Bubble Tea in Japanese – Tapioca “Juice” タピオカジュース

Bubble Tea in Japanese – Tapioca “Juice” タピオカジュース

As a big fan of bubble tea, I was quite surprised when I learned that bubble tea in Japanese is called “tapioca juice” (タピオカジュース).

bubble tea in japanese - tapioca juice タピオカジュース

The “tapioca” part is understandable, but “juice”… That really didn’t make any sense to me since the main part of bubble tea is… well.. tea.. Be it milk tea, oolong tea, fruit tea, etc.

After asking dozens (if not hundreds) of Japanese people about this issue, I found out that the main problem with this translation is that the meaning of the word juice (ジュース) in the Japanese language is different than that of the English meaning (a phenomenon known as wasei eigo ‘和製英語’).

I asked if the following were juice, and the majority of people responded as follows:

  • tea: not juice, but sweat tea IS juice
  • water: not juice
  • coffee: not juice
  • fruit juice (orange, apple, etc): yes, juice
  • vegetable juice: yes, juice
  • soda (coca cola, sprite, fanta, etc): yes, juice
  • calpis: yes, juice
  • sports drinks: mixed response

One other problem I encountered was that Japanese people did not seem to have a consistent idea of what was juice and what was not juice. When I asked large groups of people at the same time, their answers varied. In any case, the above answers are based on the overall responses.

From this data, it is clear that “juice” (ジュース) in Japanese means some sort of sweet beverage, regardless of carbonation. If it’s sweet, it’s juice (for the most part).

This explains the name tapioca juice (タピオカジュース), as it is always very sweet and filled with tapioca balls, so it is actually a very accurate name within the Japanese language.

I personally am not a fan of using the Japanese term for this, but unfortunately very few Japanese people understand “bubble tea”, even if said in a katakana-style pronunciation, so tapioca juice it is..

Have you had any similar experiences? Leave a comment below and share it with everyone 🙂

minna san, tapioka juusu suki desuka? watashi wa daisuki desu!

Image retrieved from https://www.tomas.co.jp/event/science10/

Cruise works full time at a Japanese company in Nagoya, Japan. He worked for 4 years as a University lecturer teaching English before making the move to a 100% Japanese speaking environment to continue improving his Japanese. In his free time, he is either cycling around Japan making YouTube videos or adding new Japanese lessons to this blog.