Since 中国1 is so close to 日本2 there are some 日本語3 words that almost everyone here knows.
わたしは： Everyone knows how to introduce themselves. I guess it’s the first (and sometimes, the only) thing that everyone learns how to say in Japanese.
かわいい: Japanese people, particularly young girls, have a habit of yelling out this word at the top of their voices, while pointing at a small dog, foreign child, or tiny cellphone, where appropriate. Usually from the squeals of delight and giggling, the meaning can be ascertained. Also, it sounds very similar to the Chinese 可爱4, meaning ‘cute’ or ‘lovely’.
何5： アニメ is shown daily here, with Chinese subtitles. A friend of mine told me that he often watches them, and somehow remembered this word. He told me what he thought it meant (’what’). I told him that he was right. What a good student! I wish I could learn without trying. Anyway, he was pretty pleased that he picked up that one word, and I told him about jPod. He promises to be the first subscriber to the 中国語 version!
はい： Everyone knows this word.
Along with these random words, most people know the basics. Hi/Bye/Sorry (今日は6、さようなら、すみません) and maybe some loan words (料理7, 写真8).
Japanese readers might also be interested to find out how many Japanese words are regularly used in English. I was watching CSI the other day, and one of the characters was discussing a missing person. He said something along the lines of ‘maybe he just collected all his things, severed his ties to the community and said sayonara. Just up and left town’. This wasn’t a reference to a Japanese person or Japanese culture at all, but just a word in the English language. Other Japanese words that have entered English: Tsunami, Sumo (but not 陸士9) , Bushido, Karate, Manga, Sushi, Anime (Although anime is short for ‘animation’ so I’m not sure what language it comes from) and others.
Are there any other Japanese words in common usage in English that you can think of? I’m thinking of words that could be used without explanation to someone who doesn’t speak Japanese.
４kě ài. For all you Chinese learners!
7りょう・り, liào lǐ in Chinese, from the Japanese word.
8しゃしん, xiě zhēn in Chinese， from the Japanese. Interesting that Japanese, having borrowed so much from Chinese, has now started giving back! 谢谢！
9りくし. Click here for a great lesson on Sumo!