The language of instant noodles

Chicken ramen

Top Ramen. Oodles of Noodles. Stroke in a bowl. Whatever you call instant noodles, you have one man to thank: Momofuku Ando, born on this day in 1910.

Originally from Taiwan, Ando moved to Osaka in his early 20s. After World War II, he witnessed the ravages of war, including food shortages. In response he embarked on a quest to invent noodles that were “tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare.” In 1958, at the age of 48, he introduced Chicken Ramen, and 13 years later, Cup Noodles, inspired by Americans using Styrofoam cups as makeshift ramen bowls.

Since then the popularity of instant noodles has spread around the world, and with it, its different monikers. Today we slurp up the language of instant ramen.

Kappu men (Japan)

Let’s start where it all began. Instant noodles are often referred to by the genericized brand name, kappu men, what Americans know as Cup Noodles. Kappu is a “Japanification” of the word “cup” while men is the Japanese for “noodles.”

Pao mian (Taiwan)

Pao mian translates literally as “add hot water noodles.” (Pao Mian Ba, which means something like, “Let’s make instant noodles,” is known as the Codecademy of China.) Some Taiwan natives might also call instant noodles sun lih men. a brand introduced in the late 1960s.

Fang bian mian (China)

Those in the mainland turn to fang bian mian for a quick meal. The catchy rhyming phrase translates as “convenient noodles.” However, searching for fang bian mian on Weibo, a popular microblogging site, may turn up no results. The term was blocked back in 2014 because of its circuitous connection with Zhou Yongkang, a retired senior leader convicted for corruption.

Doll noodles (Hong Kong)

Hong Kongers in a rush might grab a bowl of gong je mein or doll noodles. Named for the little guy on the Nissin package, the term now refers to any brand.

Ramyeon (Korea)

Spicy ramyeon or ramyun comes from a brand name too, Shin Ramyun. Want to add some zing to your instant meal? Here are 13 ways of livening up a bowl of ramyeon.

Indomie (Indonesia)

Indomie is a brand that was introduced in Indonesia in the late 1960s, and has “become synonymous with instant noodles.” Warung indomie are small shops that sell cooked instant noodles, regardless of brand.

Maggi (Malaysia)

Maggi is a popular brand that’s become synonymous with instant noodles in general. They’re eaten at home and served in mamak food stalls. Maggi goreng is a kind of stir-fried dish that uses instant noodles. In 2015, Maggi noodles were banned in India for several months over health concerns.

Instant mami (Philippines)

Mami is a kind of noodle soup said to be invented by chef and entrepreneur Ma Mon Luk, who was born in China around 1896 and emigrated to the Philippines in 1918. Mami supposedly comes from a combination of the inventor’s name, Ma, and mi-ki, the Chinese word for egg noodles.

Mama (Thailand)

While Mama instant noodles aren’t the only brand in Thailand, they might be “the byword for for all types of instant noodles” in the country. Mama noodles are often used in other dishes such as phat mama, stir-fried instant noodles, and yum mama, noodle salad that uses instant noodles. Or you might make like Thai-American model Chrissy Teigen and add Mama instant noodles to your mother’s homemade tomyum broth.

Miojo (Brazil)

In Brazil, instant noodles might be called miojo, named for the brand that celebrated the 50th anniversary of its presence in the Brazilian market in 2014.

Maruchan (Mexico)

This brand is so popular in Mexico, one paper dubbed the country Maruchan Nation. Another name for instant noodles might be sopa para flojos, or “lazy people’s soup.”

Two-minute noodles (Australia)

Got two minutes down under? Then you can make a meal of instant noodles.

Pot Noodles (United Kingdom)

A popular brand introduced in the late 1970s, Pot Noodles have been associated with what’s called “lad culture.” The Oxford English Dictionary describes lad culture as “attitudes and behaviour considered to be typical of a ‘lad,’” or:

A young man characterized by his enjoyment of social drinking, sport, and other activities considered to be male-oriented, his engagement in casual sexual relationships, and often by attitudes or behaviour regarded as irresponsible, sexist, or boorish.

A 2013 New Statesman article calls Pot Noodles “Lad Culture in snack form,” complete with “drooling, retrograde sexism,” and a pretty offensive ad campaign. Since then, however, Pot Noodles has attempted to change their tune.

5 Cherry Blossom Terms, Translated


If you’re in the D.C. area you’re in luck: it’s “peak bloom” week for cherry blossoms.

If you don’t have the chance to enjoy the pink pulchritude in our nation’s capital or elsewhere, please enjoy the stories behind these five Japanese cherry blossom terms.


