According to a recent government survey, 66.7 percent of the Japanese population feel some sort of fuan (不安, anxiety) about aspects of everyday life. The most frequently reported reasons for these angsts were insecurities about later life planning, followed by concerns about health and personal finances. There’s always plenty to worry about, it seems, so let’s take a closer look at how such fears and anxieties are linguistically expressed in daily conversation.

The easiest way to let someone know you are afraid is by using the fit-all adjective kowai (怖い, fearful, frightening). It can refer both to the object one is frightened by, e.g., kowai eiga (怖い映画, a scary movie), and to the person experiencing these fears, as in Watashi kowakatta yo (私怖かったよ, “I was scared”). Momentary fits of fear can best be expressed by interjections using the adjective only, ideally in its clipped and increasingly popular form kowa’ (こわっ) — note the small tsu (), which cannot be properly represented in the romanized version.

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