It seems that Japanese has far more loanwords than any other language I've heard spoken. I understand that English is far-reaching and a global language, but are there many known reasons that English has had a huge linguistic influence on Japan in particular?

  • 1
    English has a huge number of loanwords too: "language" (French), "reason" (French), "influence" (French/Latin), "particular" (French)...
    – Zhen Lin
    Mar 20, 2014 at 19:09
  • Are you sure that English has had a huge linguistic influence on Japan in particular ie, more so than other non-European countries (where the language has non-European roots)?
    – Tim
    Mar 21, 2014 at 1:45
  • 4
    I don't think Japanese has really "far more" loanwords than other languages, it's just more noticeable because of katakana. Mar 22, 2014 at 16:07
  • I think most languages have lots of loan words. I have seen the claim that 90% of all Swedish words are loan words; often German words during the 14th-16th centuries and French loan words during the 18th century.
    – user763305
    Jun 14, 2014 at 10:29
  • Well, be that as it may @user763305 it doesn't answer why Japanese has loanwords
    – Lou
    Jun 14, 2014 at 13:40

1 Answer 1


A large part of the reason for so many loanwords in Japanese is that it has a way of picking them up from just about every language it interacts with—much like English, as was mentioned in a comment to the original question.

Truth of the matter is, depending on how broadly you want to define it, you could say that every word outside of 大和言葉【やまとことば】 is in fact a loanword, as 漢語【かんご】 vocabulary is largely derived from Chinese readings of kanji, if not directly-imported words from classical Chinese texts.

Outside of Chinese, the next major batch to come in arrived with the Portuguese missionaries prior to Tokugawa expelling the foreigners, and is where Japanese got words such as パン and 煙草【たばこ】.

During the Tokugawa era the flow of new foreign words into the language was reduced to a trickle, however with the opening of the country and the start of the Meiji Restoration a great deal of interest was taken in foreign culture. Many new words were borrowed or coined to accommodate new facets of everyday life that were starting to appear.

Probably the biggest boom in importing foreign words has been since the end of World War II, between the constant presence of US military personnel exposing people to new vocabulary, Japanese businesses trying to expand into English-speaking countries, and the overall trendiness of outside culture generally being on the rise (much like how many foreigners learn a bit of Japanese because they're into anime). Ultimately, as long as the cultural climate remains amicable towards increased cultural imports the proportion of foreign vocabulary integrated into the Japanese language will continue to rise as well.

  • This is pretty much everything I was looking for! Thank you.
    – Lou
    Mar 22, 2014 at 9:56
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    One could argue, too, that after initial borrowing, the word in question can quickly become nativized. Much like 漢語 are now considered to be Japanese (at least when read with on'yomi instead of pinyin), things like スタバる ("to go to Starbucks", plain form) or ググります ("to search on Google", polite form) are clearly no longer "English" per se. I also once had someone explain to me that フェミニスト just meant "a man who says please when demanding coffee from a woman coworker". May 16, 2014 at 22:12

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