Japanese Ainu Language


The Jomon language in THE MEMORY THIEF is influenced by Japanese, Ainu and Chinese language. The Japanese and Chinese language was the easiest to research, but the Ainu language was the most difficult. The Ainu people in Japan are the equivalent of the Native Americans in the United States. They are the indigenous people who lived there prior to the later wave of Asian colonization. For more history on the Jomon and the Ainu, please see the last blog post.

Because the Ainu have been assimilated into Japanese culture, their numbers are dwindling and their language dying, it was difficult to check the accuracy of the Ainu words. My friend, Corinna, who teaches English in Japan, asked around to see if my terms were correct.

Below I have included terminology I researched and used in the series. If someone who speaks Ainu stumbles upon this website and has corrections for me, please feel free to contact me. I would like to get the language as correct as possible.

Glossary of Jomon Terms for The Memory Thief

Anata—“you,” also is a term of endearment like “sweetheart.”

Ano—“um” or “well” or “uh.” When I lived in Hokkaido, which is the island in Japan where Ainu still live, this was used more than “eeto” used elsewhere in Japan.

Attush—a kind of robe made of a handspun fabric in the Ainu language.

Aynu/ Ainu—people native to Japan who immigrated during the Jomon era.

Aynu-Mosir—land of the humans in Ainu language.

Eboshi—a kind of hat, in the story it is a ceremonial headdress.

Baka—an insult like fool.

Beigoma—a top spinning game for children.


Chan—informal honorific used to address a child or a cute woman.

Cep—fish in the Ainu language.

Chin chin—child’s term for penis

Chiramantep—bear in Ainu, in the story they are blue with tusks and claws.

Cikap—bird in Ainu, in this story they are leathery.

Dosha kuzure—mudslide, in the story it is used to describe someone who overshares in memory exchange.

Gaijin—derogatory term for foreigner.

Gaiyojin—made up world meaning “other world people” based on the existing term gaikokujin.

Gaki—a brat.

Giri/geari—social obligation, in the story the geari wife is a woman one is obliged to care for.

Gomen nasai—excuse me.

Hana ichi monme—a game similar to red rover.

Hashi—chop sticks.

Hebi—snake, in the story a creature like a snake.

Heri-shichi or Furi-shichi—how the name Felicity would translate into Japanese.

Heisu—how the name Faith would translate to Japanese.

Hoku—husband in Ainu,.also called hoku-yuk

Isepo—rabbit in Ainu.

Iya!—Expression of surprise.

Jin—suffix added to a word that means “people.” Example Cepjin means Fish People.

Jomon—people from an era in Asia named after their rope braiding impressions left in clay vessels. This might be between 14,500 and 300 BC, though some sources suggest up to 30,000 years ago.

Kamuy—spirit, soul, demon in Ainu.

Kawaii—cute or adorable.

Kun—informal honorific used to address a male child.



Ne?—Right? No?

Nipa—chief/leader in Ainu.

Noren—a kind of curtain used to cover windows and doors, usually with a vertical slit going down the center.

Ohajiki—a pebble game for children.

Onsen—a hot spring or hot bath.

Otemae—or temae, the art of serving tea. O is an honorific given to this art.

Sake—sweet wine.

Sakura—cherry blossoms or a flower like them on the world.

San—honorific added to the end of the name like Mr. is added before a name in English.

Sama—formal honorific used to address someone of honor.

Satsumaimo—sweet potato.


Shochu—whiskey (in our world made from rice).

Sumimasen—“excuse me” or “sorry” or “thank you and I’m sorry to cause you so much trouble on my behalf.”

Tadaima—I’m home or here I am: it is how people greet one another when entering their own home.

Tanuki—raccoon dog/badger, in the story they are green and purple and have horns and tusks.

Tatsu—dragon, to build, to stand, or erection: there are many uses for this word and the wrong meaning is used in Japanese puns.

Tiaju—a kind of tree, in the fictional story they look like umbrellas.

Tokkoni—snake in Ainu.

Tonkori—a stringed instrument played by Ainu women.

Tsuma no kokan—a made up term meaning “wife swap.”




Sources of Ainu language





If you have an interest in Ainu or Jomon culture, you may enjoy reading The Memory Thief, Sarina Dorie’s Ainu inspired novel. More info can be found here: http://sarinadorie.com/writing/novels/the-memory-thief