This glossary does not intend to be complete, but aims include terms that commonly come up in Korean and Japanese dramas and films (plus some general film terminology). More terms will be added in the future, so do feel free to request any you would like to see explained via the comment box.
Ahjussi [아저 시] – Also romanised as ajŏssi. Literally uncle, the term is used for older males. It is a general term of reference, e.g. for waiters, bus drivers, shopkeepers. Ajumma is a related term for females.
Ajumma [아줌마] – Literally aunty, ajumma is a term used to address women of a marriageable age. The term comes with some negative associations, including a particular image (permed hair, sun visors, ‘ajumma pants’). Women of some ages may not perceive themselves as ‘ajummas’ and may thus be offended being called so. Ahjussi is the related term for males.
Army Service – Korean males are required to serve 2 years in the army, and must do so before their 30th birthday. For actors it can be difficult to ‘come back’ after their two years of service and it is common for many to postpone conscription until as late as possible.
Baka [馬鹿 in kanji] – Note: Also written ばか in hiragana, or sometimes バカ in katakana. BK is an internet slang variation. The literal meaning of the kanji is ‘horse deer’, but the term means ‘fool’ or ‘idiot’. It is commonly a used swearword, that you will come across in Japanese films/animes/mangas quite a lot. Anata wa Baka [あなたは馬鹿, ‘You fool’] or Anata wa Baka desu [あなたは馬鹿です, ‘You are a fool’] are variations you might also hear.
Benshi [弁士] – May sometimes also be called katsudō-benshi [活動弁士] or katsuben [活弁]. During the era of silent cinema in Japan, live performers called benshi would provide narration at film screenings. The Korean equivalent is called byeonsa.
Bleakie – Not an official word, but just one I happen to use to refer to films, usually of Japanese origin (simply because the Japanese excel in making bleakies), with a dark, bleak subject matter. Bleakies will typically explore topics like abortion, rape, suicide, bullying (etc.) and depict characters’ emotional journeys through such harrowing experiences. These film are likely to have sad (or at least ambiguous) endings, but some do finish on a hopeful note. Examples include 「僕らの未来」 (Bokura no Mirai/Our Future, 2011), 「ネムリユスリカ」 (Nemuri Yusurika/Sleep, 2011), 「ぐるりのこと。」(Gururi no Koto/All Around Us, 2008) or 「ヒミズ」 (Himizu/Himizu, 2011).
CG or CGI – Computer Generated Imagery (sometimes also Computer Graphics). Computer-created imagery and effects that are used in areas such as film animation, art, video games, and so forth.
Drama – As opposed to films, dramas are multi-episode productions screened on television, usually involving at least 10 parts, often more. Typical in Japan: 10-12 episodes. Typical in Korean: 12-16 episodes. Typical in Taiwan: 20+ episodes. Longer dramas (50 episodes or more) also exist and are usually screened on a daily basis (shorter dramas will show 1 or 2 episodes per week). The episode length of Korean dramas is longer than of those elsewhere and generally are filmed live while airing (i.e. a few days before being shown on TV) rather than being pre-produced.
Drama special (1) – A special episode produced often as a sort of epilogue or postscriptum to a drama. Rather than being pre-planned, drama specials are frequently made if a drama proves to be successful and will therefore often air later than the original series. Special can consist of an additional chapter (sometimes involving a jump in time to reveal how characters are faring a year or years later, e.g. Freeter Ie wo Kau) or simply include extra material without expanding the original storyline (e.g. a live concert for a music-based drama, as with Dream High).
Drama special (2) – A collection of multiple episodes produced as part of a series, with each special however being independent of the others (i.e. featuring unconnected stories and different actors).
Fansubbing – The subtitling of anime, films and TV dramas done by fans rather than professional translators. Particularly large fansubbing communities exist for media products from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, who share the resulting fansubs with others online. See also fantranslation and scanlation.
Fantranslation – Translations of printed texts, usually mangas, that are made by fans rather than professional translators. Fantranslations are normally done without the permission of copyright holders and distributed for free online, but despite this are often tolerated by the original artists. Fantranslation can also include fansubbing. See also the related term scanlation.
