Japanese abbreviated and contracted words

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Abbreviated and contracted words are a common feature of Japanese. Long words are often contracted into shorter forms, which then become the predominant forms. For example, the University of Tokyo, in Japanese Tōkyō Daigaku (東京大学) becomes Tōdai (東大), and "remote control", rimōto kontorōru (リモートコントロール), becomes rimokon (リモコン). Names are also contracted in this way. For example, Takuya Kimura, in Japanese Kimura Takuya, an entertainer, is referred to as Kimutaku.

The names of some very familiar companies are also contractions. For example, Toshiba, Japanese Tōshiba (東芝), is a contraction or portmanteau of Tōkyo Shibaura (東京芝浦), and Nissan, Japanese Nissan (日産), is a contraction of Nippon Sangyō (日本産業).

The contractions may be commonly used, or they may be specific to a particular group of people. For example, the "Kokuritsu Kankyō Kenkyūjo" (国立環境研究所, National Institute for Environmental Sciences of Japan, NIES) is known as Kanken (環研) by its employees, but this terminology is not familiar to most Japanese.

Patterns of contraction[edit]

Japanese words are spelled using characters that represent syllables (morae), rather than individual phonetic units (phonemes) as in the English alphabet. These characters are compiled into two syllabaries: hiragana and katakana. Japanese also makes extensive use of adopted Chinese characters, or kanji, which may be pronounced with one or more syllables. Therefore, when a word or phrase is abbreviated, it does not take the form of initials, but the key characters of the original phrase, such that a new word is made, often recognizably derived from the original. In contracted kanji words, the most common pattern of contraction is to take the first kanji of each word in a phrase and put them together as a portmanteau. In the example from the lead, using Tōkyō Daigaku (東京大学), the Tō- of Tōkyō and the Dai- of Daigaku becomes Tōdai (東大), the common abbreviation for the University of Tokyo.

There are also instances in which alternative readings of a particular kanji are used in the contraction. For example, Nagoya's main train station, Nagoya Station, is referred to by locals as Meieki (名駅), a contraction of "Nagoya-Eki" (名古屋駅), in which the alternative reading of Na- (名), the first character in "Nagoya", is used.

In loanwords and names, the most common pattern is to take the first two morae (or kana) of each of the two words, and combine them forming a new, single word. For example, "family restaurant" or famirī resutoran (ファミリーレストラン) becomes famiresu (ファミレス).

Yōon sounds, those sounds represented using a kana ending in i and a small ya, yu or yo kana, such as kyo count as one mora. Japanese long vowels count as two morae, and may disappear (the same can be said for the sokuon, or small tsu っ); Harry Potter, originally Harī Pottā (ハリーポッター), is contracted to Haripota (ハリポタ), or otherwise be altered; actress Kyoko Fukada, Fukada Kyōko (深田恭子), becomes Fukakyon (ふかきょん).

These abbreviated names are so common in Japan that many companies initiate abbreviations of the names of their own products. For example, the animated series Pretty Cure (プリティキュア) marketed itself under the four-character abbreviated name purikyua (プリキュア).

Long kanji names[edit]

Contraction Kanji Original word Full kanji Meaning
Nikkei 日経 Nihon Keizai Shinbun 日本経済新聞 Japan Economic Times
Nōdai 農大 Tōkyō Nōgyō Daigaku 東京農業大学 Agricultural University of Tokyo
Nyūkan 入管 Nyūkoku Kanrikyoku 入国管理局 Immigration Office
kōkō 高校 kōtōgakkō 高等学校 high school
Odakyū 小田急 Odawara Kyūkō Dentetsu 小田原急行電鉄 lit. Odawara Express Electric Railway (Odakyū Electric Railway)
Tochō 都庁 Tōkyō-to Chōsha 東京都庁舎 Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Tōdai 東大 Tōkyō Daigaku 東京大学 University of Tokyo
Kokuren 国連 Kokusai Rengō 国際連合 The United Nations
Kansai Gaidai 関西外大 Kansai Gaikokugo Daigaku 関西外国語大学 Kansai International Language University


Three and four character loanwords[edit]

Contraction Katakana Original word Katakana Meaning
amefuto アメフト amerikan futtobōru アメリカン・フットボール American football
anime アニメ animēshon アニメーション animation
dejikame デジカメ dejitaru kamera デジタルカメラ digital camera
depāto デパート depātomento sutoa デパートメント・ストア department store
eakon エアコン ea kondishonā エアコンディショナー air conditioner
famikon ファミコン famirī konpyūtā ファミリーコンピューター family computer (Nintendo)
famiresu ファミレス famirī resutoran ファミリーレストラン family restaurant
konbini コンビニ konbiniensu sutoa コンビニエンス・ストア convenience store
pasokon パソコン pāsonaru konpyūtā パーソナルコンピューター personal computer, PC
puroresu プロレス purofesshonaru resuringu プロフェッショナル・レスリング professional wrestling
rabuho ラブホ rabu hoteru ラブホテル love hotel
rimokon リモコン rimōto kontorōrā リモートコントローラー remote control
sando サンド sandouichi サンドウィッチ sandwich
sumaho スマホ sumāto fon スマートフォン smart phone
terebi テレビ terebijon テレビジョン TV (television)
toire トイレ toiretto トイレット toilet
wāpuro ワープロ wādo purosessā ワードプロセッサー word processor


Abbreviation Japanese Original word Japanese Meaning
bukatsu 部活 bukatsudō 部活動 after-school club (extracurricular) activity
shāshin シャー芯 shāpupen no shin シャープペンシルの芯 (in colloquial language) lead of a mechanical pencil
keitai 携帯 keitaidenwa 携帯電話 Mobile phone

Created words[edit]

Many abbreviations, especially four-character words, have been created for particular products or TV shows.

