Weird Japanese Word: Can You Read The Air In Japan?

Posted by on November 8, 2016 – Japanese Study

Ever stumbled across the expression “KY” for kuuki yomenai? This Japanese slang is literally translated as “cannot read the air” and jokingly applied to the unfortunates who struggle to read social situations.

Read The Atmosphere


If you’re learning Japanese, you already know how contextual Japanese people can be, and how direct speech is often avoided. Therefore, you should care to act appropriately following the atmosphere of the time and place. Or, in Japanese language, you should “read the air”: 空気くうきむ. And if you lack such skills, you “cannot read the air”: 空気くうきめない.

Kuuki Yomenai and Social Awkwardness


If you’re missing out on body language in Japan, you’ll definitely feel discomfort in any social gathering. But being KY is not only about not being able to read body language. It’s also being unable to take a hint when you should. In Asia in general, people will not challenge you directly and will be very subtle. And if you’re really a lost case, you might be called SKY: super kuuki yomenai” (スーパー空気くうきめない).

How NOT to be KY?

Nobody enjoys social awkwardness. But when assimilating into a different culture and adhering to different social rules, it’s difficult to adjust. If you can be kuuki yomenai with your Japanese friends, you should be careful not to be candid in a work-related situation! One piece of advice? Pay extra attention to how Japanese act and communicate. You’ll learn a lot from observation.

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