Flower boy – Related terms include kkotminam [꽃미남], literally flower boy, bishōnen [美少年] , literally beautiful boy, sometimes shortened to bishie, and sōshoku danshi [草食男子], literally grass-eating/herbivore or vegetarian boy. The term ‘flower boy’ describes, essentially boys/men that are feminine in their appearance. It describes the phenomenon of the Asian ‘pretty boy’, which can be observed in places such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Flower boys look very feminine, e.g. have no facial hair, may have slightly longer hair, often use make-up (such as ‘guyliner’) and are generally slight in stature. The terms are not exact equivalents, for example, bishōnen suggests androgyny and is often a type of effeminate character in manga and anime although the term is originally much older. In the past it was only used for boys age 18 and under, but is now applied more widely. Sōshoku danshi also implies that the men are not interested in sex or relationships. Kkotminam seems to primarily point to the feminine physical beauty of men. (N.B. I’m somewhat muddling the definitions here, but there are no clear explanations easily available.) For classic examples, see k-dramas 꽃보다 남자 (Kkotboda Namja/Boys over Flowers, 2008), 꽃미남 라면가게 (Kkotminam Ramyeongage/Flower Boy Rayum Shop, 2011) and 닥치고 꽃미남밴드 (Dakchigo Kkotminnam Baendeu/Shut Up: Flower Boy Band, 2012) or j-dorama and film 「花より男子」 (Hana Yori Dango/Boys Before Flowers, 2005/2007/2009).
Gaijin [外人] – Term that is used to refer to foreigners in Japan. A shortened form of gaikokujin (外国人), it literally means “person/people from outside the country”. The term has somewhat negative connotations and has even become politically incorrect as of late. Gaijins, regardless of how long they have lived in Japan, how well they speak Japanese, etc., are always considered as ‘foreign’ and Japanese society has been criticised as being particularly homogenous and prejudiced towards foreigners. Even Japanese natives can suffer from prejudice: Japanese returnees – i.e. individuals that have lived overseas – (known as kikokushijo [帰国子女, lit. “repatriate children”] or kaigaishijo [海外子女, lit. “overseas children”]) often also struggle to integrate, as do hafus ([ハーフ], individuals that are ethnically half-Japanese), with some going out of their way to hide their mixed parentage. The dorama 「スマイル」 (Smile) (fictional) or the upcoming documentary on hafus give more insight into the issues surrounding foreigners in Japanese society.
Gekiga [劇画] – A term coined by Tatsumi Yoshihiro to refer to ‘dramatic pictures’, that is manga with serious, adult themes. Note that the term is not really used any more today. See also also the review on the film Tatsumi for further further links and information.
Hallyu [한류] – Also known as the Korean Wave. First coined in China in 1999, Hallyu refers to spread of South Korean culture around the world. Internationally known Korean celebrities will, for example, sometimes be referred to as Hallyu stars.
Hangul [한글] – The Korean writing script. You can learn more about it here.
Hóngbāo [紅包] – A red envelope with money given at certain holidays (like Lunar New Year) or events like weddings in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and a number of other Asian countries. The red colour symbolises good luck.
Independent film – Also known as ‘indies’. Usually indicates low-budget films produced by small studios. If using a broader definition, the term can essentially indicate any non-mainstream (non-Hollywood especially) production. Well-known actors may appear in indies, but frequently will have agreed to a lower pay (or no pay at all) than they would normally demand in other productions.
Indie – See independent film.
Intertitle – Sometimes also known as title or title cards. Intertitles are printed text that is filmed and inserted into a film at various points. They were generally used as a means to add dialogue or narration to silent films.
Josei – To be added soon!
Kaijū [怪獣] – The word itself literally means ‘strange beast’, but often translated as ‘monster’ in English. It is used to refer to any sort of monstrous creature, whether from Japanese folklore or elsewhere, e.g. Godzilla, King Kong, vampires, mummies, werewolves. Recently kaijū have been associated with tokusatsu entertainment, as a specific film genre.
Kana – One of the Japanese writing scripts, either involving hiragana characters or katakana characters, both of which are syllabary. See also 한국 and 日本語 Resources.
Kanji [漢字] – A Japanese writing system, using symbols that were adopted and adapted from hansa (Chinese). There are thousands of kanji, making it a difficult writing system to learn – indeed, plenty of people never quite master it.
