“Deku” is something someone might have called you, you could tell they were not happy, but you had no idea what they mean.
What is the meaning of the Japanese word “Deku”?
Originally, a “Deku” was a type of wooden doll. But over time, it has come to be an insult. A “Deku” is a useless person who is incapable of thinking for themselves.
It also happens to be the nickname of the main character in the anime “My Hero Academia” and the name of a tribe in the “Zelda” video game series.
In this article, I want to take a look at the meaning of the word “Deku”. How it became an insult, where you may have heard it, and the impact that Japan and America have had on each other’s cultures. We’ll also be looking at why Deku has grown in popularity, some alternatives to the word, and some other culture sharing examples.
What is a Deku?
For those of you who might not be too familiar with Japanese puppetry, a “Deku” is a type of wooden doll which is usually very skinny. Although it can have a face, most of the time, it’s entirely brown.
Most of the time, if you were to see this kind of doll, it would be in a museum, likely one related to Japanese history or culture. The Deku doll is a type of puppet for grown-ups.
Traditionally, they would just be made of either wood or straw, and all of them would have a similar shape.
Even though the “deku” is a bit of a dull type of puppet, Japanese puppetry is actually a rather interesting area. The most common form is Bunraku, which is usually more colourful, and actually looks like a person.
These types of shows are designed to be funny, entertaining, and the kind of thing that you would be able to take your whole family along to enjoy.
If you want, you can think of them as a bit similar to the British “Punch and Judy” shows that English folk like to enjoy when they have a day at the beach.
Why is “puppet” an insult?
This all raises an important question about why the term “puppet” came to mean “useless”. A big part of this is because of how puppets have no thoughts of their own. Their every action is because someone else has decided them to do it.
If you are a puppet, you cannot make your own decisions, and your life is in the hands of somebody else. When somebody is useless, they are not able to make informed decisions about what to do. They, therefore, will just end up doing what they’re told.
It has become a more common insult in recent years.
Origin of the word “Deku”
The Japanese language works slightly differently to the English one. Spelling is not phonetic. Instead, it works based on a system of symbols, and the combination of symbols creates words.
DE (木) is the Japanese word for Tree. Which makes sense as good is the material that you get from trees. The KU part can have several meanings, but the main one that we want to focus on is “man”. So, Deku is a wooden man.
Please forgive me if that’s entirely wrong, I don’t speak Japanese, and all my research is from blogs written by people who probably don’t speak it either.
“Deku” in the context of the video game Zelda
One place where you might have heard the term “Deku” before is the video game “Zelda”. This is a fantasy-based, quest video game where the aim is for you (playing as the character Linx) to rescue Princess Zelda.
It’s one of those games that just lets you escape the stress of everyday life, and take some time to enjoy yourself. It’s the perfect mixture of intellectually stimulating, and relaxing.
I’m sure that most of our readers would be familiar with at least one of the Zelda video games.
In the Zelda games, “Deku” is a tribe of people. However, unlike real-world tribes, they are made of plants, and they exist to cause trouble to Linx’s quest. They tend to be naughty, mischievous, and a little bit cheeky. But they also make the game much more fun.
Their job is to make completing the quest and achieving your goal less likely.
This adds to the game’s fantasy element, as a tribe of living plants is not something you would expect to find in the real world. They give the game an extra sense of fictionalism.
“Deku” in the context of My Hero Academia
Another place you might have heard the term “Deku ” is “My Hero Academia”. This was a Manga comicbook but has since gone onto becoming a popular Anime series.
The show’s premise is that in a world where almost everyone has superpowers of some sort, there is only one person who is just a regular human being. Throughout the show, you get to meet all sorts of cool superheroes, cool adventures they get up to, and the issues they need to overcome.
If you’re into AnimeAnime, it’s worth a watch.
The main character in the show is called “Izuku”, but because he lacks superpowers, most of the other children have nicknamed him as “Deku”. Unlike his peers, he needs to rely on his own intellect to solve problems.
In this universe, people without superpowers are known as “Quirkless”. It’s an interesting dynamic. Most of the time, superhero shows are about a superhero in a world where others are normal. But here, the idea is flipped on its head.
As you can imagine, because he has no powers, Deku is often bullied by the superheroes.
Anime Vs Cartoons
America and Japan are both fond of their cartoons. In Japan, their style of cartoon is often referred to as “Anime”.
However, despite a shared love, there are some subtle differences between Anime and American cartoons. The first difference you’ll notice is the drawing style. Anime has the classic large eyes, and squared faces.
But deeper than that, most of the time, American cartoons are known for being funny and silly, whereas AnimeAnime is more for the grown-ups.
