Author's notes (2000/08/01):
  1. After more feedback, here are some other explanations for the use of "ko" in Japanese women's first names:
    1. Many princesses and upperclass women had "ko" in their names.  Later when the lines became blurred between some classes, the "ko" naming artifact became popular with more people.
    2. Not as much thought was put into women's names, because only the first born son carried on the family wealth.  For women's names it was easiest to default to a random beauty related term + "ko".
    3. Many people have told me "it doesn't have any particular meaning".
  2. Japanese culture and slang changes/evolves fairly quickly so much of this information may be out of date soon or even now.

Manifestations of Gender Distinction in the Japanese Language

© Copyright Alexander Schonfeld 1999, All Rights Reserved


Present day Japanese has evolved very differently from European languages. One relatively unique aspect of Japanese is the diversity of its gender specific constructs and their usage. In the current state of Japanese and its many dialects, speaker gender plays an important role in word choice, sentence structure, tone of voice and more generally the ways in which a person can present him/herself with the language. The importance of roles in Japanese society makes the speaker obligated to conform to language stereotypes whereas in English, the language of self-proclaimed individualists, social forces have been pushing to neutralize the inherent biases of the language. Even though there are ancient stereotypes still embodied in the Japanese language and culture, we are beginning to see these break down as well.

History and Kanji Usage

The modern Japanese oral language dates back to 500BC with the end of Stone Age hunter-gatherer based society and the beginnings of rice farming. The Shinto religion, incidentally, also dates back to this time. From 300AD to 600AD Japan gradually adopted the Chinese writing system and with it many of the concepts about gender it embodied. These concepts of gender distinction are present even today 1500 years later.

The Chinese "kanji" pictographic writing system was developed between 2000-1500BC. Later around 300AD the Chinese characters were brought to Japan by immigrants and adapted to the previously only spoken Japanese language. With the adoption of the writing system the Japanese also adopted many words and in fact most of the phonetics associated with the writing. Each kanji character has two basic pronunciations, "on-yomi" (Chinese reading) and "kun-yomi" (Japanese reading). The Chinese reading is used when the kanji character is combined with other characters to form a longer word and the Japanese reading is used when the character stands alone or sometimes when the character is used in a native Japanese word. Over the years the kanji system has been revised many times and evolved into a collection of 1,945 characters officially approved for general use (Joyo Kanji). Chinese on the other hand has no separate written phonetic alphabet and adds thousands more to that number. The Japanese added to the kanji collection their own phonetic alphabet, called "hiragana", around 700AD. Around the same period katakana (a hiragana mirror alphabet) was created and used as a mnemonic device for pronouncing Buddhist texts written in Chinese. Next appeared Japanese texts written in a mixture of Chinese characters and katakana. Today katakana is used mainly to distinguish foreign words (except Chinese words) from native Japanese words. Typically foreign names are written in katakana to ease pronunciation, although kanji can be easily chosen if so desired. Katakana words are used almost everywhere for a wide range of words. The hiragana character set is used for particles and in forming whole Japanese words around the lone kanji characters read with the Japanese pronunciation.