Kawaii [可愛い] – Kawaii literally refers to something that is ‘cute’, ‘loveable’ or ‘adorable’ and, within the context of Japanese popular culture, is an important quality for people, especially females, in terms of looks and behaviour, as well as things (toys, food, clothes, etc. can all be kawaii).
Manga [kanji: 漫画; hiragana: まんが; katakana: マンガ] – A Japanese comic. Mangas, even in English translation, are normally read right to left. Unlike comics in the West, manga are not necessarily meant for children or teenagers only but are also for adults. Specific, adult-oriented manga genres exist and reading comics is a much more mainstream practice in Japan than it would be in the West.
Mangaka [漫画家] – A comic artist or cartoonist. Outside Japan, the word is used to specifically refer to manga artists (i.e. Japanese comic artists). Manga refers to comics while the suffix, -ka (家), refers to ‘expertise’ and ‘traditional authorship’. The term mangaka is thus used for someone who both writes and draws their work (although they may have assistants), but not for someone who, for example, only writes a manga’s story.
Names (Korean and Japanese) – Both in Korea and Japan, it is convention to give names in the order of surname first name. Middle names are uncommon. In Japanese names can vary greatly, but in Korean they nearly always consist of three syllables (one syllable last name, two syllable first name, e.g. Kim Soo-hyun, Kim Na Na).
Omiai [お見合い] – Refers to matchmaking and the custom of arranged marriages in Japan. Literally ‘looking at one another’, omiai (or, without politeness marker, miai) is a meeting in which potential partners are introduced to one another for the purpose of marriage. The custom has been practiced for several centuries with renai kekkon [恋愛結婚], or marriage for love, being a concept that was introduced from the West only after World War II.
Oneesan [お姉さん] – Older sister. See also this list.
Oniisan [お兄さん] – Older brother. See also this list.
Oppa [오빠] – Honorific form is orabeoni [오라버니]. Literally ‘older brother’. A respectful term of address used by females for males somewhat – but not much – older than them. The person addressed need not be related (indeed, often he is not). The male/male equivalent is hyeong [형].
OST – Original Soundtrack.
Otaku [おたく or オタク or ヲタク] – Used to refer to individuals who are obsessed to something (a hobby, an aspect of popular culture) more so than a normal person would and often with a negative effect on their social life and skills. In Japan the term implies a person who rarely leaves the house and interacts with others, leading an unhealthy and asocial lifestyle because of his/her obsession. In this context, otaku is considered an insult. However, outside of Japan, the term is by avid fans of anime and manga (or as manga.about.com puts it: “super-fans who eat, drink, shop, collect and obsess” anime and manga) and does not necessarily signify derogatory – indeed, some may wear such labelling as a badge of honour (e.g. in Australia, where it carries more of a meaning of ‘knowledgeable manga/anime geek’). Interestingly, otaku originally derived from a very polite form of ‘you’ (literally referring to another person’s ‘house’, お宅).
Rōmaji [ローマ字] – Romanised spelling of that is used of transliterating Japanese, e.g. みどり is written in hiragana, Midori is the rōmaji form. Note: sometimes also spelled ‘romaji’ or, more incorrectly, ‘romanji’/’rōmanji’.
Rom-com – Romantic Comedy.
Scanlation – A translation of a printed text (usually a manga) that is made by fans rather than by professional translators. The term derives from the process involved: the original manga is purchased, scanned and then translated. Normally several people are involved in a escalation (including a scanner, translator, editor and proofreader). Related terms include fantranslation and fansubbing.
Seinen [青年] – Literally meaning “young man/men”, seinen is a manga genre that is generally targeted at 18-30 year old males. Unlike shounen manga, which are aimed at a younger male teenage demographic, seinen are more psychological, sexual and violent and comprise a wide variety of subject matters, with the focus being on story and character development rather than action. The female equivalent is josei manga.
Senpai [先輩 or せんぱい] – Used to address a person senior to you, usually in school, sports clubs, etc., e.g. a younger student will refer to a student in a higher grade as his/her senpai. It can be used in a business environment, with senior colleagues, but not for one’s boss. See also kōhai [後輩 or こうはい].
