History Language

Dutch loan words in Japanese

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.

Language Tips

Kanji read a bit of Japanese

This post appeared on the previously Dutch version of this website in 2017. I am still taking Japanese lessons and still haven’t learned anything close to 2000 kanji.

Since a year and a half I have been taking Japanese lessons at Nichiran – Japans Taalonderwijs in Amstelveen, near Amsterdam. I just didn’t want to be completely helpless on my travels. 36 lessons in we started learning Kanji. Kanji are Chinese characters, one of the three scripts used in Japan: hiragana, katakana and kanji. A long time ago, Japan didn’t have any script at all. Stories were not written down, but told. In the 5th century, Chinese characters were introduced to Japan, probably via Korea. To make a long story short, the characters were adopted and here we are, suffering the consequences.

Kanji pronunciation can be Japanese and / or Chinese

We are learning five kanji every lesson. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but every character has various readings and interpretations, pronunciations based on Japanese as well as Chinese. We also learn in which order to write the strokes that form the character. That’s important. I don’t know why, very few people write by hand these days.

To be able to read a newspaper, you need to learn some 2000 characters. I’m going to make that school very rich one day when I finally manage to memorise all 2000. The kanji I will teach you know are ones we haven’t even learned yet. But they are useful to know if you are in Japan, looking for the exit or entrance of a building. You’ll also see these characters near the counter in shops. They’ll tell you where to join the queue. They’re easy to remember.

Kanji for entrance and exit

Iriguchi – Entrance


Deguchi – Exit


入 means to enter. 出 is to exit. That square thing ( 口 ) you see in both words is a mouth: “kuchi”. It’s an easy to remember visual, right? Ok, now you are one step ahead of most people who can’t read Japanese.

How well do the Japanese know their own kanji

To end this post, a funny video by “That Japanese Man Yuta”, who does all kinds of little interviews and social experiments on YouTube. Here he asks people in the street whether they remember how to write the 2000 kanji they would have had to learn in school.