Written Forms

The Japanese adopted many of the meanings associated with the kanji characters when they imported them. The characters themselves are made up of smaller characters of 1-6+ brush strokes each. These small component characters are sometimes full-fledged kanji when written by themselves and often have their own meanings. For example the word "suki" 好き (fond; pleasing; to like something) is made up of one kanji character "su" 好 and the hiragana character "ki" き . While the hiragana characters have no intrinsic meaning besides their pronunciation the kanji characters have many and sometimes vague meanings associated with them. Sometimes the meanings have little or no relationship to the radicals that make them up. In the case of "suki" the kanji character "su" 好 by itself is pronounced "yoshi" and is made up of the radicals "onna" 女 (woman) and "ko" 子 (child). Presumably the woman (mother) and child relationship is one of "fondness and likeability", or maybe women and children are "likable" (assuming men developed the language). The word "suki" is commonly used in Japanese as in "Do you like that movie?", "Do you like this beer?" and even the more intimate "suki da yo" or "I love you." Another example might be the Japanese word "yasui" 安い (or cheap). Is the implication here that a woman under a roof is cheap? The kanji actually has many meanings: safe (most commonly), relax, cheap, low, quiet, rested, contented and peaceful. When the kanji "yasu" 安 is used with "kokoro" 心 (heart) it becomes "anshin" 安心 meaning "relief" or "peace of mind". On the negative side many Japanese women take offense at words such as "goukan" 強姦 (rape), a combination of "gou" 強 (strength) and "kan" 姦 meaning "rape, wicked, mischief, seduce and noisy". The use of the female character (three times) in such a word offends many Japanese feminists as it implies the woman is at fault. Or in words like "kantsuu" 姦通 (lit. wicked avenue), meaning "adultery". Then there are words whose meanings embody stereotypes. For example, "yome" 嫁 , a combination of woman and house means "bride". The word "kanai" 家内 a combination of "house" 家 and "inside" 内 translates to "wife". Then, perhaps more demeaning, the word "syujin" 主人 for "husband" is a combination of "lord, chief, master, main thing" 主 and person 人 . While many women take offense at its meaning, "syujin" is still in common use. The frequency with which the "onna" 女 radical appears in other kanji characters does dissipate its meaning as a symbol, but one can't help but notice such meanings when studying the characters. However, in the Japanese school system kanji characters are learned by writing them hundreds of times. The emphasis is placed on learning the kanji as a whole, not so much associating meanings with the component parts. Thus, the meaning is learned as a pattern of components, not components with meanings coming together to form a new meaning. Seeing the characters everyday makes this kind of rote learning easy for Japanese children and bypasses thinking about the component radical meanings.

The character for man "otoko" 男 is actually a combination of "ta" 田 (rice paddy) and "chikara" 力 (power). As China was a primarily rice farming country the importance of the rice field to the people of that era was very substantial and consequentially the radical 田 is found in around 330 of the common kanji characters used by the Japanese. The current usage of the characters, however, rarely has an obvious relationship to their component meanings. It is, however, undeniable that the language must reflect some underlying social constructs. Unlike the "chicken or the egg" problem we know the ideas embodied in language came after the thoughts and cultural structures. Men were not only stereotypically physically stronger than women, but also perceived as having more power through the control of the farm. While thousands of years ago these concepts were simply reflections of reality in pictograph form, the advancement of technology and women's rights has made many of these sub-meanings obsolete leaving only the surface meaning. Of course, even today, the stereotypes they represent still exist in subtler forms. If actual numeric representation in the language is a show of respect, woman may even have been considered more powerful, with respect to their relationship with the experience of living, than men. Perhaps because, before real understanding of men's part in conception, women were often perceived as creating life. The female radical 女 appears in around 165 of the common usage kanji characters while the male composite character 男 appears in only around 10 (湧 "waku" boil; ferment; seethe; uproar; breed; for example). Maybe most notably "yuu" 勇 , meaning courage by itself and usually combined with "ki" (spirit) to form "yuuki" 勇気 or the everyday usage form of courage. It is interesting that the Chinese seem to default to the feminine radical for many purposes where Western civilizations often default to using "man" to represent both women and men as in the word "mankind".

With the creation of "hiragana", then called "onnade" 女手 (or literally women's hand), around 700AD (Heian Period) Japanese women were given more opportunity to write. Hiragana is a phonetic alphabet much like the English alphabet, only with stricter more consistent pronunciation. Hiragana is a collection of around 50 characters each with different vowel/consonant sounds: a, i, u, e, o... ka, ki, ku, ke, ko... sa, si, su, se, so...etc. The whole Japanese language could be expressed in hiragana but without the symbolic meaning of kanji it was probably considered a little harder to read, but much easier to write ("hira" meaning level, even, calm, ordinary and peaceful).[6] Perhaps this alone was a statement about the male perception of women during this era. With the advent of hiragana a division occurred in the Japanese writing systems. On one hand, the kanji characters were used for news, business and general communication purposes, mostly by men. It was not until the 9th century onnade ceased to be a system limited to women and became an accepted device for recording poems, such as the Japanese "haiku". Hiragana gained full acceptance when the imperial poetic anthology Kokinwakashu was written in "onnade". Even while many famous haiku were written by men, hiragana was still loosely considered the language of women up until around 1100AD (the Kamakura Period). Many women wrote famous diaries ("nikki") during this period that provided great insight into the lifestyles of the time. More artistic minded men also wrote diaries using hiragana, but were forced to write pretending to be women by societal pressures. The separation of the language for different purposes, at present unified into one composite language, is historical context for the perception that women's "place" or role in society was more of an artistic family minded one where they might arrange flowers and compose poetry when not minding the children or house affairs. Men, however, should leave the house as "bread winners" and conduct business or manage affairs of state. It should also be noted that only the upper classes did write (similar to the European class system of the same time period) and that the men and women of the lower classes had different distinctions between them.

