Word of the Week: ええじゃないか

It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last week we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘u’ (う), and focussed on the phrase うまい (umai), meaning ‘delicious’ or ‘good at’. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘e’ (え). A big thank you to those who joined in with suggestions this week:

Jay Dee suggested ‘ee’ (ええ!), meaning ‘what?!’; and ‘ecchi’ (えっち), meaning ‘perverted’; Japan Australia suggested ‘eeddone’ (ええっとねー), which is one of the many ways to say ‘um’ or ‘er’;  ‘erai’ (えらい), meaning ‘great’, ‘superior’, ‘admirable’; and ‘erokakkoii’ (エロかっこいい), which means ‘cool and sexy’; and lovelycomplex22 suggested ‘enryosuru’ (遠慮する / えんりょする), which means ‘to behave with modesty’, or ‘to be reserved’.

There were some great ideas this week, but in the end I decided to write about something else…


(ee ja nai ka)

ええじゃないか (ee ja nai ka) is a phrase I first came across in a historical novel (I forget which one), when some characters were running about the streets in colourful clothing shouting it. The phrase translates as ‘what the hell!’, ‘who cares?’, or ‘why not?’.

‘Ee ja nai ka’ became the name of the movement in which social/political protests and dancing demonstrations occurred between June 1867 and May 1868, at the end of the Edo period (江戸時代) and the start of the Meiji Restoration (明治維新). The phrase was a popular refrain in the songs sung during these events. The movement began in the Kansai region in the form of dancing festivals, and it is said that sacred amulets fell from the skies during these wild parties (the falling of the amulets was known as ‘ofudafuri’ – ‘ofuda’ means ‘amulet’ or ‘lucky charm’). People gave thanks for these mystical gifts, and the lively celebrations continued. They abandoned their everyday lives and danced about the streets with no cares at all, drinking and singing, and leaving their worries behind them. Apparently there was also cross-dressing, and some people took to the streets with no clothes on at all! (There is no evidence that amulets actually fell from the sky, and many people believe the ‘ofuda’ simply symbolised the chaotic state of Japan in 1867. It is also possible that it was just a kind of mass hysteria.)

This all happened at a time when the Tokugawa shogunate (徳川幕府) was crumbling and great changes were coming to Japan. I don’t know enough about Japanese history to fully make the connection between these rebellious ‘ee ja nai ka’ events and the politics of the time, but it seems like people were celebrating the change and potential freedom that came with the start of the Meiji restoration. The Meiji restoration accelerated industrialisation in Japan and saw the country’s ports open to foreign trade.

The ‘ee ja nai ka’ movement spread across Japan and turned into mob violence before coming to an end as the Meiji Restoration began in 1868.

"Ee ja nai ka" dancing scene, 1868

“Ee ja nai ka” dancing scene, 1868

(Image source)


Next week’s post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘o’ (お), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘ooki’ (おおき) meaning ‘large’ would be acceptable, but ‘Osaka’ (大阪), the place, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v

Word of the Week 2014

16 thoughts on “Word of the Week: ええじゃないか

  1. Very interesting post. When I read your post last week ええじゃないか was the first word that popped into my mind, though I have to confess I did not know anything about the ええじゃないか movement. The ええじゃないか I had in mind was the absolutely awesome rollercoaster in the Fuji Q Highland (the amusement park near Tokyo). Check out this video, which gives you a good impression why ええじゃないか is the perfect expression for this ride (be aware of swear words 😉 )


  2. Very interesting and enjoyable post. A few suggestions for next week are:

    おはようございます (Good Morning)
    お疲れさまです (Thanks for working so hard) Use this a lot when leaving work
    お先に失礼します (I’m sorry for leaving before you) Usually said when leaving the office before other people
    おやすみなさい (Good Night)
    美味しい (Delicious)


  3. ええじゃないか、ええじゃないか!:)

    Suggestion for next week, not showing above…
    おおきに(typical way of saying Thank you in Kyoto), おかえり or おかえりなさい(Typical greeting when someone come back at office, home or their country), お勘定お願いします(Okanjo Onegaishimasu, typical saying for asking a bill), お世話になります/なっております (Osewani-narimasu/ -natteorimasu, typical first line on business email for showing an appreciation for relationship), 鬼は外、福は内 (Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi / typical chant at setsubun when trowing beans. Out with the demons. In with good fortune) おまちどうさま (General saying when serve some meal at restaurant. Sorry for keeping you wait, here is your meal or also customer waiting for available table, sorry for keeping you wait, please take a table over there)


  4. I haven’t lived in Japan nor am too well-versed in history, but I have a comment about this expression I’d like to add. If its totally wrong feel free to ignore or correct me (:

    I think the ええ here is from Kansai dialect which means いい and would probably not be spoken by a Tokyo-ite (unless in historical reference to what you mention). I’ve heard いいじゃないか many times which I guess means the same thing but in 標準語.


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