The Portuguese were the first Europeans to ever establish contact with Japan. This happened in the sixteenth century when the Portuguese arrived at Tanegashima (種子島) to forge trading links.
Portuguese arrival in Japan
The Europeans were amazed by the beauty of the country and the friendly and cultured people of Japan. On the Japanese side, the Portuguese nautical and technical knowledge were admired, they were curious about the rest of the world, but nothing impressed them quite like the superiority of the fire arms.
Commercial trading and Christianity were the Portuguese’s main goals in Japan, but the influence was mutual. Much can be said about these early links, yet it is the linguistic legacy that interests us here.
Kasutera, one of the many loan words from Portuguese. Photo by Descubrir Japón
During the century of contact with the Portuguese people, numerous words were assimilated by the Japanese language, a large part were terms relating to religion that disappeared when the Portuguese were forced to leave Japan. Others were words concerning objects used everyday life, that have remained part of the Japanese vernacular for centuries.
Japanese words of Portuguese origin
Most of the loan words, or gairaigo (外来語) in modern Japanese come from the English language, but there are still some terms originated from Portuguese that are relevant in today’s speech. Let’s take a look:
confeito (small coloured sugar candy covered in bulges)
copo (drinking glass)
carta (playing cards)
tempero (spice, seasoning)
(bolo de) Castela (sponge cake)
タバコ / 煙草 (tabako)
tabaco (tobacco, cigarretes)
capa (cape, raincoat)
You’ll notice that some of these words are written in kanji and not katakana, as is usual with foreign words, which shows that they’re considered true Japanese words and are completely integrated in the language.
Portuguese words of Japanese origin
It is of note that there are a few pieces of vocabulary that have seeped into Portuguese from Japan. 屏風 (byōbu) and 刀 (katana) have become biombo (folding screen) and catana (sword, long knife) in the Portuguese language.
It’s one of the reasons that Japanese is such a fun language to learn, that there is an eclectic mix of loan-words that allow learners of the language to be exposed to languages all across the world.
There is a popular misconception that the Japanese word arigatō derives from the Portuguese obrigado, both of which mean “Thank you.” This is false, as arigatō is a shortened form of arigatō gozaimasu, which in turn is a form of an adjective arigatai, for which written records exist dating back well before Japanese contact with Portugal.
Are there any words here that have surprised you? Which words from your language feature in Japanese?