“The Japanese tradition of ‘hanami’ – or the cherry blossom viewing picnic – has survived relatively unchanged since about the eighth century.”

David Sim, “Japan: Cherry blossom viewing ‘hanami’ parties celebrate ancient tradition using selfie sticks,” International Business Times, March 30, 2015

Hanami, which translates from Japanese as “flower viewing,” is the Japanese custom of “enjoying the transient beauty of flowers,” especially cherry blossoms.

The custom started in the eighth century during the Nara Period when it was plum blossoms that got all the attention. However, by the late 700s, cherry blossoms had stolen the show.

Nowadays, hanami parties are immensely popular all over Japan, featuring live music and “lavish picnics” that include onigiri; hanami bentos, bento boxes with spring-like hues of pink, red, and orange; and hanami sake.

Other Japanese nature-viewing words include momojigari, the “hunting” of autumn leaves, and tsukimi, moon viewing.

hana yori dango

“The phrase ‘hana yori dango’ literally means ‘dumplings over flowers’ and is usually used in a teasing way to refer to someone who prefers food (something of substance) over something beautiful or romantic.”

Kay, “Capybara enjoying a meal at Ueno Zoo treats us to the herbivore’s version of ‘Hana Yori Dango,” RocketNews24, April 1, 2014

Hana yori dango, or “dumplings over flowers,” is a saying that has its origins in hanami, says Japan Talk, and means that “people are often more interested in the food and drink at hanami parties than the flowers themselves.”

Hana Yori Dango is also the name of a popular manga series, Boys Over Flowers, where dango, which means sweet rice dumplings, is a pun for “boys,” according to NPR.


“We thus see that the cherry blossom, called sakura by the Japanese, represents the ‘spirit of Japan.’”

C.A. Howes, “Some Stamp Designs,” American Journal of Philately, 1905

Sakura refers to the either the cherry blossom or the cherry tree in Japanese. The sakura zensen, or cherry blossom front, is the “advance of cherry blossoms across Japan.”

Another common cherry blossom saying is, “Dead bodies are buried under the sakura!” This seemingly creepy pronouncement is the first line of “Under the Cherry Trees,” a 1928 short story by Japanese writer, Motojiro Kajii. The quote refers to, not literal corpses under cherry trees, but a “sense of disbelief at the beauty of sakura blossoms and suggests that history somehow adds to this beauty.”


“Not inappropriate for, as I have said, the plum blossoms appear very early and the Japanese go umemi, or plum blossom viewing, with sprigs of the flower stuck in their fur caps.”

Edith Wilds, “Great Art in Little Ceremonies of Japan,” The Art World and Arts & World Decoration, Volume 9, May 1918

Umemi is the viewing plum blossoms, rather than cherry (ume is the Japanese word for “plum”), and usually occurs in the late winter or early spring, “just before the more famous ‘sakura’ cherry blossoms,” says Japan Info Swap.

Umeshu is a Japanese liqueur made from plums steeped in sugar and sake.


“So great is the attraction of cherry blossoms seen by the light of the pale moon, that they have even been given the special name of Yozakura or night cherry flowers.”

Florence Du Cane, The Flowers and Gardens of Japan, 1908

Yozakura translates from Japanese as “night sakura.” Yozakura Quartet is a Japanese manga about four teenagers who live in a town called Sakurashin, which “is protected by a barrier created by the spiritual sakura known as The Seven Pillars.”

[Photo via Flickr: “Sakura,” CC BY 2.0 by Yoshikazu Takada]

Word Soup: Let’s Play Boru!

Spring season signals the start of another season: baseball. The Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s are opening their 2012 season today in Japan, and we though we’d celebrate with a Word Soup dedicated to Japanese baseball. Ready? Pure boru!


“Now that each of the combatants in baseball’s most-storied rivalry features a Japanese superstar, the effort has begun to fuel the Sox-Yankees feud across the world in besuboru-crazy Japan.”

Jenn Abelson, “Making Sox-Yanks hit home in Japan,” Boston Globe, April 15, 2007

Besuboru is a transliteration of the English baseball. However, according to Robert Whiting in his book, You Gotta Have Wa, during World War II “American baseball terminology was banned,” and besuboru became yakyu, “fielding ball.”


“When Japanese legend Sadaharu Oh – whose 868 home runs are out of reach even for the disgraced Barry Bonds – signs an autograph, he often precedes his name with the word ‘doryoku,’ which means ‘effort.'”

Gordon Edes, “Little League fundamentally different,” Boston Globe, March 23, 2008

Other qualities valued in Japanese baseball are nintai, “patience,” and choubatsu, “discipline.”


