IntroductionLesson 1Lesson 2Movie GuideUseful Words

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.  For those students unfamiliar with Kansai-ben, the accessible and authoritative Kinki Japanese is the best way to get up to speed.  These pages assume the ability to read hiragana, katakana, and basic kanji.  If you have difficult with the kanji or basic words, go to http://www.rikai.com, and use it to read the entire page or paste in text you don't understand.  If your browser supports it, you can also click on the image below.
 

By the time you absorb these lessons, you will understand the major features of gangster Japanese.  This webpage teaches you yakuza Japanese through dialogues from yakuza movies.  Tanishimu zo!

YAKUZA NO MICHI 

Basic GrammarBasic PronunciationVocabulary

How does gangster Japanese differ from standard Japanese?  Yakuza Japanese has unique grammatical structures, unusual pronunciation, and a colorful vocabulary. 

Basic Grammar

Yakuza Japanese uses different endings, special grammatical patterns, and uses particles differently than standard Japanese.  Patterns will be explained later in the lessons.

Dropped particles

Like most informal Japanese, yakuza Japanese frequently drops particles like が, を, and は when the meaning is clear.  For example:

  • なにをしている?becomes なにしている (what are you doing)

  • 文句がありますか Becomes 文句あるか (do you have a problem)

  • みせものじゃないよ! Becomes みせものねえよ!
    (lit- I’m not for show,  fig- what the fuck you looking at?)

Plural Form

In Kansai dialect, the ending ら(等)is used to pluralize words.  For example:

  • おれたち (we) becomes おれら

  • お前たち(you plural) becomes お前ら

  • あいつ or こいつ, やつ(he, him, that guy) become あいつら, こいつら, やつら(they, them, those guys)

Sentence Endings

Yakuza Japanese has a fun feature- you can attach insults to the end of any sentence. For example:

Sentence + お前、われ、ボケ、アホンダラア (all mean "you") turns whatever you said into a threatening phrase.

Sentence + コラ、ホラ、てめえ turns your sentence into an inducement to fight.

Sentence + ばか野郎、この野郎 (asshole) is like putting "ass" on the end of a sentence in English.  e.g. "How ya doing, ass?"

Yakuza Japanese can also be spoken relatively politely, as when speaking to a superior or the police.  The familiar ですform is shortened to ス  The semi-polite  "知りませんよ" or "知らないですよ" becomes "知らないスよ"

 

Basic Pronunciation

Yakuza pronunciation is notable for its growled words, the trilled R sound, and slurred vowels.  Growling isn’t necessary for speaking yakuza Japanese, and a good way to practice is to repeat lines from a movie without opening your mouth.  Expressive intonation is critical, as this sort of Japanese is largely unintelligible.  Watch Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel for a good example. 

Rolling the R’s

The rolled R will be familiar to speakers of Spanish.  It is accomplished by placing the tongue to the palette further back than the usual Japanese R (which is where the front teeth meet the palette), and using exhaled air to vibrate the tip of the tongue against the palette.  Correct R pronunciation is indispensable for speaking rough Japanese, and can be used with ordinary Japanese to add a threatening tone to any sentence. Pay close attention to the sound clips on the following pages.  Practice with these words:

Kono yaro  (lit. that guy, fig. asshole)

Kora or variation Hora (lit. hey, fig. let’s fight)

Slurred vowels are another feature of gangster Japanese.  

The particle tends to get incorporated into other words.  For example:
それは (this is) becomes それや
おれは(I am) becomes おれや (sounds like ore a)

Vowel changes

あい and いい become ええ.  This is standard for Japanese slang. For example,しらない (I don’t know) becomes しらねえ(this works with all negative verbs)てまえ (you; archaic) becomes てめえ
いい (good, enough) becomes ええ

 

Essential Vocabulary

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.

The following are frequently used slang words:

Words for people

Yakuza words for you, he, they, and those guys also function as curses.  While if you literally translate kono yaro, it means “that guy” or “those guys,” the actual expression is closer to “that asshole” in Japanese.  Temae (temee) literally means you, but is used to mean “fuck you” and “lets fight.”   Other words for "you" are kasu (scum), tako, kisama (or kisan), ware and odore

Drugs: シャブ, which is a generic term or methamphetamines in particular.
Gun: 鉄砲 becomes チャカ
To commit something is normally 犯す, but becomes ハメル in yakuza language.
The police: ordinarily 警察 but also サツ, ポリ, ポリ公(ポリコウ)
To sell is normally 売る but becomes サバク(e.g. シャブ サバいてこいや)

チンピラ (little prick) is a pejorative used to describe low-level or wanna-be gangsters.  Other words are 下っ端(したっぱ)、and ごろつき. Other important words for gangsters are 親分 (boss or godfather) and 子分(lieutenant).

うす-  Usu is an expression of respect for senior yakuza entering a room.  The following clip is of kobun and chimpira greeting their oyabun getting out of his car.  Get a group of friends to bow and say usu when you enter the classroom or a restaurant.  Be sure to refer to a friend or teacher as oyabun (Godfather).

clip from Brother

Now that you've learned the essentials of yakuza Japanese, you're ready to

Proceed to Lesson 1

If you want to take a quick study break, read about yakuza history, fashion, and sensational crimes at Ed Jacobs' Crime and Conspiracies page.