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Neuromancer – Japanese words…

This is a reblog/translation of a post by Héctor García…

During the 80s in the United States, Japan was started to be seen as the inevitable first economic power of the world. It went from being considered as the source of cheap imitation gadgets during the 60s and 70s to the country at the forefront of high quality technology. The neon lights and the small alleyways of Japan became the images used to depict the future in a number of science fiction films and books.





A case in point is Neuromancer by William Gibson, a novel published in 1984 (the same year that Blade Runner came out) and whose atmosphere is based in a distopian Japan where technology has taken control over society.


neuromancer-matrixReading Neuromancer can be rather dense and there is a large number of “invented” words; not too dissimilar to other scifi works. For instance, the word “cyberspace” was first introduced by William Gibson in his novel entitled “Burning Chrome”. The word is also used in Neuromancer and it has actually become a common word used by all of us. Cyberspace, as a word, is rather easy to understand but as you keep reading the book on you end up finding paragraphs such as this one, full of words with Japanese origin:

“He stepped out of the way to let a dark-suited sarariman, by spotting the Mitsubishi-Genentech logo tattoed across the back of the man’s right hand … The sarariman had been Japanese, but the Ninsei crowd was a gaijin crowd.”

If you are not familiar with the meaning of these words, you actually can miss some of the nuances and details, mainly in the first few chapters. Here I have put together a vocabulary of Japanese words that appear in the novel.

Chiba City/ Ninsei: Chiba is a prefecture and city to the East of Tokyo where Narita airport is located and there are a pair of Disneyland parks. Case, the main character in the novel, lives in Chiba City and at the beginning of the book he hangs around “Night City” which is a zone between Chiba and Tokyo where there are criminals and drogadicts. Ninsei is the name of the high street in Night City. According to Gibson’s imagination, in the future, Chiba is full of arcades and artificial limb markets such as Alita, as well as hospitals specialised in neurosurgery.

“The Japanese had already forgotten more neurosurgery than the Chinese had ever known. The black clinics of Chiba were the cutting edge, whole bodies of technique supplanted monthly”

Chatsubo (茶壷): is the name of Case’s local. Chatsubo 茶壷 in Japanese is the name of the clay pots used to keep matcha tea leaves before they get ground.

neuromancer chatsubo

“The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese.”

Zaibatsu: is a group of large Japanese corporations usually under the control of the members of a single family. The term “zaibatsu” was widely used before World War Two. After the war, with the efforts to reconstruct the economy from scratch, “keiretsu” started appearing; they worked in a similar way to “zaibatsu” but they were not centralised or controlled by a single family. William Gibson uses the term “zaibatsu” in order to express the power of a large “monopoly” under the control of Japanese transnationals in the future he imagines.

Kirin: a well-know Japanese beer brand.


“Ratz was tending bar, his prosthetic arm jerking monotonously as he filled a tray of glasses with draft Kirin.”

Fuji electric Company: is a Japanese company founded in 1923 as a spin-off of the Furukawa zaibatsu.

“Tokyo for the glare of the television sky, not even the towering hologram logo of the Fuji Electric Company, and the Tokyo Bay”

Shinjuku: one of the best known areas in Tokyo. It has a secondary roll in Neuromancer.


“He punched a Tokyo number in Shinjuku. A woman answered, something in Japanese.

Ono-Sendai: in the book this is a Japanese corporation that manufactures cyberdecks. In Japanese “Ono” means ax and “Sendai” is the name of a prefecture in Japan.

Pachinko パチンコ: is a kind of popular playing machine in Japan

Yakitori 焼き鳥: chicken skewers


“He bought yakitori on skewers and two tall waxy cartons of beer. Glancing up at the holograms,.. “

Sarariman サラリーマン: businessman or woman employed by a corporation.


“The Finn, in a new Shinjuku suit, sarariman black, was waiting sourly”

Mitsubishi-Genentech: William Gibson imagines a futre where the multinational Mitsubishi has been absorbed by the American Genetech.

Gaijin 外人: Japanese word that means “foreigner”, literaly it can be translated as “external person”.

Yakuza ヤクザ: is the largest criminal organisation in Japan, similar to the mafia.

`You’re Yak, aren’t you, Lupus? Gaijin soldierman for the Yakuza.’

Bosozoku 暴走族: Japanese urban tribe associated with motorbikes.

Shuriken 手裏剣: sharp metal stars used by ninjas in Japan. Case, the main character, is fascinated by shrunken.

Case pulled the shirt over his head. He saw the shuriken on the bed, lifeless metal, his star.

Manriki o Kusari-fundo 鎖分銅: a metal chain used in feudal Japan as a combat weapon.

Street Samurai 侍: Samurai were medieval Japanese soldiers who usually worked for a “daimyo” (feudal lord). Those samurai that were left without a daimyo became “ronin”. William Gibson uses the term “Street Samurai” to refer to mercenary criminals with “improved bodies”.

Ninja 忍者: Ninja were medieval Japanese mercenaries specialised on spying, sabotage and murder.


“The ninja produced a credit chip and keyed Smith that amount out of a numbered Swiss account.”

Hosaka: a Japanse surname. In the book it is used to refer to a well-know computer manufacturer.

`Your boss wiped the bank on that other Hosaka, and damn near took ours with it. But your pal Wintermute put me on to something.

JAL: Japan Air Lines, it is one of the Japanese carriers. In the book the main characters travel from Paris to Freeside in a JAL shuttle.

Koto 琴: a Japanese string musical instrument.


“He listened to the piped koto music and waited.”

Sanpaku 三白 literally means “three” 三 “white” 白. It is used to describe eyes positioned in such a way that the iris does not touch the bottom eyelid, showing how the sclera is all connected.


`Sure.’ A millimeter of white showed beneath each of her pupils. Sanpaku. `You watch your back, man.’

Origami 折り紙: it literally means “folding paper” (折り- fold; 紙 – paper). The famous Japanese paper cranes made with origami are considered a symbol associated with peace in antinuclear campaigns in Japan. Is that a coincidence with Blade Runner?


“Case stooped and picked it up. An origami crane.”

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

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