In this article I would like to describe how to express the idea of being “cool” in Japanese, along with a few related points. “Cool” has a bunch of meanings in English, so I want to clarify I am talking about the “stylish”, “fashionable” or “good” meaning, which isn’t related to temperature.
The most common way to express “cool” in this sense is via the word “kakko ii”, which can be written either in all hiragana (かっこいい) or part higana, part kanji (格好いい). The first thing you might notice is that “格好” as actually technically written かっこう (kakkou), whereas in the expression “kakko ii” the “u” is dropped. This is simply just a minor abbreviation because it is easier to pronounce that way, but keep in mind it isn’t just a slang thing; even if you are speaking with more formal language you should use “kakko ii” instead of “kakkou ii”.
On a disambiguation note, there is a separate word that sounds like “kakko” and means “parenthesis” (括弧), but fortunately that word is generally used a different context so you can easy tell which is being used.
Similar to “cool”, “kakko ii” has a pretty diverse usage and can be applied to everything from people and clothes to airplanes.
- 俺のバイク、格好いいだろう (ore no baiku, kakko ii darou)
- My bike is cool, right?
By the way, one dictionary (スーパー大辞林) has the following interesting explanation of 格好いい:
- Appearance, behavior, or speech that leaves a good impression on others.
As for the origin of this expression, it’s pretty straightforward: The word 格好 (kakkou) means “shape”, “form”, or “appearance”, and “ii” means “good”, so “kakko ii” literally means “good appearance” or “appearance is good”.
Grammatically you conjugate the “ii” as an i-adjective (technically as “yoi” for which it comes from), so “not cool” would be “かっこよくない” (kakko yoku nai). Alternately, you can use the expression 格好悪い (kakko warui, “bad appearance”) that means “not cool” or “uncool”.
You can also use this expression in the adverbial form (kakko yoku):
- 彼女は格好よく踊ってるね (kanojo wa kakko yoku odott ru ne)
- She’s dancing stylishly. [arguably not a great translation, but you get the point]
The word 格好 is used in another common expression that is useful to know: “kakko tsukeru”. “Tsukeru” is one of those words with a bunch of meanings, but the general feel is “put on” or “stick on” something. So this expression means “to act cool”, with a nuance that someone is forcing things and/or being unnatural. Here’s an example of use:
- 僕の前でかっこつけなくていいよ (boku no mae de kakko tsukenakute ii yo)
- You don’t have to try and act cool in front of me.
In case you are curious, the loanword クール (kuuru) does exist, but to be honest I haven’t heard it used too often. In fact, I vaguely remember something like “キュウリのごとくクール” (literally, “as cool as a cucumber”) in one of Haruki Murakami’s books, which was cited as an example of Western influence on his writing style.
Two other related words are イケメン (ikemen), which refers to a handsome man, and 美人 (bijin), a beautiful woman. In the former, “ike” comes from the verb “ikeru” which is a term that means good flavor (food, drinks, etc.). “Men” comes from the plural of “man” and/or the word 面 (men), which can refer to one’s face.