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  • Spencer Low

Japanese words of Portuguese origin

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

Although the Japanese became more deeply familiar with the Dutch language (Western knowledge was called 蘭学 rangaku or "Dutch studies"), the Portuguese language also had a significant impact as it was the first European tongue to be heard in Japan. Here's a list of common words still in use today that tries to exclude the many terms specifically related to Christianity, which was introduced by the Portuguese:

The word tempura came from the Portuguese "tempero" meaning seasoning.
  • バッテラ battera: a type of pressed mackerel sushi that looks like a boat, from the old Portuguese bateira (barco in modern Portuguese)

  • びろうど birōdo: velvet, from veludo

  • ボタン botan: button, from botão

  • チョッキ chokki: waistcoat, from jaque

  • フラスコ furasuko: laboratory flask, from frasco

  • 飛竜頭 hiryūzu: deep-fried tofu mixed with thinly sliced vegetables, name used in western Japan's Kansai dialect, from filhos meaning sons

  • イギリス igirisu: the United Kingdom, from inglês

  • インフェルノ inferuno: inferno, hell, from inferno

  • じょうろ jouro: watering can, from either jorro (jet, spurt) or jarro (jug)

  • じゅばん juban: undershirt worn under a kimono, singlet, from gibão meaning short jacket, doublet

  • かぼちゃ (南瓜) kabocha: pumpkin, from Camboja meaning Cambodia, where the Portuguese sourced the vegetable to import into Japan

  • カッパ kappa: raincoat, from capa

  • カステラ kasutera: popular type of sponge cake, from (pão de) Castela

  • コエンドロ koendoro: coriander, cilantro, from coentro

  • コップ koppu: glass, tumbler, from copo

  • マルメロ marumero: quince, from marmelo

  • ミイラ (木乃伊) mīra: (embalmed) mummy, from mirra meaning myrrh, used in embalming

  • オランダ (阿蘭陀) oranda: The Netherlands, Holland, from Holanda

  • オルガン orugan: organ (musical instrument), from órgão

  • パン pan: bread, from pão

  • サボテン (仙人掌) saboten: cactus, from sabão meaning soap – I'm sure there's a good story here

  • サラサ (更紗) sarasa: calico, chintz, from saraça

  • シャボン shabon: soap, from sabão

  • たばこ tabako: tobacco, from tabaco

  • てんぷら (天麩羅) tenpura: tempura, from tempero meaning seasoning, condiment

  • ザボン zabon: pomelo, shaddock, from zamboa

Note the fact that an inordinate number of these loanwords have to do with food!

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Reggie Fox
Reggie Fox
Dec 24, 2022

Are you sure that "tempura" doesn't come from the word "tempora" which was used to call the period of the week when fasting was mandatory for christian priests?


Dec 23, 2022

There are other cases:

•サラサ (更紗) sarasa: calico, chintz, from saraça. --> SARAÇA came into Portuguese when comerce start with Malasia. Original Malay word SARASAH meaning cotton fabric. On the other hand Calico means a fabric made in Calicut, India.

•ザボン shaddock: pomelo, shaddock, from zamboa. --> In fact the fruit in Portuguese is Gamboa fruit (Cydonia oblonga Mill). On the other hand I don't see the connection with 'pomelo' which is in Portuguese, toranja and English, grapefruit (Citrus maxima).

My best to you.


Dec 17, 2022

Corrections and suggestions.

• There is a difference from filhos (sons) to "filhós" meaning a deep fried dough served with sugar and cinamon, or salted filled with a vegie misture 飛竜頭hiryūzu: deep-fried.

• Also ミイラ (木乃伊)mīra, myrrh, mirra in Portuguese, was used (burned to create an aromatic smoke) in catholic mess to purify the air (dead people were buried on the floor of the church and the air smelled foul). There is no relation to embalming.

Love your stories.

Love from the Azores islands, Portugal.

Paula Dreyfuss
Paula Dreyfuss
Dec 18, 2022
Replying to

Obrigado and arigato for thank you

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