“”The craziest thing about 2009 was just how everyone was standing behind a gaijin (foreign) manager, really,’ says Rubin. ‘I mean, living in Japan as a gaijin is always a little bit weird, people have a lot of prejudice against foreigners, but the Lotte fans got together and started that campaign and got that much signatures.'”

Daigo Fujiwara, “Valentine left his mark on Japanese baseball,” Boston Globe, December 8, 2011

A gaijin is a non-Japanese person. The word translates from the Japanese as “outside or foreign (gai) person (jin).” Gaikokujin is a more polite form of the word.


“In 2007, he and his father became fans of the Dodgers’ Japanese pitcher, Takashi Saito. ‘Saito ganbare! Saito ganbare!’ they’d chant from the cheap seats. ‘Saito, let’s go! Saito, let’s go!’”

Kurt Streeter, “For Dodgers’ interpreter, his job is a thrill beyond words,” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2009


Ganbare! by jugarsan

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by jugarsan]

Ganbare roughly translates as “hang in there,” and is said “to encourage someone who is working hard, such as running in a marathon or studying.” Also ganbatte.

gattsu pozu

“Japanese also look askance at such long-standing American baseball customs as chewing tobacco and spitting it on the dugout floor—’disgusting’ is how cleanliness-conscious Japanese players commonly describe it. [American players] find confusing the myriad unwritten rules of behavior that major leaguers have concocted to protect their all-important pride: No bunting or stealing with a big lead is one; no crowd-pleasing fist in the air (gattsu pozu) is another.”

Robert Whiting, “Lost in translation,” Sports Illustrated, March 22, 2004

Gattsu pozu is a transliteration of guts-pose, which may have less to do with guts or courage than with former world boxing champion, Guts Ishimatsu, who after winning fights “would pump his fist up and down in the air.”

homu ran

“In America they call it baseball. In Japan it’s pronounced besuboru, but the form of the game in both countries is identical: umpires, nine players, walks, strikeouts, double plays and, of course, home runs (homu ran).”

Barry Hillenbrand, “The name of the game is besuboru,” Time, September 25, 1989

Homu ran is a transliteration of home run.

01 Japanese baseball Bromide, from the collection of John Gall

01 Japanese baseball Bromide, from the collection of John Gall

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by 50 Watts]


“The Giants play in the Tokyo Dome, which uses enough electricity, even during day games, to power 6,000 homes. The idea of the vaunted Kyojin turning on the lights, running the air conditioning and playing baseball while residents in the surrounding Kanto region sit at home by candlelight, did not sit well with the general public.”

Robert Whiting, “After quake and tsunami, public split on baseball’s return to Japan,” Sports Illustrated, April 11, 2011

Kyojin, which translates from the Japanese as “giant person,” is another name for the Yomiuri Giants.


“[The documentary] ‘Kokoyakyu‘ (the word means high school baseball) follows two teams on their roads to Koshien.”

Anita Gates, “In ‘Kokoyakyu,’ Youth Baseball, Japanese Style,” The New York Times, July 4, 2006

While koko may seem like a reduplication, it refers to two different characters that are homonyms, 高, “high or tall,” and 校, “school.” Yakyu translates as “fielding ball.”


Kōshien isn’t a word that registers on the American radar screen. But it was Kōshien — the annual site of Japan’s riveting national high school baseball tournament — that turned Daisuke Matsuzaka into a legend. When he was still just a high school senior.”

Jayson Stark, “Matsuzaka’s arrival becomes an international incident,”, February 15, 2007

Kōshien refers to Hanshin Koshien Stadium. Kōshien (甲子園) “comes from the Sexagenary cycle system,” where the “year of the stadium’s founding, 1924, was the first year kōshi (甲子) in the cycle.” En (園) translates as “garden or park.”

manrui homa

“On Thursday, [Matsui] sent an inside, shin-high fastball from Kyle Lohse into the right-field seats at Citizens Bank Park for his first career grand slam – ‘manrui homa’ in Japanese – and lacked only a single for the cycle.”

Annie Stapleton, “Fresh air does job for Matsui,” Boston Globe, October 6, 2007

Manrui translates from the Japanese as “full or loaded (man) bases (rui).”

[Video: CC BY 2.0 by PoiseWinsTitles]


“Each Japanese team has an oendan — a highly organized cheering block that is part regulars who travel with the team and part local fans who bring out their bass drums when their team comes to town.”

Stephen Ellsesser, “Yakyu means baseball: Fan devotion,”, September 22, 2006

Oendan translates as “cheering squad” or “cheering section.”

pure boru

“But the best thing about the Japanese game, perhaps, is that come opening day next year, the cry of ‘Pure boru!’ is guaranteed to ring out across the land.”