In modern Japan it is commonly believed that the hiragana and katakana mirror alphabet do no have any remaining relationship to gender. Katakana is a phonetic copy of hiragana with the sole distinction of being differently shaped yet occasionally similar characters. The pronunciation is the same for each corresponding hiragana character. Katakana is traditionally reserved for foreign words imported into the Japanese language. Perhaps the early image of foreigners as dirty and vulgar was in some sense embodied in this use of katakana. The purity of Japanese was to be maintained "separate but equal". In contrast, modern Japanese import foreign words (particularly English words) with zeal and ascribe no conscious separateness to them beyond the katakana written representation. For example:

As far as importing foreign words, there does not appear to be gender bias. Looking deeper into the usage of katakana does reveal there are some biases in its usage. It is not usually considered bias by the Japanese, but rather serving a different purpose. Aside from foreign words, katakana is also used for vulgar, onomatopoeia and harsh or forceful language. Perhaps the more squared off knife edged simpler shapes bring more of these kinds of images to mind than the smoother softer rounded curling hiragana characters. Compare the following corresponding characters (upper and lower characters have the same pronunciation):

Notice the lack of curling loops or curves beyond a sword blade like swath in the katakana characters. Also notice the lack of squared off corners in the hiragana characters. From flipping through a Japanese comic magazine it quickly becomes apparent that katakana is the more forceful representation of the spoken language. For emphasis, sometimes words traditionally written with hiragana are converted to their katakana equivalent in order to give them a rougher edge. Also, slang words are commonly written in katakana. The real world stereotype of men as being more powerful and rougher makes its way into the art form and consequently the "katakanaized" hiragana and slang are mostly used by men. Strong female heroes also occasionally use the more forceful katakana words. In general though, women are portrayed as softer spoken and less prone to outbursts of anger and the corresponding use of katakana. As in America it is thought that women should not use such "harsh" language. Japanese goes one step further and makes the actual characters used distinct.

First Names

There are times when the writing enforces the stereotype and when the stereotype is enforced with the writing. One case where the Japanese have distinctly applied their culture to the language is with their choice of first names. Women's names can be easily identified by how they frequently end with the kanji "ko" 子 as in "Yukiko" 雪子 meaning literally "snow child". The obvious implication here is that child like qualities in women are desirable traits as 50% or more of women's first names end in "ko" while no male names do and almost no family names do. While the "ko" naming convention is a fairly recent naming phenomenon, in the last 100 years (the Syouwa Period) or so, it does indicate a trend in Japanese thinking.

A broader study of Japanese names reveals some interesting patterns:

Male Name Meanings - Female Name Meanings -
fast pretty
strong flower
studious pure
smart snow
big fall
(sometimes take one kanji from father's name) dance
good will
good smell
(can add child to most of these)

While these names are vague generalizations a distinction quickly becomes apparent. The male names have a definite sense of activity to them while the female names seem more passive good things to be looked at. These names reflect to some degree the wishes of the parents and in turn the roles of men and women in Japanese society even today. An all too common headline in Japan is the young highschool girl marrying the rich or famous old man.[7] The opposite has never made the news or more likely never happened. One look at the women of Japanese media makes it quickly apparent that young child-like dependent "cutesy" women are more desirable than independent ones. However, this stereotypical mold is slowly being eroded away whether the men like it or not.

