Japanese Words Playable in Scrabble Anywhere in the World

Scrabble words in Japanese on game board

Adapted from Getty Images

English, like any language, has a knack for adopting words from other languages. A word that sounds completely foreign can become commonplace almost overnight. The next step for those words is to serve a role in our favorite word games. Plenty of Japanese words are valid point scorers in Scrabble and Words With Friends. To strengthen your vocabulary and win games, take a moment to learn some of these cool Japanese words.
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Bento

A bento is a box that separates each portion of a meal. One box can hold multiple courses of said meal, often for packing a lunch.

  • Scrabble points: 7

  • Words With Friends points: 9

  • Example: “All right, who stole my bento box out of the fridge? I was saving that for tomorrow.”

Emoji

Emoji” is one of those cute Japanese words that most people are familiar with today. Emojis are those icons we use in text messages and social media posts to succinctly convey ideas and emotions.

  • Scrabble points: 14

  • Words With Friends points: 17

  • Example: “I sent my wife what was supposed to be a teasing message. I meant to send it with a winking emoji, but I accidentally used an angry face one instead. This won’t end well.”

Futon

The futon is a thin mattress that usually rests on the floor or on a foldable frame. They are designed to be easily stored or moved.

Futon definition and visual exampleFuton definition and visual example
  • Scrabble points: 8

  • Words With Friends points:  10

  • Example: “I bought one of those folding futons for my dorm room because I wanted to save space. The problem is that I’m too lazy to actually fold it each morning.”

Haiku

If you’re fond of poetry or even just dabble in it, you’ve probably heard of the haiku. It is a three-line verse form with a 5-7-5 syllable structure. This is probably one of the better known Japanese words around the world. 

  • Scrabble points: 12

  • Words With Friends points: 12

  • Example: “Wrote her a haiku. She wasn’t impressed at all. Should I try again?”

Honcho

You’re a honcho if you’re the person in charge. Though, this usually refers to a team leader, such as the “head honcho” in a corporate or military setting.

  • Scrabble points: 14

  • Words With Friends points: 14

  • Example: “Please stop calling yourself the ‘head honcho.’ We’re working at a gas station, and you hold onto the keys to the bathroom. It’s not that serious.”

Kamikaze

A kamikaze attack is a maneuver used by Japanese pilots in World War II. The pilots would purposefully crash their planes into enemy forces, killing themselves in the process. Today, “kamikaze” refers to someone who does something recklessly with little regard for their personal safety.

  • Scrabble points: 27

  • Words With Friends points: 28

  • Example: “She told her vindictive friend that she looks fat in her dress. Talk about a kamikaze mission.”

Kanban

Kanban refers to a production system regularly used in factories. The concept is that parts or materials are only delivered or created when needed for the next step in production. A kanban board is a popular productivity and project management tool. 

  • Scrabble points: 12

  • Words With Friends points: 15

  • Example: “My work finally implemented the kanban system. Maybe now I can actually get the parts I need before the product’s shipped date comes.”

Koi

Many people love to keep koi in decorative fish ponds. These are a type of carp with vibrant colors, making them desirable for display.

Koi definition and visual exampleKoi definition and visual example
  • Scrabble points: 7

  • Words With Friends points: 7

  • Example: “If you’re looking for Bill, he’s in the backyard, standing in the koi pond. He dropped his phone in there and is trying to get it back.”

Manga

Manga is a type of comic book art. These books often use the anime style of art and feature mature stories and themes. Popular manga series include Naruto, Dragon Ball and Bleach. You don’t need to understand Japanese words to enjoy manga, as many series have been translated into English.

  • Scrabble points: 8

  • Words With Friends points: 11

  • Example: “My friend Jerry loves reading manga, but I just can’t get into it. Reading from right to left will never not mess with my dyslexia.”

Origami

The art of folding paper to create intricate shapes is called origami. It’s a technique that has been adopted and favored by people all over the world. Origami is another example of the many Japanese words and cultural practices embraced by global cultures. 

  • Scrabble points: 10

  • Words With Friends points: 12

  • Example: “We did an origami project in art class today. Had the assignment been to create a crumpled piece of paper, I would have done great. Unfortunately, the goal was to make a swan.”

Ramen

Ramen is a simple meal made of noodles, broth and any ingredients you choose to add for flavor. Instant ramen is a common meal for many in college, thanks to cheap cost and short prep time. Traditional ramen can be much more nuanced and complex.

