Japanese slang term: 不思議ちゃん (fushigi chan)

By | December 27, 2018

When speaking Japanese with native speakers you will often run across colloquial words or phrases that may not be in any dictionary, or at least not be in your average academic textbook. I always treasure these because they have a serendipity that makes them hard to actively search for; you simply have to wait until you “discover” them through enough conversations and other experiences.

One such word I heard recently was “fushigi chan” (不思議ちゃん), so I thought I would to dedicate a post to that word.

Before I talk about what it means, it’s good to know that fushigi (不思議) is a na-adjective that means things like “mysterious” or “strange”. Technically it can also be used as a noun, as in 世界の七不思議 that means “the seven wonders of the world”, but it’s usage as a na-adjective is far more common. (Depending on where you live, you may have also of the “fushigi ball”, which was a weird attempt at creative naming.)

Chan, as most of you probably know, is a suffix that is often used for little girls.

Already, you might be seeing a grammatical problem here: shouldn’t it be “fushigi na chan“? Well, keep in mind that “chan” is a suffix, not a word in itself, and that compound words (especially slang ones) don’t always have to be grammatically correct.

Anyway, if you put these two things together you get something like “mysterious girl”, which is vaguely close to the actual meaning. However, there is more to depth to it.

The situation I heard it used in was to describe a girl who was intelligent but somehow “different” from the average person. That person was also said to be “純粋” (junsui, meaning “pure”) which is another core part of this expression’s meaning. I did not sense an insulating or negative nuance from the word (perhaps even the opposite).

After I had this conversation I double-checked the meaning and was surprised to actually find this word in my Japanese-Japanese dictionary. The meaning there was basically a woman whose thoughts and actions were different than the average person, and yet was completely indifferent to that fact. This is slightly different from how I heard it used, and given it is a casual expression surely there are various shades of meaning it can have.

Out of curiosity I did a search and found this page in Japanese which describes eight characteristics of a “fushigi chan“. Besides what I mentioned above, it also describes such people as “not interested in others” (#2), “kuuki wo yomenai” (#3)––a phrase that is tricky to translate but roughly means someone who is not aware of their social surroundings, “doesn’t get jokes (#4), and “always talking to themselves” (#5), among other things.

Depending on the tone of voice and other contextual information there are many ways to translate this term, but “different”, “unique”, “in her own world”, “special”, and “eccentric” are a few options.

There are other more traditional expressions which would apply to either sex, and perhaps be more easily understood by older generations. Two that I have known for some time are 変人 (henjin) and 風変わり (fuugawari), with the former being a noun and the latter a na-adjective.

By the way, the dictionary also says “不思議くん” (fushigi kun) is the parallel expression for a guy, however I think this is rarely used in the real world. Having said that, a native would likely understand what you were saying.

(Note: Featured image from Pexels.com)

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