this sort of thing.

    Comment by The Emerging One
    17:54 15/12/2008 # ! Neutral (0)

    "Tycoon"? Really? Wow...that's a new one on me. I could've sworn that was a redneck word. Learn something new everyday.

    Comment by Anonymous
    12:26 18/01/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    how is tycoon even a japanese word? the spelling isn't even in japanese syllables

    Comment by K9T
    13:05 21/02/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Here's a hint:

    "taikun". Now go find yourself a good jisho and look it up ;)

    Avatar of Artefact
    Comment by Artefact

    Try using a dictionary...

    Comment by Anonymous
    19:58 15/04/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    Maybe they meant "typhoon" (although that's not really a japanese word either, as iirc the Japanese is taifuu, sans "n")

    Comment by Anonymous
    08:59 18/03/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    If "tycoon" is a Japanese word, "anime" is an English word.

    Comment by Anonymous
    20:03 15/04/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    I stand corrected by a post below me. Maybe I should read more :/

    Comment by neonshadows
    05:48 25/04/2009 # ! Neutral (0)

    seriously... that took me about 6 seconds to look up the etymology of the word "tycoon". Why come here, look like an idiot, and waste everybody's time?

    Comment by BrandeX
    10:37 12/12/2008 # ! Neutral (0)

    That poll is ridiculous. We have Japanese words in the English language, of which does not include "otaku".......

    Avatar of Stonehound
    Comment by Stonehound
    02:55 21/11/2008 # ! Neutral (0)

    The word "Naruto", in addition to the obvious uberfranchise by the name, may be helped along by the fact it's also a Japanese food. (It's those spiraly slices of fish cake you see in assorted noodle dishes, not coincidentally showing up in the manga/anime by the name, stuck to the eponymous character's cheek as he sucks down ramen.)

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