The Group

In the Japanese way of thinking, power is not a function of the individual but the role they play in society.[Wetzel] The American tendency to evaluate people based on wealth is not as prevelent. CEOs of major Japanese corporations are paid maybe only 10 times the lowest employee's salary. Compared with the American system of approximately 1000 times the lowest employee's salary this is a big discrepancy. Age based promotion systems help maintain the dominance of elders. In Japanese thinking there are a few major groups that a person can be a part of. The "company" and the "family" are the two main groups. When talking to non-group members the tendency is to put "down" oneself or members of one's own group (company and family) and show respect to members of the other person's group. Of course within one's own "family" or "company" there are also different roles with corresponding levels of power. Typically within these groups (company and family) the determining factor is age, with respect being given to older people by the younger ones. Respect is shown through a number of linguistic techniques including: distal style of speech, polite speech, polite humble speech (putting oneself lower than the listener), indirect speech and verbose or "wordy" speech. This system is gradually changing as younger generations appear to be increasingly rebellious or at least apathetic to the "old ways" and the associated language.

Within the group there is often a "senpai" or teacher figure. The younger or less experienced people are called "kohai". These distinctions are illustrated by the language used by "senpai" and "kohai". The senpai talk down to the kohai and do not have to use the respect forms. The kohai must always use the respect or distal forms whether they actually do respect the person or not. Of course the senpai who does not earn his/her respect must deal with all manner of derision behind his/her back. After work or when the group is relaxing together at "drinking places" the kohai must commonly serve the alchol for the senpai, another sign of respect. The Japanese do recognize these forces at work and the custom varies from region to region of Japan. Some places such as Kyuusyuu are more conservative and stick to the distinct male/female roles of the past. Thus the term "kyuusyuudanji" (lit. Kyuusyuu man) was born as an almost derogatory label for a man who is old-fashioned and demeaning to women.

Within the family and "in group" it is common for women to be almost "yes men" to the men. Even when not agreeing or being uninterested they must nod and provide support. When asked why this is so common responses are: "it's been decided that way", "it's the tradition", "it just is" and "to humor the men (or make them feel better)". The last one is most interesting in that it unveils another layer of Japanese culture. A common belief is that behind the strong company or government leader is a stronger woman. There is a large population of men who return home to be dominated by their wives in all matters private. From that kind of response it is clear that many women do not feel their position is one of weakness.

Historically following the trend of putting oneself down when talking to non-group members implied that family members (or co-workers) must also be put down. In the Japanese culture it is considered rude to say good things about one's in-group members to outsiders. Thus the "kenjyougo" (self-humbling) language system was developed for speaking to non-group members and elders. A man might speak poorly of his wife but in so doing be indirectly implying that she is a good wife. In most cases, men who do not speak of their wives are the ones who aren't satisfied with their marriage. The men who mention their wives in conversation are excused only by the fact they are putting them down (claiming their wife is noisy or a poor cook, for example). Ironically, the act of mentioning their wife to outsiders (even while insulting them) is one of indirect and thus "polite" pride, even complimentary. A similar case might be complaining about the poor cornering speed of the new Ferrari you bought.

Spoken/Written Grammatical Differences

While all of these gender differences are in flux, there are some easy generalizations that can be made about Japanese speech styles. The male speech patterns are typically coarser or rougher and often that of a superior addressing an inferior. The female speech patterns tend to be softer and deferential to the other speaker, male or female. The largest gender distinction in the Japanese language can be found in the informal spoken language. Formal speaking styles, such as those used with superiors, non-group members and customers, are almost all gender neutral. Some formal speech differences will be looked at later. Some major distinctions are that male speech is more direct, imperative and harsher sounding. Older men have a different style from young men and older women are in turn distinct from young women. Mood too, also plays a part in deciding speech style. For example, an angry woman might at first use polite feminine styles then gradually move to harsher male sounding direct style speech.

The obvious reason for the superior to inferior style used by many men is that they hold positions of power.[Wetzel] Be it the more defined role of manager or societal conception of husband, men are given power by their position and gender. This power differential manifests in and is reinforced by their speech styles.