Robert Whiting, “Japan Becoming the Land of the Rising Fastball,” Palm Beach Post News, October 18, 1993

Pure boru is a transliteration of play ball.

sayonara homu ran

“My personal favorite so far is the sayonara homuran (walkoff home run).”

Teddy Panos, “No matter the language, spring training is terrific time of year,” The Sun, February 13, 2007

While homu ran is a transliteration of the English home run, sayonara is Japanese for goodbye. A walk-off home run is “a home run that ends the game.”


“Enthusiastically received during that trip were two of the Red Sox rookies (‘shinjin’ in Japanese) from the 2007 team, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, the first-ever Japanese players to join the Red Sox.”

Rockwell and the Red Sox,” The Herald News, June 19, 2008

Shinjin translates from the Japanese as “new (shin) person (jin).” The transliterated form of rookie is rukii.


Question: “People say Matsuzaka’s slider is devastating and tops out at 90. Is that actually a cutter instead? And how about his ‘shuto’? Is it synonym of sinker in Japanese?”

Robert Whiting: “Yes on the slider. The shuto is a fast cutter and sometimes it breaks down. The Americans used to say shooter back in the 20’s.”

Japanese baseball expert Robert Whiting’s Matsuzaka chat,” Boston Globe, November 21, 2006

Shuto is a transliteration of shooter, apparently an old name for the cutter, a fastball “that moves sideways in the air, or off the pitch, because it has been cut.”


“If gaijin have historically been asked to fit in, to surrender some part of themselves and their expectations to the experience of a new culture, on and off the field, they have also been asked, expected, to stand out. There is a Japanese term, suketto, which translates roughly to ‘helper.’ The American-born players are suketto, hired to be difference makers, to produce.”

Eric Neel, “Gaijin no longer means ‘outsider,’”, February 28, 2007

According to Robert Whiting in his book, The Meaning of Ichiro: The New Wave from Japan and the Transformation of Our National Pastime, the word suketto implies that “that one is there not as a member of the group but as an outsider with special skills or expertise to impart.” The term has been “applied not only to foreign ballplayers but to engineers, technicians, bond traders and others in the long string of experts Japan has employed to raise its level of competition.”


“More adventurous eaters might try Wann’s takoyaki; pleasingly squishy orbs of grilled octopus are sprinkled with bonito flakes that bob and ‘dance’ when heated. A popular festival food, takoyaki is served throughout Japan from temples to baseball parks.”

Eve M. Tai, “Japanese izakaya brings snacking culture to Seattle,” The Seattle Times, September 20, 2009


Photo by enersauce

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by enersauce]

Takoyaki translates as “fried (yaki) octopus (tako).” Other Japanese ballpark treats include bento boxes, soba noodles, ramen, and unusually flavored ice cream. Yakitori, which translates as “fried chicken,” refers to fried and skewered food in general, and is also known as kushiyaki, “skewer fried.”


Wa was reflected in yakyu [baseball] in other ways, like uniform playing styles, a mostly conciliatory players’ union and the paucity of player agents and heated salary disputes, even though players’ salaries were typically one-fifth to one-sixth of those of their North American counterparts.”

Robert Whiting, “The Concept of Wa,”

Wa translates as “group harmony” and is also “the oldest recorded name of Japan.”


“The Classic’s slogan is ‘Baseball Spoken Here.’ In this case, it’s yakyu, which in Japanese means ‘field ball.’”

Japan Beats Cuba in First World Baseball Classic,” The New York Times, March 26, 2006

Baseball in Japan was known as besuboru till World War II when the term was changed to yakyu. Now both terms seem to be used.

Uroko House: Bookcase Bedroom

Like an architectural version of a text within a text, it’s the Bookcase Bedroom, aka the Uroko House. Appears to have been built inside a loft somewhere in Japan. I love that someone did this, but I think I’d want to build it against a wall with a window. Must be dark in there.

This photo-stealing site shows the building sequence nicely, but the original flickr set provides more photos. Thanks to pyeplant for the link.

Ok, Errata is now officially a blog about bookcases.

Japanese Buzzwords

Fast on the heels of the OUP’s WotY, here’s a list of 60 words and expressions nominated for Japanese Buzzword of the Year by publisher Jiyu Kokuminsha.

A few seem uniquely Japanese (#35, “Tetsuko,” or female train fanatics), but in general the mix of political scandal, sports, and pop culture that spark coinage appears to be universal. Some (#49, “working poor”, #52, “inconvenient truth”) could have appeared on any list, in any language.

Thanks to Lampbane for the link.