Introduction to Yakuza Japanese:

If you’ve ever watched Japanese gangster movies, or had the misfortune of running into a yakuza in person, you know they speak a seemingly incomprehensible form of Japanese. As outcasts and deviants from society, gangsters have their own language with a unique and specialized vocabulary suited to their organizational culture and occupation. Yakuza Japanese runs the gamut from honorifics to epithets, with major regional variations. This webpage is designed as a primer to gangster Japanese, as used in movies, focusing on the Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto) and Tokyo varieties. Kansai dialect is important to organized crime, as the nation’s largest syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi is headquartered in Kobe…

Yakuza vocabulary is characterized by colorful and euphemistic words. Many words are obscure in meaning or come from Korean or Chinese words. This slang makes it difficult for ordinary Japanese or police to understand what yakuza are saying, and reinforces the separateness of yakuza from society. Yakuza movies tend to use only the most common slang so as to give the dialogue an authentic air, but not baffle the viewers. For real underground Japanese, read Peter Constatine’s Japanese Slang Uncensored.

Via plep.


  1. You usually post cool links, but damn, that’s COOL. (Arrgh, still need to write you back an email….) HEY, didja ever see that little glossary of “street speak” that Edward James Olmos basically cooked up for his role in Bladerunner?

  2. Don’t think so; sounds interesting. And: hi!

  3. Hmmm, interesting, but some painful errors in that page, especially in ‘basic pronuncation’. The notion that yakuza drop particles suggests that normal Japanese don’t. I wince when I see something described as ‘slurred vowels’, and the vowel changes are also seen in Tohoku-ben (which also is famed for not opening one’s mouth very much), so I’m not sure about it being ‘yakuza’. Also, the ‘usu’ greeting is among males (especially jock types) (it’s more often rendered as ‘osu’)
    This is not to say that there is no yakuza Japanese, but the features that are picked out are not restricted to yakuza.
    I also wonder about the glossing of chimpira as ‘little prick’. It is a perjorative, but I don’t think that meaning is implied.

  4. To be fair, the page does say “like most colloquial Japanese”, but I’d agree that it’s a little overdramatic to put particle-dropping in an article about what distinguishes Yakuza speech from regular speech. (That desu -> su thing is also basically universal among young people now, although I believe it did come from Kansai originally)
    As for chinpira, I’ve asked peope before and they do kind of associate it with the “chin” meaning penis — not sure if there’s an actual etymological connection, though.

  5. I may have sounded a bit more dismissive than I meant to. I think the idea is quite interesting, and the person has done a hell of a lot of work. My tastes tend more to chambara dramas, so I haven’t seen many yakuza movies (in fact, they have a channel of slash em up sword reruns here, but they don’t have an all you can watch yakuza drama channel and as the page points out, the language is watered down for viewers) but I really wonder if there is a yakuza dialect. As the page points out, it’s really kansai ben with an attitude, so I’m not sure.
    Also, I note that Peter Constantine has also written Making out in Korean and Making out in Vietnamese and while I’ve never seen Japanese Slang Uncensored, the premise of such books is teaching a person a lot of words that they know are bad, but giving them no explanation about how to use them and then people use them to give a false impression that they know more Japanese than they actually do. But I’m probably just being a prude here.
    But getting back to the page, anyone who is willing to put that much effort into helping others get a handle on another language certainly deserves the LH good housekeeping seal. And I’m sure that Kill Bill is probably bringing a lot of people to these films, so it’s nice that someone has made a page like this.

  6. I got the impression that the idea was not so much “the yakuza have a special, secret dialect that I’m going to share with you” as “when you see yakuza in Japanese movies, you probably have a hard time understanding them because they use slang and clip their words, so I’m going to give you some basic information” — in other words, using the yakuza as a sexy way to introduce the student to “kansai ben with an attitude.” At any rate, I’m glad you don’t find the information too far off base; he certainly does seem to have put a lot of work into it.
    And I have to admit I’m a sucker for books that teach you “bad words”; I’ve got them for Chinese, Russian, and Polish as well as Japanese. Let’s face it, most of us want to know those words as soon as we start learning a language, whether it’s pedagogically sound or not!

  7. Everyone is missing the major significance of this story. Do you guys realize what this means?
    Japanese gangstas are just like American ones! What’s with gangsters and their refusing to use language just like the rest of us? Pssh.

  8. that little glossary of “street speak” that Edward James Olmos basically cooked up for his role in Bladerunner
    See also the Language Matters section from the Blade Runner FAQ. The classic Hungarian curse even features.

  9. Though there is (an extensive?) liturature on the subject, it would have been nice to see some mention of common Japanese-internal slang word formation techniques, like mora-switching, on-kun reading switching (i.e., taking a word containing two kanji pronounced in a sino-japanese fashion and changing it to native Japanese pronunciation), using old/out-of-use words (with or without altered meanings), etc…I’m no expert on it. I just happened to see a presentation on the topic a few weeks ago.

  10. Hi Steve!
    OMG you did it a year ago. http://languagehat.com/archives/000296.php ((facepalm))

  11. There’s no room for individuality in traditional Japanese society…
    [Entire article by Nabanita Dutt copied and pasted — four times! — by commenter; I have deleted all but the opening phrase. Dude, I don’t mind long comments, but next time write your own, OK? –LH]

  12. Are you by any chance the same plagiarist as Andrea, who spammed the “portobello” post?

  13. As to comments made about enunciation in Japanese or should I say Nihingo. As in Japanese language, unless you r Nihingin or have live in Japan ???????? for decades. Like some people reading above comments…. then you really don’t know proper vowel enunciation, not regional accents, or use of feminine and masculine useage in the language. And that doesn’t include the evolution of Japanese with western influence in culture and language ect. Ur comments show a true lack of both cultural tradition and lack ok basic Japanese language pronunciation let alone interpretation

  14. Have any of y’all even done study in Japan or lived & raised ur children there over decades??? Obviously Not!!! Otherwise you know very little about the language’s vowels, enunciation, & regional dialects of Nihongo or should I say the Japanese language for u ????.

  15. What thoughtful and informative comments! I now know much more about Japanese dialects than I did before you dropped by to share.

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