The most obvious difference in male and female speech occurs in the base concepts of self and other. The Japanese words for "I" and "you" are very different depending on the relationship of the speakers and the level of politeness the situation dictates. "I" sorted from most vulgar (masculine) to most polite (polite masculine/feminine):

Note: "uchi" - "one's own", a form of "my" or "I" also meaning "house", as in "In my house we do...", used by both men and women when speaking about themselves with a sense of family involvement, or when speaking directly about their home

"You" sorted from rudest (very close relationships only) to most polite:


It should be noted that referring to someone as "you" (or he/she) is generally considered impolite in Japanese and thus women rarely use any form of "you". Usually the person's name is used or context provides the subject. Referring to a person as "you" automatically distances the person from the speaker separating them from the in-group. The rude forms being exclusively used by men is a statement in itself. However, in many (non-Tokyo) dialects these rules change and women and men use the same more masculine sounding words. For this reason, women of these regions find Tokyo men sound markedly effeminate in their word choice.

There are three kinds of polite expressions commonly used in daily conversation: (1) teineigo, the neutral polite expression (with "masu" or "desu" endings); (2) sonkeigo, the honorific expression that shows respect to superiors by honoring the action or state of the superiors themselves; and (3) kenjougo, the humble expression that shows respect to one's superiors by humbling the action or state of oneself. Even native speakers, especially youth, often have difficulty properly using these polite levels of speech, called keigo. It is quite easy to offend your Japanese superiors or customers if you speak Japanese fluently but don't use keigo properly. [Nakajima]

An area where politeness and gender once again all come together is making requests. Generally the written language is gender neutral unless transcribing spoken speech or using the characteristics of the spoken language for effect. The spoken language takes on many different forms based on a number of factors aside from just gender. The major considerations are age, role (job or position) and relationship to the speaker (how close, distant etc). As a result of the importance of these many relationships to the Japanese the language supports a large range of politeness levels (informal to more formal):

Note: the question mark indicates an inflection at the end as in English questions. Japanese commonly uses "ka" as a question marker in place of the inflection.

Informal forms:

Gender Neutral/Polite forms "teineigo":

Polite/Humble forms "sonkeigo" and "kenjougo":

The difficulty in translating these phrases shows the diversity of Japanese forms of respect is much greater than that available in English. Commonly women tend to use the more respectful forms, but men will also use them depending on the power structure. The language is fairly gender neutral when it comes to equal or higher politeness levels. It is the culture and power structure that demands the use of more polite forms by women. Typical "women's jobs" by their "service" oriented nature demand the use of the more polite forms. From elevator girl to tea serving office ladies (OLs) to hostesses to receptionists the image of women as providing the best "customer support" permeates the society. With that image comes the corresponding polite speech style. The hundreds of television commercials featuring such women are a testament to the size of this monolithic barrier that will take many years to erode. The difficulty in dealing with the bias comes from its benign nature. The women are not so much thought of in a negative way, rather as filling their role. In the Japanese thinking of 10 years ago it was not "bad" to be an elevator girl. But gradually as Japanese women have become more worldly and traveled and experienced other systems they have grown to see that maybe they should be given some more choices at home.

In the Japanese mind, older people generally demand more respect and the notion of a "senpai" or teacher figure is very common in most social group structures.

Who respect is given to (people distant from oneself in some way):

Another major difference is the usage of sentence ending particles. Along with intonation these particles can change the whole meaning of a sentence.

Particles used by women (almost exclusively):

Particles used by men (almost exclusively):

By comparing these differences it quickly becomes apparent that the masculine sounding particles are used for making harsher informative statements, while there are no harsh exclusively female equivalents. Rather, the exclusively female particles are used for making a softer or feminine sounding statement or passive supportive comment.

More general trends in informal speech include:

Masculine -

Feminine -

In general, directness equals rudeness/vulgarity, which in turn ends up sounding masculine due to the fact very few women are so rude verbally.

Some examples include:

These forms are never used by women. This is not so much thought of as powerlessness on the part of women, but rather as vulgarity or roughness on the part of men. Whether or not using these words would empower women in a productive way is not entirely clear.

