“Ara-Ara”: What does it mean and how did it get so popular?

In this article, I want to talk about a phrase that has come about very recently. Most of you reading this will likely have heard it said in Anime, or by someone interested in Japanese culture.

What does Ara-Ara mean?

Ara-Ara is an expression of surprise, similar to “No way!” or “Amazing!”. The expression originates from Japan.

Today, I want to go over, who would usually say it, why it’s become popular, and what language it’s in. This won’t just be about “Ara-Ara”, get ready to learn more and more about Japanese language and culture, and I, a Brit who has never been to Japan, will be your guide!

Is Ara-Ara really a Japanese word?

We’ve just mentioned that Ara-Ara is a word that comes from Japan. But that does not automatically mean it’s a Japanese word.

In the west, many of us think that Japanese is the only language spoken in Japan. But in reality, it’s an ancient culture that was made up of separate tribes who each spoke their own language throughout most of history.

Today, although Japanese is the most commonly spoken language, many are keen to keep their traditions alive and speak their ancestors’ languages. It’s one of the few Japanese words to have caught on over here that isn’t Japanese.

Languages of Japan

The most common language spoken in Japan is Japanese. However, Japanese is far from the only language from the islands.

There are three broad categories of languages in Japan. Japonic (which is where Japanese is), Ryukyuan (which is where Miyako is), and Ainu.

Within these categories, there are loads of languages with similar roots but evolved by themselves.

As well as having different languages, these people also have different cultures, their food, music, and entertainment are all different.

You will also need to keep in mind that Japan uses words that it has taken from other languages, just like other languages.

Fish

In Japan, there is a fish called an Ara. Well… Kind of.

The actual name of the fish is “Saw Edged Perch”. It’s a beautiful fish that swims all the way from Japan to the Philippines. Maybe try looking out for one next time you’re at the aquarium.

The Japanese name for the fish will translate roughly into “Rough Fish”, and when you look at one, you will see that it makes sense.

However, this is going off on a tangent, and it has nothing to do with the article, I just thought it’d be fun to talk about.

Who says Ara-Ara?

It’s very rare for you to hear the words “Ara-Ara” coming from a man, most of the time when this word is uttered, it’s from a young female.

When women use the phrase “Ara-Ara”, it’s usually an attempt to sound cute and submissive. Kind of like how they might say “Ohh” or “Ahh”.

If a grown man such as myself was to say it, I would likely be given a few weird looks. And if somebody says it to you, there’s a chance they’re trying to flirt with you.

Many anime watchers are young females, so it makes sense that they would use the phrase.

Be careful with the use of Ara-Ara

There will be times when you shouldn’t be saying it. Remember, that anytime you say it, there will be people who might misinterpret it as flirting.

When you’re speaking to the elders, attempting to flirt with them is seen as very taboo. If an older woman says it to a younger man, that’s seen as wildly inappropriate and not something people will look at very fondly.

Should you ever say “Ara-Ara” to anyone, just be careful that the person you’re talking to won’t take it the wrong way.

Kawaii

What is it?

These days most of us know about “Kawaii”, it’s an art style based around the principles of cuteness.

Many people (even among the Japanese) get easily annoyed at Kawaii and find it irritating and childish. These days, most young women squeal with excitement at anything Kawaii.

Interestingly, in Japan, Kawaii isn’t just popular with the kids. A growing number of adults spend a lot of time exploring that part of their culture. There are even sex toys that look like cute anime characters.

Kawaii is usually filled with bright, happy colours.

Why do we like it?

In Japan, Kawaii is needed as a form of escapism. Many Japanese people will work for long hours, often getting around 4 hours of sleep per night.

When you live a life like this, it makes sense that you want to escape into a friendly, welcoming world and where all the stress of life isn’t there anymore.

Even in the west, we long for the days where we didn’t have to work, and times would have been much simpler. This could also be why there are so many superhero movies and remakes of some of our favourite films from our childhood.

Asian Culture in the west

Thanks to the internet, slang can spread much quicker than it could in the past. When British and Japanese people meet online, they will inevitably exchange words. Each comes away with new phrases that they never used to use in the past.

Other aspects of culture have also become easily transferred. Take K-Pop, for example. 10 years ago, most people didn’t even know what it was, but today, BTS is one of the most popular bands.

Thanks to social media, we can expect to be using more Asian slang than we ever did before.

Will it last the expression “Ara-Ara” last?

Yes

Ara-Ara’s term has the potential to become popular. It’s a cute sounding noise that naturally comes across as submissive and flirtatious. Also, because it’s Japanese saying it will automatically make your sound more cultural and open-minded.

There’s just something about it that makes it stick in your mind, and I’m sure most of us have had moments where Ara-Ara would have been a great phrase to use.

Perhaps it will follow in the ways of “cool” and “bunny” and become slang terms that eventually make their way into the dictionary.

No

Some people might argue that Ara-Ara will go down a similar path to most other slang terms and fade into nothingness. It’s not a phrase that would naturally come to us.

Plus, even though Japanese culture is growing in America, it’s still more of a subculture than an actual culture. Its popularity isn’t enough to have a huge impact on the English language.

It’s common for slang terms to come in and out, and it could be argued that Ara-Ara will go down a similar path.

So, will Ara-Ara stay? I’m afraid only time will tell.

Western vs Asian languages

Western and Asian languages follow very different rules. Western languages are phonetic. You look at how a word is written, and that determines what it says.

When we look at the word “Dog”, we can read each individual letter and put them together. When we first learnt the word we made “de ogh guh” into dog.

On the other hand, in Asia, their languages are based around symbols, and how a word is spelt has almost nothing to do with how it’s pronounced.

This caused some issues with Asian countries that started typing on keyboards. Thankfully, they did manage to come up with a solution in the end.

Japanese Culture

In Japan, people work incredibly hard. For them, work is the key to finding meaning and fulfilment in life.

They are also incredibly clean people, not only their houses, but their bodies, streets, and public places should also be as clean as possible. Even the slightest bit of dirt will need to be removed immediately.

When it comes to the rules, you follow them. Rules are there for a reason, and to break them would be to potentially cause harm to someone.

Understanding a bit about their culture could help us to understand more about their language.

Alternatives to “Ara-Ara”

With most phrases, there is more than one way for us to say them. The same is true of Ara-Ara.

In the west, we have other phrases that have the same meaning as “Ara-Ara”.

  • Oh My
  • Gosh
  • Really?
  • Ay Ay Ay

These are all phrases that can be used as a statement of shock or amazement. And you can ever alter what you mean by adjusting the tone of your voice.

Perhaps soon, there will be more words and phrases to join that list. And I imagine in Japan, Ara-Ara isn’t the only phrase people use to show surprise.

I’m sure there were phrases of shock that people don’t even know about anymore in the past.

Conclusion

Ara-Ara is an expression of surprise, not too dissimilar to “wow” or “awesome”. It comes from the Miyako language, spoken in Japan but not Japanese.

There are loads of languages spoken in that country, but Japanese is the most popular one.

Usually, Ara-Ara is said by young females in an attempt to be flirtatious, but you need to be careful who you do say it to.

One reason for its popularity is the growth of Kawaii, a culture of cuteness and childishness. Thanks to social media, Western and Asian cultures have become intertwined, and words and other cultural aspects are commonly shared.