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Futon, Shoyu, and More: Japanese Words Incorporated into the Vocabulary of Brazil

It is common, in Brazil, for the descendant of Japanese to mix the Portuguese language with the Japanese language, popularly called batianês (ばあちゃん + Portuguese), dekasseguês, koronia-go, or even nissei-go. In short, these terms refer to a variant of a language with interference from another, in a kind of lexical loan. For example, we can say: “Gomen, today I’m isogashii!” or even make structural changes in the morphosyntactic aspects, as in: “Okāsan, I need an onegaizão.” Thus, new words appear in ways formed from a process of derivation or composition.

But these expressions are generally more restricted to Nikkei, as the continuous and mutual influence between these two languages has managed to create a unique linguistic system with its own characteristics. In addition, there was a need to mix the two languages to facilitate understanding between first-generation Japanese immigrants and their descendants.

However, there are words of Japanese origin that were incorporated into the vocabulary of Brazil that everyone understands, such as the word biombo that comes from the Japanese byōbu (屏風) which means “protection from the wind.”

Other examples that Brazilians use in everyday life are: futon (布団), bonsai (盆栽), karaoke (カラオケ), tatame (たため), kamikaze (神風), yakuza (やくざ), sudoku (数独), tsunami (津波), ofuro (お風呂), otaku (おたく), Issei (一世), Nissei (二世), Sansei (三世), Yonsei (四世), samurai (侍), ninja (忍者), zen (禅), origami (折り紙), emoji (絵文字), hikikomori (引きこもり), shamisen (三味線), anime (アニメ), keiretsu (系列), and kaizen (改善). 

There are many terms that refer to a therapeutic method or sport from Japan, such as: shiatsu (指圧), kendo (剣道), jiu-jitsu (柔術), judo (柔道), karate (空手), aikido (合気道), dō (道場), sensei (先生), and sumo (相撲).

Other words that Brazilians usually use have to do with Japanese foods, such as: wasabi (山葵), moyashi (もやし), hashi (箸), shoyu (醤油), yakisoba (焼きそば), miso (味噌), onigiri (おにぎり), misoshiru (味噌汁), harumaki (春巻き), teriyaki (照り焼き), tofu (豆腐), and shiitake (しいたけ).

Some words already have the form of writing adapted to Portuguese, as in: quimono (着物), caratê (空手), aiquidô  (合気道), cabotiá (かぼちゃ), caqui (柿), Jokenpô (じゃんけんぽん), riquixá (力車), haicai (俳諧), saquê (日本酒), mangá (漫画), lámen (ラーメン), and haraquiri (腹切り).

The word “sayonara” (さよなら), which in Japanese means bye or goodbye, in Brazil there are 7,466 people registered with that name, with other variations such as Saionara, according to the 2010 IBGE census. Furthermore, it is an exclusively female name.

Although Brazil has a lot of words of Japanese origin in the vocabulary, the opposite also applies, there are Japanese words that have the origin of the Portuguese language, since Portugal was one of the first countries in Europe to come into contact with Japan, in the 16th century, in order to establish a commercial relationship between the two countries and to spread Christianity in Japan.

So there are some words of Portuguese origin that the Japanese use that refer to religion, such as: クロス (kurosu; cruz; cross), キリスト (Kirisuto, Cristo; Christ), and 天ぷら (tenpura; tempurá) that according to Catholic tradition, during Lent it is not recommended to consume red meat and the tempura of vegetables and seafood became a food option for Portuguese missionaries.

Just like the tempura, there are also many terms that refer to food, such as: パン (pan; pão; bread), コンペイトウ (Konpeitō; confeito; confit), カステラ (Kasutera; Castella), ボーロ (bōro; bolo; cake), アルコール (arukōru; álcool; alcohol), and マルメロ (marumero; marmelo; quince).

Other words that the Japanese use in everyday life and that have their origin in Portuguese are: イギリス (Igirisu; Inglaterra; England), ビードロ (bīdoro; vidro; glass), フラスコ (furasuko; frasco; bottle), コップ (koppu; copo; cup), タバコ (tabako; tabaco; tobacco), ビロード (birōdo; veludo; velvet), ボタン (botan; botão; button), キャプテン (kyaputen; capitão; captain), かるた (karuta; carta; card), and ブランコ (buranko; balanço; swing).

A curiosity that has nothing to do with the vocable, but which is related to the cultural exchange between Brazilian and Japanese culture, is that the famous Brazilian flip-flops, the Havaianas, were inspired by the Zori (草履), the Japanese flip-flops that were made of rice straw.

The Japanese slipper Zori served as the inspiration for the Brazilian flip-flop Havaianas. (Source:

Another curious fact is that soy was introduced in Brazil by Japanese immigrants, around 1908, and is a word that comes from 醤油 (shōyu). Interestingly, in Spanish, the word soy is soya and in Portuguese it is soja, somewhat reminiscent of the spelling of the Japanese word.

In general, the Portuguese language and the Japanese language were able to establish bridges between themselves not only in terms of languages, but it also associates the very different cultures and geographically distant. And this results from a friendly coexistence between Brazilians and Japanese.


© 2023 Meiry Mayumi Onohara

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