Japanese slang also has specific male versions of many words to add emphasis:

Where women use the standard forms, men have the added option of adding emphasis with the slang forms. The "ee" sound, when said negatively with a deeper intonation, gives a distinct "rough" masculine edge to many words, as seen above.

The vaguest perhaps hardest to define characteristic of speech is intonation. Aside from a noticeably higher pitch to all general speech, women tend to add rising intonation to the end of sentences. This gives a cute or "perky" sound to their speech. Alternatively the more passive and softer "ee" sound is drawn out at the end of agreement assertions, helping to avoid abrupt silences and further serving to integrate the speaker with the listener. Women also tend to speak using the upper throat/nasal areas as in "un", while men use the lower throat and stomach to get a more rounded bass sounding intonation.

The Future

A quick glance at the stereotype of the Japanese power structure shows men in control and women performing servile customer interaction oriented jobs or staying home with the children and grandparents. A second glance might reveal the forceful social structures in place molding the people into these roles. And a third might show these molds slowly starting to crumble with the aid of money and children with leisure time to take a look at the rest of the world.

Japanese roles were tightly interwoven with the language and as such we can not only see the rapid change of the linguistic constructs but also the more visible social ones. Japan's "miraculous economic recovery" doesn't seem like such a miracle when the sacrifices of its people are considered. From the 60s-90s the industrious but socially inept "salaryman" might have been seen as dominating the tea serving politely soft-spoken "officelady", but these stereotypes don't paint the whole picture. The life of a salaryman was by no means enviable. Demanding hours from 8-10pm or so and leaving little time for anything besides the obligatory after work drinking sessions, the "life" was not so great when compared with the relatively free one of the officelady returning home at 5pm. For his industriousness the salaryman received the right to be freer socially and ruder, even to his wife. Freer to vomit up $200 of sushi and beer on the ticket vending machine or take a piss in the middle of the street (common occurrences around any train/subway station in Tokyo late at night) or come home and say only the three famous words of the salaryman to his humble wife: "meshi" (food; direct command; male style), "furo" (bath; shortened from the more standard polite "ofuro") and "neru" (direct form of sleep). The women paid for their free time by being more constricted in terms of politeness. Perhaps they just made the wiser choice and decided that politeness was a better idea than the vulgarity of the men. This rigid system bought economic success and freedom for the salaryman's children. Perhaps too much freedom if they were planning to create their children in their own image. With little interaction with his children the salaryman had little effect on them, perhaps the reason young boys often use the feminine speech styles of their mothers. It still remains to be seen whether or not the new generation can be forced into their respective salaryman/officelady molds.

A look at the "hip" youth walking the streets of Harajuku or Shinjuku shows us visually just how seriously doomed the 60s to 80s stereotypes of the Japanese are. With the relative financial stability of most Japanese families comes a generation of children who suddenly have free time and money to spend. Looking overseas and absorbing most of popular American media the Japanese for the first time had a flood of strong female role models. European and American brands became symbols of worldliness and power. The clothes were no longer all the same, women started to play more of an active role in dating and social time for kids started increasing. Back on the street, the men shunned the standardized short cut hairstyles of their fathers for longer brown-dyed almost feminine looks. For highschoolers and college students, gone were the uniforms (after school) and out came open necked stuff that would have made Travolta proud in Saturday Night Fever. The highschool women kept the standard skirts, but hiked them up far enough to make any man under 60 take a second look. Dying their hair and changing into non-regulation long white socks they pushed most rules to the limit. With this influx of free time and money we see the stereotype of the Japanese man and woman moving closer together at least in the younger generation. The men becoming more effeminate (commercials on television for beauty salons for men, fashion magazines for men, makeup for men) and women becoming stronger more empowered. The language mirrors this shifting power balance.