Shōjo [少女] – Note: May be spelled ‘shoujo’ or ‘shojo’ in romaji. Literally meaning ‘young/little’ and ‘woman’, the word is used in Japan to describe females between ages 7-18 (approximately). It is also a type of manga genre marketed to this particular demographic of Japanese society. However, as with all manga genres, the label is more indicative of the content of the comics (often romance- and relationship focused) than its readers, which may come from all age groups and may in fact be male or female.
Shounen – To be added soon!
Sonsaengnim [선생님] – sonsaeng [선생] translates as ‘teacher’, while jim [님] is a honorific suffix. Sonsaengnim is a formal term of address to show respect, especially to older males. Similar to the Japanese term sensei [先生 or せんせい].
-ssi [-씨] – A suffix attached to Korean names, either the full name (Kim Jaemin-ssi [김 재민씨) or just the first name (Jaemin-ssi [재민씨]). Originally a honorific, it roughly translates as ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’. It can now also be used among people of equal status. However -ssi must not be attached to a surname only (*Kim-ssi [*김씨]), as this is consider rude.
Studio Ghibli [株式会社スタジオジブリ/ Kabushiki-gaisha Sutajio Jiburi] – A Japanese film and animation company, founded in 1985 by Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao. It is known for its wonderfully creative animated films, which are popular as well as highly successful in Japan, but also internationally, with 「千と千尋の神隠し」 (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi/Spirited Away) winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2001. The Studio has a museum in Mitaka, Tokyo.
TCK – See Third Culture Kid.
Terms of address (Japan) – Polite language and honorifics are important in Japan, something that is very much evident in the people address each other. Family members, friends, close work colleagues are addressed differently than people who are senior to you (your boss, teacher, etc.). Generally surnames are used (A switch to first-name basis has to be initiated by the more senior individual and signifies a change in the relationship.) The title -san [さん], which roughly translates as Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, is attached after a name (e.g. Andou-san) and it is safest to use this if you are unsure about how to address someone. Note: -san must not be used to refer to yourself. -kun [君 or くん] is generally used to address boys, normally young boys or teenagers. -chan [ちゃん] is a term of endearment and used for babies, young children, and between friends (especially girls). It must not be used with anyone senior to you. Sama [様 or さま] is a very respectful form of address, even more so than -san. It is reserved for people of much higher rank and sometimes used for people one greatly admires. It is also used in letters, following the name of the addressee on the envelope.
Third Culture Kid -Often shortened to TCK. A term coined in the 1950s by the American anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem. It refers to “a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.” [quote: David C. Pollock. From Pollock, David C. and Ruth E. Van Reken. Third Culture Kids: Growing up among Worlds, Rev. Ed.. London: Nicholas Brealey, 2009. 13.]. The parental culture is the TCK’s ‘first/home culture’, the other culture(s) he/she grows up in are the ‘second culture’, resulting in a third culture unique to them but shared in experience by other TCKs.
Title – See intertitle.
Title Card – See intertitle.
Tokusatsu [特撮] – Literally means ‘special filming’. Tokusatsu are live-action films or television dramas that are characterised by their use of special effects and superheroes. One very popular category are kaijū, which feature monsters.
Wuxia [武侠] – A genre, originally in Chinese literature but now also in film, opera, comics and even video games, that relates the adventures of martial artists. The first part of the word, “wu” [武], signifies martial/military/armed, etc., while xia [俠] means honourable/heroic. Examples of wuxia films include 臥虎藏龍 (Wòhǔ Cánglóng/Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, 2000) 英雄 (Yīngxióng/Hero, 2002) and 十面埋伏 (Shí Miàn Mái Fú/House of Flying Daggers, 2004).
Yakuza [ヤクザ or やくざ ] – Simply put Japanese gangsters. Not quite so simply put, yakuza are members of traditional and highly organised crime syndicates, and are notorious for strict codes of conduct. There are thought to be an estimated 100,000 active yakuza in Japan, the three largest groups being the Yamaguchi-gumi [六代目山口組], the Sumiyoshi-kai [住吉会] and the Inagawa-kai [稲川会. Tattoos are associated with yakuza and often looked down upon by the general society because of this reason.
Yōkai [妖怪] – A class of supernatural creatures that appear in Japanese folklore. Many different types of yōkai exist. They will often have animal features, but may also look human or lack any distinct shape at all. Some yōkai are malicious, others simply mischievous. They frequently have a supernatural power of some sort, which they may use to their own advantage.