The themes are usually heavier, and there is more sex and violence. In Japan, Anime is just another art form, not only for kids.
Alternatives to “Deku”, where people actually know the meaning
In English, we wouldn’t usually call someone a “Deku”, but we have plenty of other ways of saying that someone is useless.
One of the funniest is “Chocolate Teapot”, from the fact that a teapot made of chocolate would just melt as soon as the hot water is added.
“Led Zeppelin” is the name of a band, but because lead is so heavy, it’s unlikely that it would be the best material to make a zeppelin out of.
If something is “for the birds” it has no purpose and can be disposed of without worry or concern.
Why is “Deku” popular?
Despite all these terms, there is no denying that “Deku” and “puppet” have grown in popularity. But I want to take a look at why this is.
One of the biggest reasons is because of former president Donald J Trump. During one of the presidential debates, he referred to Hillary Clinton as a “puppet”. This has caused many to take a look at their elected politicians like puppets.
We dislike being called a “puppet” so much because we like to think of ourselves as free thinkers and people who can look at the available information and come to our own conclusion.
Japan in America
These days, Japanese culture has become more popular than before. It started off with Pokemon, I’m sure most of us will be able to remember that! But now, there are plenty of other anime which are almost as famous.
The great thing about AnimeAnime is that because it’s animated, there is less money and time spent on special effects (which are not always successful), and more spent on the storyline and character development.
But also, trade between Japan and western countries has increased. Not to mention all of the political connections that Japan now has.
America in Japan
It works the other way around too. Even though Japan is not quite as Americanised as England, there is no denying that the Japanese have a love for American culture.
The classic burger joints such as McDonald’s are now widespread in Japan, and many Japanese people have shown an interest in American politics. In the future, it’s likely that trade and political ties are just going to get stronger.
As our world becomes more connected, different cultures will share more and more with each other. Today, most Japanese people will be able to speak English.
Culture sharing is nothing news. If you visit anywhere in America, you’ll likely come across some pizza and pasta, two foods that originated in Italy. In England, the traditional “fish n chips” was brought over by refugees.
The cartoons that America makes are often exported all over the world. I grew up in England, and I can remember rather enjoying shows such as “Ben 10”, “Johnny test”, and “Dexter’s Laboratory”.
Many things that we think of a key part of one culture is actually stolen from another culture. But that’s not a bad thing, it’s good that we can share our cultures with each other.
If you’re ever lucky enough to visit Japan, you will find that the culture is different. Cleanliness is a huge thing for them, and they believe everything should look nice.
The work ethic throughout their culture is strong. Arguably a bit too strong, it’s not uncommon for people to have less than 4 hours of sleep per night.
In the west, rules can be flaunted, but over there, the rules are the rules, and you cannot break them. The best way to describe the Japanese people would be “humble but nice”.
English word’s from Japanese
The English language has more words than you might think that we’ve stolen from Japan. Most of the words we have were stolen from another language: the Vikings, Roman’s, Saxons, or Normans.
- “Tsunami”, a massive wave that destroys cities.
- “Emoji” the smiley faces we use to convey emotion through social media.
- “Senpai”, a wise man or teacher.
- “Ninja”, a type of fighter who is quick and quiet.
- “Zen” is a feeling of peace and relaxation.
Most of these words are stolen from Japan because they come from ideas that never used to exist in the west. As we share cultures, we also share new ideas.
Will “Deku” last in spite of people not knowing the meaning?
The word “Deku” is a good one that does have the potential to last for a while. We live in a day and age where free thinking is highly valued, so being called a “puppet” will hurt a lot of people.
On top of that, Japanese culture is gaining more popularity in America. As we share goods and pop culture, the language will inevitably follow suit.
But as we use words from Japan, inevitably, Japan will soon start using words from English. And Deku is just the beginning. It’s not even out of the question that you will have more westerners who choose to learn Japanese so they can watch Anime in its native language.
Some of you might disagree.
The thing with slang is that it changes so quickly that most of what we think of as “cool” today will likely be for old people in the future.
Once the youngsters get to our age, “Deku” will no longer be a new and exciting word.
Perhaps in the future, free-thinking won’t be valued as much as it is today. And there will be another ideal that people are striving for.
Having said that, even if “Deku” goes out of fashion, it’s likely that more and more Asian words will find their way into our lexicon.
A “Deku” is a type of wooden doll, and in Japan, it’s a common term for a useless person. Unlike other types of Japanese dolls (such as Bunraku), the Deku is plain and simple.
The two places where most of you will have heard it are in the video game “Zelda”, as a tribe of plant people. And in the Anime My Hero Academia, as the nickname of the main character.
Is “Deku” here to stay? I’m afraid only time will tell.