Dutch loan words in Japanese

Nijntje op Dejima - Nagasaki

Did you know that there are quite a few Japanese words of Dutch origin? The Dutch language has had an influence on Japanese starting in the 16th and 17th century. That’s because for the longest time the Netherlands was the only Western country allowed to trade with Japan. A strong exchange of cultural and scientific knowledge was the result of that. The German scientist Von Siebold was a doctor in the Dutch settlement on the island of Dejima in Nagasaki. He taught Western medicine.

King Willem-Alexander on Dejima in Nagasaki
Dutch King Willem-Alexander on Dejima in Nagasaki

Medical terms

Through Von Siebold, Dutch medical terms ended up in Japanese, like supoito (syringe), pinsetto (tweezers) en ransetto (lancet). The Japanese also made up names for organs influenced by their translation work of Dutch medical books. They came up with shinkei for nerve.

The five Dutch loan words

These are, subjectively, my five favourite Dutch loan words in Japanese:

  1. booruban – boorbank – drill bench
  2. doroppu – drop – licorice
  3. randoseru – schooltas, van ‘ransel’ – school bag
  4. poruuda – polder –
  5. madurosu – matroos – sailor

And as a bonus, the brilliant word otenba which is the Japanese equivalent of the English word tomboy. This may come from the Dutch word ontembaar, which means untamable. Sounds romantic, but they’re not entirely sure it is the right etymology.

What is your favourite loan word in Japanese?

The picture of Miffy above was taken on Dejima, where the Dutch trade post has been restored to its former glory. It’s well worth a visit.


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