Japan’s Mysterious Love of the Word “Let’s”

58 Comments

The Japanese language has absorbed countless English words and phrases over the years, so it’s common to see English everywhere in Japan: on signs, on menus, in games, in advertisements, and so on.

But when these foreign words get absorbed, they often change meaning and usage until they become something new – a sort of “Japanese-style English”. There’s one really good example of this that can be seen almost everywhere in Japan: the English word “let’s”.

Why “Let’s” is So Common

In English, we tend to rely on command forms of verbs to persuade people into doing things. As an example, if you look at most English-language ads, you’ll notice that they give you direct commands: “Get the power!” “Act now!” “Sleep better!” “Taste the rainbow!”

Of course, not everything is like this. But the next time you see a commercial, keep an eye out for the wording they use!

In Japanese, though, persuasion relies more heavily on suggestions and recommendations: “it would be good if you ___”, “how about ___”, or “you should ___”. Invitations are another major form of Japanese persuasion: “let’s ___”. In fact, such invitations are so common that Japanese ads use the English word “let’s” everywhere:


The word “let’s” is such a force in the Japanese language that it’s even used as a name for everything from restaurants to businesses to beverages:

Japan’s New Version of “Let’s”

Whenever the Japanese language absorbs a foreign word, the word changes a bit. In this case, any standard English grammar associated with “let’s” is discarded entirely. For example, it’s extremely common to add a noun right after a Japanese “let’s”:


It’s also common to see a Japanese “let’s” followed by a verb ending in “-ing”:

The reason “let’s” is used in this new way is that the Japanese volitional form allows for nouns, unlike in English. In other words, the English word “let’s” gets used in a way that follows Japanese grammar rules and not English grammar.

For more details about the Japanese volitional form, see here.

Japanese “Let’s” in Games

This new form of “let’s” has actually been around a long time. It appeared in the earliest Japanese video games and regularly appears in games released today. Below are some examples of “let’s” in action:

If you find any other examples of “let’s” in Japanese video games, let’s let me know so I can add them to this list!


If you liked this breezy look at Japanese language quirks, you'll really like this article about Japanese L/R problems!

58 Comments
  1. “The Japanese language basically has its own English that should be considered separate from “proper English”, so it should be treated as such.”

    They mangle the English language in a rather lame attempt to be trendy and exotic, and it’s totally okay and acceptable. If we tried to do that with Japanese or any other language, we’d get accused of desecrating another culture and get called out as racists. Gotta love this world we live in.

    Reply
    1. I wonder if one could find anyone who cares about the “appropriation” of English words by Japan. I’ve never heard of such a thing. The standard reaction seems to be amusement.

      Reply
    2. My bad, I should’ve specifically mentioned that it “should be treated as its own language in the context of translation”. The idea that the Japanese language has adopted English words solely to be trendy and exotic is misguided, though.

      Reply
      1. Oh no, I wasn’t blaming you, Clyde. It’s just the sort of attitude I’ve seen from some folks.

        Reply
    3. The idea that language can be “mangled” is absurd, from a linguistic point of view.

      Reply
      1. Really, language is constantly evolving. Today’s English is nothing like “Ye Olde Anglishe” from 1500 years ago or whatever

        Reply
    4. …But the English language is already full of words and phrases taken from other languages, Japanese included, and “mangled” by being used in ways they’re not used in the original language. I don’t really get what you mean.

      Reply
      1. Yeah, and North Americans get hated for it and labeled as racists for it.

        “Oh my god, you said ‘Domo arigatou Mr. Roboto’, you’re ruining the Japanese language!”

        I have actually seen this reaction at a few anime cons. It’s quite disgusting, like these idiots are speaking on behalf of Japan or something.

        Reply
        1. You seem to have a rather specific chip on your shoulder. I hope your blood pressure is OK.

          Reply
          1. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. What a pointless post you’re making.

            Reply
        2. ….No, it means words like “tsunami” and “karaoke”, which are of Japanese origins but used on everyday conversations. What you said is not everyday conversations.

          Why are you so upset anyway.

          Reply
          1. I’m not upset, Claire. Don’t presume things about others.