Contraction Japanese Origin Notes
Pokémon ポケモン poketto monsutā ポケットモンスター (Pocket Monster[s]) The well-known video game and animation franchise.
purikura プリクラ purinto kurabu プリントクラブ (Print Club) An automated photograph machine
mukku ムック (マガジン + ブック) magazine + book A cross between a magazine and a book

Contractions of names[edit]

Contraction Japanese Name Japanese Notes
Burapi ブラピ Buraddo Pitto (Brad Pitt) ブラッド・ピット Hollywood actor.
Dikapuri ディカプリ Reonarudo Dikapurio (Leonardo DiCaprio) レオナルド・ディカプリオ Hollywood actor.
Fukakyon フカキョン Kyōko Fukada 深田恭子 Japanese idol and actress.
Hashiryū 橋龍 Ryūtarō Hashimoto 橋本龍太郎 politician.
Kimutaku キムタク Takuya Kimura 木村拓哉 SMAP star
Matsujun 松潤 Jun Matsumoto 松本 潤 Japanese idol, member of boy-band Arashi.
Matsuken マツケン Ken Matsudaira 松平健 Jidaigeki actor, famous for Matsuken samba.
Shimuken シムケン Ken Shimura 志村けん television performer and actor.
Shuwa-chan シュワちゃん Ānorudo Shuwarutseneggā (Arnold Schwarzenegger) アーノルド・シュワルツェネッガー Hollywood actor and politician.
Yamataku 山拓 Taku Yamasaki 山崎拓 politician.
Tattsun たっつん Tatsuhisa Suzuki 鈴木 達央 main vocalist of OLDCODEX and voice actor.

Highways and railway lines[edit]

Many highways and railway lines have names that are contractions of the names of their endpoints. For example, 東名高速道路 (Tomei Expressway) takes one kanji () from 東京 (Tokyo) and the other (mei) from 名古屋 (Nagoya; its pronunciation changes from the kun'yomi na to the on'yomi mei). 東急東横線 (Tokyu Toyoko Line) links Tokyo and 横浜 Yokohama, taking part of its name from each city.

Other examples include:

Contraction Japanese Origin Japanese
Keiyō Line 京葉線 Tokyo + Chiba 東京+千葉
Saikyō Line 埼京線 Saitama + Tokyo 埼玉+東京
Senzan Line 仙山線 Sendai + Yamagata 仙台+山形
Hanshin Main Line 阪神本線 Osaka + Kobe 大阪+神戸
Seikan Tunnel 青函トンネル Aomori + Hakodate 青森+函館

Sometimes names of this type preserve older place names. For instance, the character is taken from the word 武蔵 (Musashi), which was once the name of the Japanese province in which the city of Tokyo was located, can still be seen in the company names 東武 (Tobu or "East Musashi"), 西武 (Seibu or "West Musashi"), and in the 南武線 (Nanbu Line or "South Musashi Line").

Some other examples:

Contraction Japanese Origin Japanese
Sōbu Line 総武線 Kazusa/Shimōsa + Musashi 下総/上総+武蔵
Uchibō Line 内房線 Inner + Bōsō Peninsula (= Awa + Kazusa) 内+房総(=安房+上総)
Sotobō Line 外房線 Outer + Bōsō Peninsula (= Awa + Kazusa) 外+房総(=安房+上総)
Jōban Line 常磐線 Hitachi + Iwaki 常陸+磐城
Nippō Main Line 日豊本線 Hyūga + Buzen/Bungo 日向+豊前/豊後
Hōhi Main Line 豊肥本線 Bungo + Higo 豊後+肥後

Single letters as abbreviations[edit]

Many single letters of the Latin alphabet have names that resemble the pronunciations of Japanese words or characters. Japanese people use them in contexts such as advertising to catch the reader's attention. Other uses of letters include abbreviations of spellings of words. Here are some examples:

  • E: 良い/いい (ii; the word for "good" in Japanese). The letter appears in the name of the company e-homes.
  • J: The first letter of "Japan" (日本) as in J1 League, J-Phone.
  • Q: The kanji きゅう ("nine") has the reading kyū. Japanese "Dial Q2" premium-rate telephone numbers start with 0990.
  • S, M: used for sadism and masochism respectively, often referring to mild personality traits rather than sexual fetishes. "SM" is also used for sadomasochism, instead of "S&M" used in English, in a more sexual context.
  • W: The English word "double." Japanese people sometimes pronounce the letter "double." ダブル For example, ”Wデート” (W deeto) means "double date(s)"; "WW Burger" from Freshness Burger has double beef and double cheese.

Longer Romaji abbreviations[edit]

Contraction Japanese spoken form Origin Notes
CM シーエム (shī-emu) commercial message a single commercial or a commercial break
GW ジーダブル(ユー) (jī-daburu(yū)) Golden Week ゴールデンウィーク Golden Week is a series of four unrelated holidays within one week at the beginning of May
NEET ニート (nīto) no education, employment, or training A NEET is someone who is unable or unwilling to work, and typically lives at home supported by their parents.
NG エヌジー (enu-jī) no good (ノーグッド) Often used as the opposite of “OK”; a mis-take while filming a scene for film or TV
OL オーエル (ōeru) office lady (オフィスレイヅィ) OLs are low-level female corporate employees
PV ピーブイ (pībui) promotional video the term is generally used to describe music videos and trailers
SP エスピー (esupī) special (スペシャル) a TV special, a special episode of a particular TV series
VTR ブイティーアール (buitīāru) video tape recording a video clip shown during a TV program for members of a panel to comment on
W杯 ワールドカップ (wārudokappu) World Cup Used to refer to the FIFA World Cup for soccer