Starting with the rebellious highschool girls (a turn of phrase that sounds strange to American ears) and making its way into college where many Japanese women travel abroad, a trend towards empowerment of women is obvious. The highschool girls are a powerful group in Japan and however innocent they may look (or not), they know it. With this group power they have taken over many previously male realms of speech style and created many new structures unique to them. For example the "jyann" sentence suffix, a combination of "jya" (well; well then) and "n" (a softer or shorter form of "nai" (not)) to make a phrase meaning something like "right?" or "that's right." that has a distinct sarcastic flavor to it. Recent trends include taking on the traditionally masculine "boku" as a self-identifier. Perhaps even more telling is the use of "kimi" to refer to male students, a pronoun traditionally used only by men. The shortened form of the traditional polite "omatase" (sorry for making you wait) becomes "omata" a much ruder version for those women who don't care if they are late.

With the marriage age rising and the requirements for the "right man" also rising. The playgirl has as much power, and "lingo", as the playboy. Some keeping stables of guys with expressions such as "koodo-kun" (cord boy) referring to the boyfriend kept around for his prowess with electronics. Or "benrii-kun" the boyfriend who is "benrii" (handy; convenient) to have around and takes good care of his girlfriend. Where Americans think of "hitting on girls" the Japanese used the word "nampa" which many dictionaries awkwardly translated to "girl hunting". Thus through that translation the female equivelant of the phrase, "bo-i hanto" or "boy hunt", was born. A sign of the changing times if there ever was one.

The "gyaru" (highschool/early college girls noted for their groupie nature) have started drinking and gambling along with the men. Television commercials which feature the officeladies partying along side the men have become popular. The traditionally segregated public baths have become increasingly mixed "rotenburo". Then from the initial "gyaru" (girl, typically highschool) root came many different types of "gyaru" such as "bairin gyaru" (bilingual girls), "apa gyaru" (crazy girls), "tenisu gyaru" (tennis), "saafaa gyaru" (surfers), "disuko gyaru" (disco) etc. The creation of so many varieties is a testament at least to the extent with which the young women of Japan have started playing and living life out of their traditional roles. The so called "gyaru-go" (such girls "lingo") is constantly changing and as a group the highschool students are perhaps the largest source of Japanese slang. As it changes every few years, the linguistic variety is difficult to stay current with, as in America.

Even as western business techniques and media erode the giant salaryman system, it is also being gradually eaten away from the bottom up. The youth look at their parent's life styles and know that's not what they want. They travel to other countries, experience other languages and lifestyles and return to Japan. They bring back with them new English words and right along with the words come the ideas and concepts they are bound to. Many Japanese college students face the consequences of their freedom at company re-education camps where they are taught how to be proper employees and speak proper Japanese. Many college students have to enroll in schools to learn the proper humble/polite forms of words; so distant is the lifestyle of their parents. Change is a fact and given the power of American media in Japan as a catalyst of change we will begin to see Japanese evolve into a new amalgamation of many languages or means of expression while hopefully maintaining the good aspects of its own gender specific linguistic diversity.


  1. Kasschau, Anne, Eguchi, Susumu. Using Japanese Slang, YENBOOKS: 1996, Japan
  2. Jorden, Eleanor Harz. Japanese: The Spoken Language, Yale University Press: 1987, New Haven and London
  3. Geers, Todd & Erika. Making Out in Japanese, YENBOOKS: 1989, Japan
  4. Walsh, Len. Read Japanese Today, Charles E. Tuttle Co.: 1983, Rutland, Vermont & Japan
  5. Henshall, Kenneth G. A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, Charles E. Tuttle Co.: 1988, Rutland, Vermont & Japan
  6. "The Japanese Tutor":
  7. "Rational Japanese" , Shohei Koike:
  8. "Men's and Women's Japanese":
  9. "Article on Gender and Language in Japanese":
  10. "Yoko Hasegawa: Gender in Japanese":
  11. Reynolds, Katsue Akiba. "Female Speakers of Japanese in Transition"
  12. Wetzel, Patricia J. "Are 'Powerless' Communication Strategies the Japanese Norm?"
  13. Nakajima, Setsuko. "Japanese Career Women's Speech Styles: A Case Study at a Manufacturing Company"

Thanks also to the many Japanese people who endured my questioning and other incidental references. Please note, also, that there may be some inaccuracies. (And this document is not a complete summary of every difference, just a discussion of some of the major ones.)