            Reply
            1. You’re allowed to be honest with yourself, man. You don’t have to pretend that you’ve got a mutant superpower, but it’s something lame like “can have a blatant seething hatred towards something yet not become frustrated or upset when thinking about it.”

              Reply
              1. What are you even going on about? It’s more amusing people like you are making incorrect presumptions about someone you don’t even know.

                Reply
                1. I’m going to agree with YWNK here.

                  I’m often slightly annoyed to find that when I describe my opinion with emphasis online, people go into this defensive mode and express this ignorant and bizarre sentiment back that they seem to imagine that i’m getting out of my seat in real life, pacing in circles, cursing and clenching my fists behind the computer screen, when i’m actually just quietly and pleasantly typing a sentiment and am not nearly as “angry” as they like to pretend I am to make themselves feel superior.

                  I can easily put myself in YWNK’s shoes here and imagine that he is only trying to sit down and type his thoughts, and that you are fabricating and imagining his/her “rage” here, because it makes you feel on a level above him/her when the only real fact in this discussion is that you don’t know this for certain.

                  Lay off him/her and please get off his/her back and stop trying to assume things you don’t know and can’t properly infer about YWNK’s temperament.

                  You’re making yourself look like more of a reactionary child by going on the attack like that, trying to make ignorant assumptions and antagonistically drive someone into a corner versus someone who is calmly typing what they feel about a general belief they have in a topical discussion. You’re clearly bullying this person.

                  Reply
                  1. Thank you NsX99, I greatly appreciate your support on this.

          2. I was thinking more about something like “sayonara”. It’s a reasonably common loan word in English, but it’s given entirely different connotations there. I can’t recall ever seeing anyone being called racist for saying it, but maybe I just hang out with sensible people.

            Reply
          3. The first one that comes to my mind is “hentai”, which in Japanese just means pervert or perverted, but here in the US we usually use the word to refer specifically with Japanese-made animated porn.

            Reply
          4. Or “kamikaze”, which due to Pearl Harbor and other battles of WW2, means a very different thing in English than in Japanese. At least AFAIK, the words in your post are still at least relatively close to their original meaning in Japanese. And “karaoke” actually was formed from part of an English word – “orchestra”.

            Reply
    5. I’ve heard English described as the lingustic equivalent of a mugger in an alley. IIRC, the quote went something like this: “English is the language that follows other languages into an alley, clubs them over the head, and rifles through their lexicons.” We’ve stolen words from most of the other languages on the planet, and only the most anal-retentive nerds ever get that upset about it. I’ve heard people use not only Japanese words and phrases they didn’t understand, but also Spanish (que sera, sera), French (j’est ne sais quoi, RSVP), Italian, and Latin. Let’s face it; sometimes using foreign words adds a certain mystique (pardon my French) to any language, and makes the user appear more sophisticated and intelligent.

      Reply
  2. South Park – Let’s Fighting Love

    Now it’s in your head.

    Reply
    1. Somehow that didn’t even come to my mind until I read your post. A tip of the cap to you!

      Reply
      1. What at first simply seemed like random funny bad English could very well have been another Japanese in-joke from Trey Parker.

        Reply
  3. And Persona 2 gave us Maya Amano’s famous “Let’s positive thinking!” phrase.

    Reply
    1. Here’s a screenshot for Mato. https://i.imgur.com/i0YqHOx.png

      Reply
      1. Nice, thanks! I was searching for her quote forever but with no luck

        Reply
  4. “Let’s-a-go!”

    And, the reply that anyone who taught at a Japanese public school may know, “Yes, let’s!”

    Reply
  5. Dominator_101

    Uhh, is that game called ‘Undey House’? I don’t think I wanna know any more about it if it is…

    And always good to warm up with a little kussin’.

    And what the heck is even meant by ‘Let’s! Scooting’? Like, is Scooting something they sort of absorbed and warped as well, or does that like actually mean something in Japanese?

    Reply
    1. The “Let’s Scooting” thing is from an old TV commercial series for Honda scooters – you can see some examples here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euNghRYHqDA They’re still pretty weird for scooter ads but that’s probably to be expected.

