I know plenty of Japanese words that came from English and a few from other European languages (obviously tons from Chinese), but what about words from Japan's indigenous languages such as Ainu? Also if there are any are they all written in kana like the newer borrowed words?

  • 4
    Ainu itself is an Ainu word.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 10:47
  • 4
    Frellesvig, History of the Jap. Language, writes: Though not lexical borrowings as such, it should be mentioned that Ainu words are also preserved in some place names in Japan. Best known are those ending in *-betu*, Ainu *pet* 'river', or -*nai*, Ainu *nay* 'stream, valley, river'. This page lists some examples: goo.gl/N8cvEy
    – blutorange
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 17:42
  • See also japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1217/… -- the word for "salmon" may well have come from Ainu. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 1:13

9 Answers 9


What I think common from them is トナカイラッコ、シシャモ、ノンノ

ref: 日本語に溶け込んだアイヌ語

  • 1
    I already like "ノンノ" but can't find its meaning other than the name of a women's magazine in Japan. Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 1:30
  • 3
    @hippietrail, it is flower in ainu language, but popular as magazine name.
    – YOU
    Commented Jun 27, 2011 at 1:32

Most Ainu loanwords in regular use are names for plants/animals indigenous to northern Japan, such as reindeer (トナカイ) and sea otter (ラッコ). These loans are old enough that there are usually kanji that can be used for them:

  • 馴鹿 (トナカイ, also read じゅんろく)
  • 海獺 or 猟虎 (ラッコ)

However, many plant/animal names are usually written in katakana in everyday use (e.g. カバ for "hippopotamus," though it can be written 河馬). Due to the Ainu words being borrowed so long ago and the fact that many people don't realize they aren't "native" Japanese words, I suspect they are usually written in katakana because of this convention.

I've read in at least a few sources that the word さる "monkey" is from Ainu sar'ush, literally "having a tail." Can't promise it's not a false cognate though. It's treated as a native Japanese word in writing.

Using katakana for loanwords was not common practice until after the Meiji restoration (older loans like コーヒー and ガラス can actually be written in kanji, although they generally aren't; たばこ is still written in hiragana).

Aside from that, many place names especially in northern Japan are derived from Ainu. "Sapporo" from Sat-poro-pet and "Shiretoko" from Sir-etok are two off the top of my head. These are generally written in kanji.


Japanese has also borrowed some words from Okinawan, generally relating to Ryukyuan culture, including:


There are some words in Japanese which were borrowed from the Ainu language, and mostly, they are written in katakana. However, they are mostly very uncommon words. Likely one of the most common is ラッコ (sea otter) -- I don't know that there is another word for it. Another which you have potentially heard is カムイ, which is analogous to the Japanese 神(かみ).

There may also be words borrowed from the language(s?) of the Ryukyu Islands (e.g. Okinawa), but I am not aware of any specific examples. If there are, they are also likely written (at least mostly) in katakana.

  • There are also suggestions that Ainu カムイ was a borrowing from Japanese instead. Commented Feb 2, 2017 at 2:41

Here is a list of all words of Ainu origin listed as such in 大辞林

  • アツシ
  • イオマンテ
  • 生馬{いけま}
  • ウタリ
  • 蝦夷{えぞ}
  • エトピリカ
  • オヒョウ
  • カムイ
  • けいまふり
  • コタン
  • 柳葉魚{シシャモ}
  • トナカイ
  • ユーカラ
  • ラッコ
  • ルイベ
  • 2
    I think only 蝦夷 has several theories. ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%9D%A6%E5%A4%B7 金田一京介's theory looks so, but I am personally doubtful about it because if we take 京介’s theory, there will be no connection between old Chinese 夷, meaning the wild ( especially northern ) barbarians, like a book written around AD300-AD400, 『後漢書』巻八十五 東--> 夷 <-- 列伝第七十五 which is describing about old Japan. Sorry to tell you mine here.
    – user7644
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 15:51

I've actually looked into this before. Some of these are actually phrases that are not used in regular Japanese. Also this is by no means a complete list.


  • アイヌラックル Okikurumi (Ainu founder god)
  • 昆布{こんぶ} Kombu
  • ユーカラ Yukar (Ainu oral saga)
  • シャモ non-ainu Japanese
  • 古潭 {コタン} Ainu village
  • 生馬 Swallowwort
  • 馴鹿 {トナカイ} Reindeer
  • 海獺 {ラッコ} Otter
  • ワンド Lagoon
  • エトピリカ Tufted Puffin
  • 柳葉魚 {シシャモ} Shishamo smelt
  • ウタリ Human
  • コロポックル Ainu dwarf god
  • オヒョウ Manchurian Elm
  • イオマンテ Ainu brown bear sacrificial ceremony
  • ハスカップ Blue Honeysuckle
  • ムックリ Mouth harp
  • カムイ Ainu god kamuy
  • ウネウ fur seal
  • オショロコマ dolly varden trout
  • イナウ inau wooden sticks used for prayer
  • トンコリ plucked string instrument
  • 厚司 {アツシ} elm bark clothing
  • ウニウ Alaskan fur seal
  • オキクルミ Okikurumi founder god
  • ルイベ salmon cut thin while froze
  • エカシ grandfather, old man
  • チセ traditional ainu house
  • ケイマフリ spectacled guillemot
  • チャランケ dispute settlement through discussion

Ryuukyuu (Okinawan)

  • 城 {ぐすく} Okinawan Fortress
  • まぶい spirit
  • ゆた shaman
  • 双節棍 {ヌンチャク} Nunchaku
  • サーターアンダギー Sata andagi doughnut
  • あんだーぎー deep fried
  • あんだ oil
  • チャンプルー stir fry dish
  • 沖縄口 {うちなあぐち} Ryuukyuu language
  • ゴーヤ Bitter melon
  • 旋棍 トンフア Tonfa baton
  • ウージ sugar cane
  • めんそーれ welcome
  • ちゅらさん beauty
  • 抱瓶 {ダチビン} Portable ceramic sake cup
  • 高麗胡椒 {コーレーグス} chili pepper
  • 伊集 {イジュ} Chinese guger tree
  • ハイサイ Hello
  • なんくるない Don't worry - be happy
  • ないちゃー Person from mainland Japan
  • 島人 {しまんちゅ}  Islanders
  • 尾類 {ズリ} prostitute
  • ソーキ Okinawan skewered spare ribs
  • ラフテー skewered pork cubes
  • ゴーヤチャンプルー Goya champloo
  • 足てびち pig's feet
  • イリチー stir fry then boil in sauce
  • スクガラス salt pickled young mottled spinefood
  • さんぴん茶 Jasmine tea
  • スーチカー Salt pork
  • 人参しりしり carrot egg stir fry
  • 神人 かみんちゅ Shrine maiden
  • ウチナンチュー Okinawan person
  • ヤマトンチュー Japanese mainlander
  • 迎恩 {げいおん} welcoming reception
  • かりゆし happy
  • シーミー tomb sweeping festival
  • アカマチ Queen snapper
  • トントンミー Southern Japanese mudskipper
  • ピパーツ Javanese long pepper
  • ぐすーよー everybody
  • 海人 {ウミンチュ} fisherman
  • 海神祭 {うんじゃみまつり} Festival for the sea gods
  • ヒラヤーチー Okinawan pancake dish
  • 手瓜 {もううり} Yellow cucumber
  • 爬龍 {はありい} Dragon boat race

Many of Hokkaido toponymos (and even some on Honshu) are coming from Ainu language. It includes the such common ones like 札幌、 小樽 or 石狩.


In Lakota, "kana'" refers to "those over there" as a pronoun. In Old Japanese, "kanata" has this meaning and usage, which is closer to Lakota than Ainu, though there is no reason these peoples could not be related.

  • Japanese かなた is a compound of か "that, over there, yon" + な (variant of の possessive particle) + た "side, direction". This vastly reduces the likelihood of a Japanese ↔ Lakota cognate. See also こなた ("this side"), そなた ("that side", closer to listener), あなた ("that side" far away). You might be interested in this article on Zompist, "How likely are chance resemblances between languages?" The nutshell conclusion: statistically, very likely. The author provides equations and solid backing, if you're a math geek and into that kind of thing. :) Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 0:20

I don't know this for sure, but I believe the word "Kanata" meaning roughly "far away" in Japanese may have come from the Ainu, based on it's homonym by Native Americans, who descended from the Ainu.

  • 3
    That is a wild theory, for which I haven't been able to find any supporting facts. Do you have any references for this claim?
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 14:49
  • What corresponding native American homonym did you have in mind? Kanata?
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jul 9, 2013 at 23:37
  • 3
    かなた is part of the same paradigm as どなた、そなた, making this extremely unlikely.
    – jogloran
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 20:21

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