Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The Japanese language has a thing for coining new words by abbreviation. A common pattern is to take one syllable or character from each of two words to create a new one. For instance, "結婚 約束" (kekkon yakusoku, "marriage-promise") is today abbreviated to "婚約" (konyaku, "engagement"). "京都 大学" (Kyoto Daigaku, "Kyoto University"), my current employer, is normally referred to as "京大" (Kyodai); other large universities tend to follow the same pattern. A common word among the students here is "就活" (shūkatsu, "job hunting"), which comes from "就職 活動" (shūshoku katsudō, "employment-finding activity").

Today I learned of a fairly new, increasingly popular word borrowing the same "katsu"-ending: "婚活" (konkatsu, "marriage hunting"), from "結婚 活動" (kekkon katsudo, "marriage activity")1. The longer phrase does not (to my knowledge) exist; the pattern is copied straight from "job hunting" above. Apparently "konkatsu" can be used in any marriage-seeking context; the tv show this morning was showing "konkatsu hair styles" and "konkatsu meiku" (makeup) which I assume is some style that makes you look eligible and desireable for marriage or something like that. A "konkatsu event" is a matchmaking party, and so on.

Of course, there's no way of knowing if this neologism will have staying power. Most new, trendy words have their time in the sun only to fade away again after a while. My guess is it will hang around. Marriage - or lack thereof - is a constant worry for a lot of younger people here2, and konkatsu is a useful and catchy term for all matchmaking and marriage-seeking issues. Of course, tv shows and advertisements blaring "婚活しよう!" ("Let's seek marriage!") and "婚活は20代から!" ("Marriage hunting starts at 20!") could well turn people off the word permanently - to say nothing of turning people off the idea of marriage itself.


#1 To the best of my knowledge, the origin of "tonkatsu" has nothing to do with hunting pigs.

#2 You know, maybe if this society was not so single-mindedly focused on marriage as the sole approved form of partnership, it would not be such a major hang-up for so many people. The current idea of a formally married nuclear family with breadwinner and housewife is a very recent invention after all; it's not like you'd be giving up an age-old tradition or anything if other forms of partnerships would be legally and socially recognized.


  1. I once kept a list of coinages ending in "-kon," no matter what the meaning of "kon" was. Pasokon, rajikon, namakon. "Kon" is a very popular suffix in these kind of words.

  2. Hi,

    Yep, "kon" is a common syllable for word endings. Of course, it's a completely different "-kon" in each of your examples :)

  3. Hello Janne,
    I just came across your blog for the first time. Great article on Japanese abbreviations and new words. I've got you bookmarked and will keep coming back for more. Keep up the great blog!
    Jackie Allen

  4. How do you do,Janne.
    I'm a woman studying English conversation and living in Ibaraki city of Osaka.
    I'm going to study at reading your blog.
    I'm sorry,I'm not good at English.

    Tonight is cold.
    Be carefuly not to catch a cold.
    Good night!

    Sachiko Murakami

  5. 村上さん、こんにちは。





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