  • Scrabble points: 7

  • Words With Friends points: 9

  • Example: “I was trying to get my mom to make some lunch for me, so I casually mentioned I was hungry. She responded by handing me a box of ramen.”

Rickshaw

If you’ve ever seen a two-wheeled cart being pulled by a person, what you saw was a rickshaw. Though, some modern variants propelled by small motors do exist.

  • Scrabble points: 20

  • Words With Friends points: 20

  • Example: “I wonder, has anyone ever thought of marketing pulling a rickshaw as an exercise program? No, I don’t think it’s a stupid idea at all.”

Ryu

“Ryu” has many uses in Japanese. Two of the most common uses are as a name for a martial arts school and as the Japanese word for “dragon.”

  • Scrabble points: 6

  • Words With Friends points: 6

  • Example: “I named my bearded dragon Ryu because ‘ryu’ means dragon. I wish I hadn’t, because now I have to keep explaining to people who don’t get that ‘ryu’ means dragon.”

San

You put “san” at the end of a person’s name to show respect. It’s an honorific, similar to “Mr.” or “Mrs.” in English. It is also one of the ways to say the number three in Japanese.

  • Scrabble points: 3

  • Words With Friends points: 4

  • Example: “We’ll be sending you to Japan in two weeks for another business meeting. But please, this time, try to remember to say ‘san’ after you say someone’s name.”

Sensei

A sensei is anyone who serves in a teacher or mentor capacity. This could be a school teacher, a doctor, a supervisor or a martial arts instructor.

  • Scrabble points: 6

  • Words With Friends points: 7

  • Example: “At work, the new guy I’m training keeps calling me ‘sensei’ every time we’re together. I’m still trying to figure out if I like him or not.”

Sashimi

Sashimi is a special Japanese dish. It consists of thin slices of raw fish. The fish is usually something like salmon or tuna and is commonly served with soy sauce and wasabi.

  • Scrabble points: 12

  • Words With Friends points: 12

  • Example: “One of my friends asked me if I’d like to go with her to a Japanese restaurant to try some sashimi. She apparently forgot that cooked seafood makes me ill. I don’t want to imagine what raw fish would do.”

Sudoku

Today, sudoku is one of the most popular number games in the world. You played it on a 9 x 9 grid, which is sub-divided into nine smaller grids with nine squares each. The goal is to fill each smaller grid with the numbers 1 through 9, but you cannot repeat any numbers in larger grids’ rows or columns.

Sudoku definition and visual exampleSudoku definition and visual example
  • Scrabble points: 11

  • Words With Friends points: 13

  • Example: “I’ve been working on this sudoku puzzle for about an hour. Yes, I’m still on the first grid. Keep your mouth shut.”

Teriyaki

Teriyaki is a dish of grilled or broiled meat. When cooking the meat, you marinate it in a spiced soy sauce. Teriyaki is often served with vegetables and steamed rice. When it comes to Japanese words in English, “teriyaki” is as common today as “hamburger.” 

  • Scrabble points: 15

  • Words With Friends points: 14

  • Example: “I always get the chicken teriyaki when we go to the Japanese restaurant down the street. My friends think I should try something new, but I don’t like to mess with success.”

Tsunami

One of the most devastating of natural disasters, a tsunami is a massive ocean wave that makes contact with land. They are created by underwater earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

  • Scrabble points: 9

  • Words With Friends points: 12

  • Example: “I was supposed to leave for my vacation in the Philippines this week, but that got canceled because a tsunami hit the resort. I have the worst luck. What’s that? Oh, right, that was pretty stupid to say.”

Tycoon

A tycoon is any wealthy or powerful person who has gained success through business. Originally, the term was a title for a Japanese shogun or military commander.

  • Scrabble points: 11

  • Words With Friends points: 12

  • Example: “Have you noticed how annoying Barry has been lately? He’s been acting like he’s some kind of business tycoon ever since he made a bit of money off of Bitcoin.”

Scrabble Words From Around the World

Japanese words in English have their permanent and invaluable roles in Scrabble, Words With Friends and many other popular word games. That’s one of the great things about the constant evolution of language. We’re always gaining new and useful words that provide more information and options. We have plenty of other languages to thank for good Scrabble words, too. If you want to learn some more foreign words to play in Scrabble, our article on the matter has what you need.

NOTE: For those who prefer being certain, yes, the Japanese characters in the image above do translate to "Scrabble words." They're pronounced Sukuraburu no kotoba.


Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.

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