Essential Japanese Drama Keywords

Introduction

Don’t lie — you love drama (ドラマ). I mean, everyone loves one specific drama at some point in their lives. For me personally, I’m into every kind of drama, so best believe that Japanese drama is one of them. In fact, Japanese drama was the reason I got into learning Japanese in the first place!

When I was starting out, there were a few Japanese words that struck out — especially the ones that you don’t really learn from the textbooks. These keywords stuck with me, because not only are they repetitive but they are also used pretty often in casual, daily conversations. 

Which brings me to writing this very article: to spread the love of these essential Japanese drama keywords — you can thank me later.

1. Mattaku (まったく)

The first one is something you’ll hear being said both on its own or in a sentence. Those two cases have different meanings. 

If “mattaku” (まったく) is being used as an exclamation or reaction, it has the nuance of a mild curse — kind of like when you say “jeez” under your breath at something your friend said. It’s used the exact same way; let’s say your friend and you agreed to meet at a certain time but she ended up being late, with a load of excuses to boot. Of course, your natural reaction would be shaking your head and letting out a small sigh — “mattaku” fits perfectly with all of that.

Another way of using “mattaku” is to emphasize something. If you want to say someone is not only wrong, but they’re completely wrong, then add “mattaku” before the verb: “mattaku machigatte iru yo!” (まったく間違っているよ!)

2. Mou ii (もういい)

This one also has two ways of using it — one a positive way, the other a negative or neutral way. The first way of using “mou ii” (もういい) is when you’re telling or describing something that is of sufficient level or suitable. For example, if your friend is pouring a cup of water for you and it’s about to reach the level you prefer, simply say “mou ii yo” (もういいよ) to her.

Another way to use this phrase is when you’ve had enough of something — kind of like saying “that’s enough” or “forget it”. Say your sister is annoying you with her whining and you just want to be done with it; use this remark “mou ii” to shut her up. I would do it to my sister, if only she speaks Japanese too.

3. Bikkurishita (びっくりした)

There’s no direct comparison to an English phrase for this one, but “bikkuri shita” (びっくりした) is used when you’re surprised or shocked by something. I guess in English we would have a reaction phrase like “oh my god!” or something of the like — maybe in Japanese, one would scream too. 

But the difference lies after the reaction; in English, it’s not really that common to say out the obvious like, “you scared me” or “I was surprised”, but in Japanese, it’s almost always natural to say “bikkuri shita” right after. While it does translate to “I was surprised”, it’s more of a matter-of-fact saying rather than letting the other person know what has happened. 

4. Jaa ne / mata ne (じゃあね / またね)

There’s more than one way to say goodbye in English — bye, see you, later, etc. So, it’s only fair that there’s also more than one way to say goodbye in Japanese. Two of the most common ones you’ll hear in Japanese drama are “jaa ne” (じゃあね) and “mata ne” (またね)

I mean, you could say “bai bai” (バイバイ) like the katakana version of a “bye bye”, but “jaa ne” and “mata ne” is kind of cooler, I’d say. It’s like “see you later!” — more casual and natural, less…structured?

5. Dame (ダメ)

One word you’ll hear quite often in dramas is “dame” (ダメ). The translation’s pretty simple: no. Well, it doesn’t exactly translate to “no” but it gives off a similar nuance. It’s kind of like saying something’s a no-go, or it’s not good, or you can’t do that. 

If you’re trying to walk down a prohibited path, expect a “dame dame!” from people around you. In my personal opinion, “dame” carries such a strict vibe that if I hear it, I feel like I’m being reprimanded — but it’s just my sensitive self talking, it’s not really like that! 

6. Yabai (やばい)

This one is where it can get quite confusing — the older generation has a different definition from the youngins, but both are correct. 

See, yabai (やばい) actually means “horrible” or “bad”, so the expression “yabai” implies that the thing you’re referring to is not good at all. That is how the older generation looks at this word — they’re not wrong, in fact, they’re technically right.

In the modern generation however, and also when used in dramas, the meaning is completely opposite. When someone exclaims “yabai”, more often than not, it implies that something is so cool! Kind of like when we say something is “the shit” — it’s not shit, it’s so good that it’s the shit.

7. Urusai (うるさい)

Need a phrase that can be a direct or indirect way to tell someone to shut up? “Urusai” (うるさい) is your guy — it translates to “noisy”, but you can use it to tell someone that they’re too noisy they need to tone it down.

If your friend is shouting too loudly in an izakaya while you’re having a few drinks, just say to him “urusai!” to be extremely direct that he needs to be quieter. If a group of people next to you is making a huge ruckus and you just want to say  “they’re noisy”, “urusai” also works for that without actually telling them they are.

8. Ossu (オッス)

You know how you can say bye a few different ways? You can say hello a few different ways too — in fact, if you want to know more ways of saying hello and bye, there are other articles where I’ve listed down the top ways to do so!

Anyway, the one you’ll hear among friends in dramas is “ossu” (オッス). It’s basically “hey” in the most casual way possible. Keep in mind that it’s actually a greeting used by the guys due to its more masculine tone. I’ve never used it myself, but I’ve heard my male friends using them — it sounds cool.

9. Saitei (最低)

Some Japanese dramas are a little more dramatic than others, so you’ll hear them saying “you’re the best” and “you’re the worst” quite often. Even though in English it has quite a heavy tone to it, I guess it’s as bad in Japanese. “Saitei” (最低), which means “the worst” is mentioned quite a few times in the dramas I’ve watched.

So if someone did something horrible to you and it made you upset, I guess you could throw out “saitei” to them — I personally don’t recommend doing it, but it’s great to know especially when it’s always in the dramas.

10. Mukatsuku (ムカつく)

Our last drama keyword is another slang word, and it’s more often used among the younger generation and adults — not so much the oldies. While “mukatsuku” (ムカつく) has the meaning of “irritating” or “annoyed”, when someone tells you this, it’s basically implying that you’re annoying to that person — so I hope no one has said this to you before!

From the dramas that I’ve watched, “mukatsuku” is usually said under the breath, not so much face-to-face. I reckon you could still tell someone they’re irritating you with this phrase — just make sure it’s not your superior!

Conclusion

And that concludes the top 10 essential Japanese drama keywords that I personally have noticed popping up more than a few times in all of the dramas I’ve watched. All of them are extremely casual and sometimes some of them can be considered rude, so use it sparingly — or not at all if you’re too afraid to offend anyone. Regardless, it’s great to know them and make your drama time a lot more meaningful, literally!

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