Japanese Street Slang, by Peter Constantine

7 / 10
exposés explain the use, context & local meaning of lots of Japanese slang; culturally relevant; slang words put into context with phrases and alternate options; everything flows within author’s informative musings; good introduction & index

takes an experienced student or casual reader to get something out of this; some of these expressions are dated or highly impractical; phrases are given in romaji only (rather than kana and kanji, as would be seen in Japan); not really a dictionary, phrasebook or lesson course – simply an instructive pleasure read

Books like Dirty Japanese and Outrageous Japanese show us there’s a market for resources that teach us gaijin the naughty, raunchy, gritty, raw lingo heard throughout urban Japan. Japanese Street Slang takes this study in a new direction by offering a prose exposé of Japanese phrases, with short essays that tie language use to Japan and its unique social scenes.

Over the course of 175 pages, author Peter Constantine takes readers on an alphabetized, explanation-rich ride through scores of phrases. Each phrase gets the spotlight for a page or so, during which the author explains where the phrase comes from, how it’s used (and by whom!), then contextualizes words and phrases with sample sentences and other slang options. All of this material is woven together in a straightforward, readable manner. You’ll doubtless find yourself snickering at quirks or raising and eyebrow at obscenities along the way.

At the end, a Japanese word list with page numbers allows you to find any of the phrases covered in the book. There’s also an index of topics (cities, people & cultural items). Don’t miss the introduction, either. It gives a rundown of Japanese slang, dialects and language functions heard on the street.

It’s a bit unfortunate that the book’s uniqueness works against it for the main audience – Japanese language learners. It’s not really complete enough to count as a dictionary, too verbose for a phrase book, too methodical and linguistic for a guide to Japanese culture, and provides no pacing or practical application to be used as a language course. Additionally, many of these amusing phrases will strike Japanese ears as vulgar, out of date, or both.

All in all, Japanese Street Slang offers readers an enjoyable and informative ride through the world of Japanese slang. Students aiming to speak informal Japanese (rather than read about it) should pair this with a linguistically pertinent resource like Beyond Polite Japanese.

2 Comments to “Japanese Street Slang, by Peter Constantine”

  1. By nativlang, May 20, 2010 @ 7:45 am

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case, since the book was published as something like Japanese Slang Uncensored in the 90s. From my experience, the language on the street changes fast. What about other resources like Dirty Japanese?

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. By LQ, May 18, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

    Really do not recommend this book–much of the slang is from the 80s, and you’ll just be laughed at if you try to use it. That’s more than just an aside; it’s a major drawback.