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Japanese Vocabulary for Talking about the Coronavirus

From how to understand the news in Japanese to words for seeing a doctor.

By 3 min read

The coronavirus is the topic on everyone’s—carefully covered by a mask—lips at the moment. Confined at home, working remotely, or braving the train while looking cautiously at your fellow passengers like a cowboy ready to draw (or in this case run away) at the slightest sound can make us feel even farther away from our family and friends back home than usual.

In a foreign country, the frustration of not understanding the situation can be especially scary as things are moving at a dizzying pace. It is important to learn some COVID-19 vocabulary so that you can have your say about what’s happening in the world.

Coronavirus vocabulary for watching the news

Like many countries, Japanese people are suddenly seeing relatively uncommon words flash over their screens and concepts like social distancing become buzzwords. Here are some of the trickier phrases that you will now regularly hear or see.

English Romaji Japanese
Novel Coronavirus Shingata korona uirusu 新型コロナウイルス
‘New type of pneumonia’ aka COVID-19 Shingata haien 新型肺炎
Infected person Kansensha 感染者
Death toll Shishasuu 死者数
Mortality rate Chishiritsu 致死率
Infection spread Kansen kakudai 感染拡大
Infection cluster Kansen kurasutaa 感染クラスター
Infection route Kansen keiro 感染経路

Medical terms related to the coronavirus

For those coming into the country or who unfortunately took even a brief trip overseas, you may be asked to take the PCR (検査), a test that detects specific genetic material within the virus. Here are other words you may hear.

English Romaji Japanese
RT-PCR test PCR kensa PCR検査
Close contact (person) Noukou sesshokusha 濃厚接触者
Travel history tokoureki 渡航歴
Tested positive yousei 陽性
Tested negative insei 陰性
Immunity meneki 免疫
Mild case keishou 軽症
Serious case jyuushou 重症

Canceled events and quarantine

One of the most telltale signs of how seriously Japan is having to take the outbreak was the sight of empty sumo wrestling championships, an unfortunate first in sumo history. No matter what your favorite spectator sport or activity is, it’s worth checking their homepage before heading for the below terms.

English Romaji Japanese
Postponed enki 延期
Event cancelled ibento chuushi イベント中止
Spectator-free mukankyaku 無観客
Undecided mitei 未定

Of course, that is just at the local level. As Abe and the government continue to moderate its response, the following words may become more common. Hopefully, they will soon go back to being obscure words, but until that time:

English Romaji Japanese
Home confinement/Stay home Jitaku taiki 自宅待機
Self-restraint or self-discipline jishuku 自粛
A request for shutdown  Kyuugyou yousei 休業要請
Social distancing shakai kyori senryaku 社会距離戦略
Social distancing  sosharu disutansu ソーシャルディスタンス
Quarantine kakuri 隔離
Quarantine station kenekisho 検疫所
Travel ban Tokou kinshi 渡航禁止
Entry restrictions (to a country) Nyuukoku seigen 入国制限
Entry ban (to a country) Nyuukoku kyohi 入国拒否
National school shutdown Issei kyukou 一斉休校

Seeing a doctor

We hope you never have to see a doctor in Japan, or anywhere, about COVID-19. Just in case, here are some symptoms (from most to least common) you can discuss with the doctor in the event you do have to see one.

English Romaji Japanese
Coughing Seki
Fever Hatsunetsu 発熱
Difficulty breathing Kokyuu konnan 呼吸困難
Fatigue kentaikan 倦怠感
Muscule pain kinnikutsuu 筋肉痛
Sore throat Nodo no itami のどの痛み
Sneezing Kushami くしゃみ

It is also important to report any underlying medical conditions you may have. While most COVID-19 patients make a full recovery, many without hospitalization, the risk of complications increases massively for people with underlying conditions such as the following.

English Romaji Japanese
High blood pressure  kouketsuatsu 高血圧
Cancer Gan
Obesity himan 肥満
Heart problems shinzoubyou 心臓病
Diabetes tounyoubyou 糖尿病
Asthma zensoku 喘息
The elderly roujin 老人
Liver disease kanzoubyou 肝臓病

It can all seem overwhelming, and if we could snap our fingers and keep 2019 playing forever like that Netflix drama Russian Doll, which I have been binging way too much of, most of us would happily do so.

However, this is the reality that we’re living in. Watching the situation unfold in our home countries, many of us have seen how bad things can get when everything goes crazy. Hopefully, we can bring some of our countries’ best qualities—British stoicism, Italian flair, Brazilian personability, or whatever your country’s most admirable trait is.

Now is the time to show Japan everything that makes you and your nation great, because, in our own diverse ways, we will overcome this.

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