We’ve got another one for all the anime and j-drama fans out there in this article. And, even better, it’s also a reasonably common word in real life.
But if you watch anime or J-dramas even occasionally then you definitely have heard the word we’re covering: masaka.
Almost always said with a dramatic thousand-yard-stare off-camera, this is both a fun and super useful word to learn.
Let’s start with our usual bird’s eye view of the word…
What does the Japanese word “masaka” mean?
Masaka is typically an interjection used to express disbelief, although it is also used in conjunction with other words. It can usually be easily translated into English as, “No way” or “Unbelievable.”
The meaning of masaka in Japanese: in depth
In the modern world, masaka is used to express disbelief. This can be in reaction to something like a surprising revelation or even to the emerging presence of an emergency.
When used alone—which is to say, without any grammatical particle or other attachments—it’s a surprisingly simple word for the Japanese language, and easy to get the hang of.
Of course, it can have attachments that readily alter its usage, but we’ll discuss that shortly.
In olden days, it could be used to refer to the present moment. However, this is a truly archaic expression. Frankly, I only found this particular usage in a dictionary, and I’ve never encountered it in any of my real-life reading or listening.
How to translate masaka from Japanese to English
It’s very common, when translating between Japanese and English, to note the wealth of possible ways you can translate into English. It’s not different for masaka.
English greatly values using a wide variety of words and sounds in order to sound natural. Repeating words, even when you’re perfectly understandable, makes you sound extremely odd in English.
The first thing I do (after spellcheck) when editing these articles is check for repetition and eliminate it where possible. We need variety.
This is decidedly not the case in Japanese. When it comes to set phrases, the Japanese language relies on a small selection of words and uses them endlessly.
Heck, they even compress multiple concepts into the same word, which can be really challenging for people to wrap their heads around. Just as an example, omoshiroi can mean interesting, or funny.
And Japanese people more or less only use that one word to describe both funny and interesting things. That feels extremely strange as an English speaker.
So, it’s no surprise the word masaka can be translated in myriad ways. Depending on the context, or the nature of the person speaking, or a variety of factors, masaka can be translated as:
- No way
- It can’t be
- Could it be…
- There’s no way!
- I can’t believe it.
- That’s unexpected
- Of course not
- You’re not serious…
- Did they really…
- Never in my wildest dreams…
- Of course not!
- No $h!t!
- You don’t say
Like I said, there’s a lot of ways to interpret the word masaka. But all that said, each of these expresses a singular feeling that should be relatively easy to express.
It’s all disbelief, when you get down to it. Nothing like trying to reconcile “interesting” and “funny” in the same word.
Laying these possible translations all out in front of you (and there are certainly more) will hopefully help you get a true “feel” for the word.
How to write masaka
Masaka is almost always written with hiragana as まさか. If you wanted to really emphasize it, you could write it in katakana (somewhat similar to italics in English) as マサカ.
Almost a hundred percent of the time you’ll see one of those two. But for the sliver of times you don’t, there’s always the kanji (Chinese character) representation. In that case you’d write it 真逆.
Those are two fairly common kanji put together in a somewhat uncommon way.
The first character is 真, which covers the “ma” sound. This character represents “truth” and “reality.” You’ll see it in the word for “truth and reality” itself: 真実 (shinjitsu). You’ll see it a lot.
One usage we’ve covered here before is in color words. For example 真っ赤 (makka; true red), 真っ青 (massao; true blue/green), and 真っ白 (masshiro; true white).
There’s also 真っ暗, or makkura, which means “pitch dark.” This kanji representative total truth and reality.
That second kanji is reasonably common, however, I believe it’s having its first go at the spotlight here on the Linguaholic stage. 逆 covers the “saka” sound in the word, and means “opposite; the reverse; inverse; evil.”
So, what we get when we put those two characters together is something like, “The true and definitive opposite.”
So, when you’re saying “Masaka…” you’re basically expressing, “This is totally not what I expected.”
Example sentences with masaka
Some other ways to use makasa
You can attach sono to the front of masaka to refer to some specific unexpected, or improbable thing. So, sono-masak comes to mean either, “That unexpected thing,” or if use by itself, “That (unexpected thing)is what happened!”
We can also get some more mileage out of masaka by turning it into an adjective with the particle “no.” In this case we get a few common collocations.
Masaka-no-toki is “an unexpected time.” More specifically, it’s an emergency, or someone’s time of need.
We could also express this with masaka-no-bai. If it’s some sort of accident, perhaps with victims, we could refer to the occurrence as masaka-no-jiko.
Finally, there’s masaka-sama, which means that you’re head-over-heels. I haven’t quite figured out why that means what it means, but there we go.
Some words that sound like masaka
There’s a couple of words that could throw you when listening to Japanese if you have this particular idea of masaka in mind, so I want to arm you with the knowledge to avoid that confusion.
Masaka, with that final vowel sound elongated, can refer to the English word “massacre.” Definitely don’t want to get that mixed up (don’t worry too much though, it’s an uncommon usage in Japanese).
If you happen to be talking about African nations, and particularly about Uganda, make sure not to get tripped up by masaka-ken, referring specifically to the Masaka District in Uganda (just a linguistic coincidence).
There’s also a word with a single syllable of difference, masakari, which refers to a battle axe.
“I’ve lived in Japan on-and-off for the last five years, travelling to (almost) every corner of the Land of the Rising sun. I’ve deepened my love of the language with big hauls from Sapporo book stores, by chatting in Shinjuku coffee shops, drinking in Osaka “snack bars,” exploring distant Okinawan islands, and hitching rides with monks in Aomori. Japanese is a wide and deep language, and I’m always eager to dive in deeper.”