      Reply
  6. For videogame examples, there’s also A Week of Garfield, in which Jon randomly says “Let’s challenge” at the end of one level. NintendoComplete even used the image as the thumbnail for their playthrough

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qIzP5TMp85M

    Reply
  7. Here’s one of my favorite POLYSICS songs, Let’s Daba Daba

    https://youtu.be/SqIPDAsmSjg

    Reply
  8. Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters: “Let’s Morphin’!”

    Reply
    1. Oh, and Kamen Rider Drive: “Let’s Henshin!”

      Don’t confuse the two πŸ˜‰

      Reply
      1. Combattler V had “Let’s Combine!” back in 1976.

        Reply
  9. It’s kind of like how in Brazil people use english words instead of portuguese for no reason other than being “trendy”. They may think it’s harmless, but add it to the fact most movie translators here are hacks and portuguese is devolving more and more into a crappy english.
    I really do wish to combat this trend.

    Reply
  10. Yakuza 0 when Kiryu plays Space Harrier: “Let’s Harrier!”

    Reply
  11. Cool! Reminds me of the use of ‘get’ as well. Shine get! etc.

    Reply
    1. I really wish Nintendo had left it as “Shine Get!” for the English release. It’s so well-known that most people probably forget that the “Get” was removed.

      Heck, most jingles for acquiring items in video games are typically known as “item get” themes.

      Reply
  12. You left out Sega’s Wii game Let’s Tap.

    Reply
  13. All I could think of when reading through this was Maya’s “Let’s Positive Thinking” from Persona 2. I know I’ve heard it elsewhere before, but that always stuck out to me.

    Reply
  14. “Let’s to in” is likely a genuine typo and not an example of the “let’s” effect. It’s from a game called True Love, which was one of the first eroge/nukige to be translated into English, and thus, has a spotty translation at best.

    Reply
    1. Cool, I updated the post and put a different example in its place. Thanks for the info!

      Reply
  15. Suketoudara from the Puyo Puyo series (basically a fish with arms and legs… yes, really!) likes to say “Let’s dancing!”. It’s funny hearing him use the future tense. The English dub of Suketoudara from Puyo Puyo Tetris changed the line completely (can’t remember what he said).

    Reply
  16. Let’s thank clyde for another excellent legend of localization!

    Reply
  17. Doesn’t the intro to Tetris Attack for the SNES say something vaguely poetic like, “let’s play together under clear blue skies”?

    Reply
  18. I had a completely false memory while reading this post. I thought about that gum that said “Let’s! Chewing!” on the label.

    …Except it actually says “Yes! Chewing!” I guess all this Japan-English got muddled together in my head.

    Reply
  19. There’s an episode of Sailor Moon with a twofer: the monster yells “LET’S DANCING” and summons up illusions of handsome men, who say the same thing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8kYFB7XBc8

    Reply
  20. This reminds me of that sign at the beginning of the stadium level in Streets of Rage 2. “Do! Baseball”

    Reply
  21. teapartycthulu

    I found another example: I was playing nintendogs + cats: Shiba & New Friends (don’t ask why), and in the γŠγ—γˆγ‹γŸ videos that they give you to tell you how to teach the dogs tricks, the last screen always says レッツ チャレンジ!

    Reply
  22. Somewhat related is the tendency to use the word ‘Get’ in various places. Shine Get is of course famous but did you expect it to appear in games such as MGS4 as well?

    Reply
    1. I was just going to comment about how I’d love to see more insight on the use of “Get!” too! I think I was fishing in a game when it first really stuck with me.

      FISH GET!

      Reply
  23. There was an ad for a Wii game called Muscle March that was full of stuff like this. The most relevant being “Let’s muscle!”, but there were others like “shall we muscle?” “nice muscle”, and so on.

    Reply
  24. Slightly different example, but all this makes me think of an oddball SFC game whose title (γƒŸγƒ‹ε››ι§† シャむニング スコーピγ‚ͺン レッツ& γ‚΄γƒΌ!!) I’ve seen rendered in English as “Mini Yonku Shining Scorpion: Let’s & Go!!” or “Mini Shiku Shining Scorpion – Ready & Go!!”

    Reply
    1. It’s a bit of a pun. The two main characters are named ηƒˆ (Retsu) and θ±ͺ (Gou).

      Reply
  25. Oh, is Tensai Terebi-kun still on? That was my favorite show back in the late ’90s!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *