It strikes me, reading Japanese that katakana is often used for words that have functional equivalents in the Japanese language. Why is this? For instance, using ビル as opposed to 建物。

Or ブルー instead of 青い.

Or ジュース. Am I supposed to believe the Japanese never smashed fruit to drink the liquid before they "met the west"?

Most other languages are not so accommodating.

  • 1
    Interesting question, but please provide examples.
    – dotnetN00b
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 15:01
  • There's also ビデオ and 動画, which is one of my favorite examples since I've still never been formally taught 動画.
    – Cat
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 15:39
  • For reference, there's also 果汁【かじゅう】.
    – blutorange
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 15:58
  • To be completely honest, I do NOT understand this question. The number of katakana words we actively use even though we already have "functional equivalents" for them is very marginal compared with the tens of thousands of Sino loanwords we use instead of the originally Japanese words. Yet the question is almost always "Why use so many katakana words?" You yourself used many originally non-English words to ask this question as well. How do you explain that?
    – user4032
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:04
  • Non-English words? You mean non-English in origin right? Because they appear in use in the English language much the same way as they do in their origin language. Besides that and English being an almost completely borrowed language it is not hard to see why. But I digress Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:15

1 Answer 1


In my expererience and from some research I did for an essay back in University, this stems as a large part of the "Westernisation" of Japanese words in the lead up to and immediately following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in preparation for the influx of foreigners that were expected as well as a slight difference in meanings. JR (Then JNR) changed all it's stations sign to also include a romaji reading during this period. It became "fashionable" to have the name of a shop etc. to feature a "modern", foreign-sounding name as the Showa era went on, leading to a peak in about the early 80s. There has been a lot of complaints directed at NHK, especially for Katakana-ising words which have functional equivalents leading to many elderly people unable to understand some broadcasts. Further, it appears as though at least the words you mention, differ slightly in meaning between their origin language (the katakana part) and the Japanese use (the kanji) as below.

For example.

  • 建物 means any built, freestanding structure (Tokyo Tower, Roppongi Hills Apartments, a random office block in Nihonbashi, Tokyo Sky Tree)
  • ビル means specificallybuilding (In which case Tokyo Tower and the Sky Tree would not be included whereas Roppongi Hills Apartments, a random office block in Nihonbashi would be)

  • 青い the Japanese 青い is a kind of aqua colour (the Japanese traffic light "green" equivalent)
  • ブルー blue in this instance would be akin to something like rgb(0,0,255) / a solid blue colour

  • 果汁 fruit juice
  • ジュース can mean fruit juice, carbonated drinks like coca cola and other like drinks etc.
  • 1
    Do you have a living example of Coke being referred as ジュース?Carbonated drinks are usually called ソフトドリンク.
    – Rilakkuma
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 2:21
  • 3
    @Rilakkuma AFAIK ソフトドリンク is a relatively new word in Japanese. Young people tend to use ソフトドリンク a lot (they learn at school that juice means 果汁 in English). Elder people, say over 60, may not even understand ソフトドリンク, and use ジュース for any kind of beverage except tea and alcohol.
    – naruto
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 2:29
  • 1
    By living example you mean a link of some description? I did say CAN MEAN as when I was in High School, University and now my Job, either my classmates or coworkers have referred to it as such. Even when I protest saying, "Isn't Juice only from fruit?" I get a nonchalant "It is probably 和製英語". My 24yo coworker just commented "日本人適当に「ジュース」を言う" so it doesn't seem limited to the older generation. I think of juice as juice and carbonated drinks as carbonated drinks. As to @naruto's comment, I did mention the older generation not being Katakana-go literate so I agree with your point. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 2:51
  • 2
    You can say one living example is me, who spent the first 12 years of my life believing ジュース refers to any sugary beverage :)
    – naruto
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 2:54
  • @naruto : I knew it couldn't have just been the people around me. Is the scope just limited to sugary drinks? Would Soda Water be ジュース or just ソーダ? Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 5:13

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