Photo by Cody Chan from Unsplash

You can now find katsu, takoyaki, and other yummy Japanese dishes in the Oxford English Dictionary

Hear ye, hear ye, logophiles/lexiphiles who are also Japanophiles like me! The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) got updated last month and part of the newest inclusions are 23 Japanese words, with over half of these related to food or cooking. 

Among the popular dishes from the Land of the Rising Sun that are now in the venerable dictionary is donburi, a Japanese dish consisting of rice topped with other ingredients. It can also be used to refer to the bowl in which this dish is served, which is traditionally made of ceramic. The culinary use of the word donburi in Japanese is probably related to the adverb donburi, meaning ‘with a splash’, which could be an allusion to the sound of ingredients being dropped into the bowl.  

Among the popular Japanese dishes now in the OED is donburi, a Japanese dish consisting of rice topped with other ingredients. Photo by Ibmoon Kim. All photos from Unsplash

Then there’s okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with flour and eggs combined with other ingredients like cabbage, meat, and seafood, cooked on a griddle, and served with various toppings such as dried seaweed flakes, pickled ginger, and Japanese mayonnaise.

In Japanese, okonomiyaki is derived from okonomi, meaning “what you like” combined with yaki “to fry, sear,” and in its earliest use in English, the word also referred to a restaurant where diners themselves prepare this dish on a tabletop griddle using their chosen ingredients. 

Okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake, has also been included in the OED.
Photo by Daniel Hooper

Everybody’s favorite, katsu, had also been included. Katsu could be any piece of meat—not just pork or chicken— seafood, or vegetable, coated with flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs, deep-fried, and cut into strips.

Worth mentioning is how katsu is a so-called boomerang word, a good example of a Japanese-English reborrowing. Katsu is actually the shortened form of katsuretsu, which itself is a borrowing into Japanese from the English word “cutlet.”  

Other yummy Japanese dishes which are now part of the dictionary that was first published in 1884 are karaage, onigiri, takoyaki, tonkatsu, tonkotsu, and yakiniku.

Santoku, meanwhile, is one of the cooking-related words that had been added. It is a kind of knife with a short, flat blade that curves down at the tip.

Omotenashi, which describes good hospitality, characterized by “thoughtfulness, close attention to detail, and the anticipation of a guest’s needs,” was also added to the dictionary.

Other yummy Japanese dishes which are now part of the dictionary that was first published in 1884 are karaage, onigiri, takoyaki, tonkatsu, tonkotsu, and yakiniku. Photo by Amy Suraya

Hibachi got an update as well. Added in 1933 as a charcoal brazier for warming hands or boiling water for tea, North Americans have been using it for something else—a small portable barbecue, as well as for restaurants where someone cooks on a hot plate surrounded by diners (what’s called “teppanyaki” in Japan).

According to an article on South China Morning Post, the inclusion of a good number of Japanese words is proof of the continuing impact globally of Japan’s soft power through popular culture including cuisine.

Japanese art, literary terms also included

A number of words related to art and literature are now also in the Oxford English Dictionary. “For centuries, artists from around the world have taken inspiration from Japanese art, and this can be seen in the number of words belonging to the domain of arts and crafts that English has borrowed from Japanese,” said Danica Salazar, executive editor of OED World Englishes, as quoted in an article on The Guardian.

More than a term used to refer to a Japanese art form, the word “kintsugi” has also come to pertain to embracing imperfections. Photo by Riho Kitagawa

“Kintsugi,” the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by joining pieces back together and filling cracks with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, highlighting the flaws in the mended object, was added. Aside from being a word closely related to art, the word has also come to pertain to a worldview characterized by embracing imperfection and treating healing as an essential part of human experience,” explained Salazar.

Isekai, a genre of fantasy fiction in Japan, also made it to the OED. It involves a character being transported to or reincarnated in a different, strange, or unfamiliar world. A perfect example of an isekai is Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, where 10-year-old Chihiro got whisked to a fantastical realm, and his most recent work, The Boy and the Heron, in which 12-year-old Mahito discovers an abandoned tower, a gateway to an otherworldly place. Both films won the legendary animator an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. 

A “mangaka” is someone who writes or illustrates manga or Japanese comics.
Photo by Miika Laaksonen

The OED also included “mangaka,” who is “a writer or illustrator of manga.” Perhaps the most famous mangaka of all time is Osamu Tezuka, who is best known as the creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion

OED editors worked with researchers from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies on the new batch of Japanese words.

Here is a list of the 23 words that made it into the Oxford English Dictionary last month.

donburi, n.

hibachi, n.

isekai, n.

kagome, n.

karaage, n.

katsu, n.

katsu curry, n.

kintsugi, n.

kirigami, n.

mangaka, n.

okonomiyaki, n.

omotenashi, n.

onigiri, n.

santoku, n.

shibori, n.

takoyaki, n.

tokusatsu, n.

tonkatsu, n.

tonkatsu sauce, n.

tonkotsu, n./1

tonkotsu, n./2

washi tape, n.

yakiniku, n.

Associate Editor

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