Banzai Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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You may have heard somebody shout “banzai” as they jump off a diving board into a pool, or perhaps you’ve heard it as an exclamatory shout or celebratory chant. 

What does the word banzai actually mean? Where did it come from? 

Those are the questions that this article is going to answer. Today’s word of the day is banzai. By the end, you’ll fully understand the word banzai, its definition, its history, and how to use it in a sentence. 

So, let’s get started!

What Is the Definition of the Word Banzai?

The word banzai — pronounced bɑnˈzaɪ or bɑːnˈzaɪ — is a little bit confusing. You might be able to tell at first glance that this word comes from a different language. However, it has worked its way into English and is now a common exclamation. Here is the definition of banzai:

  • A formal greeting used to greet the Japanese emperor, meaning “10,000 years!”
  • A battle cry used by the Japanese
  • A cheer or interjection of excitement, victory, or triumph

Again, the direct translation for the word banzai from Japanese is “ten thousand years.” Originally, people used this phrase to greet or praise the Japanese emperor, wishing him ten thousand years of triumph. 

However, in the modern-day, the word has found its way into English. In English, we no longer use it by its direct translation. Instead, we just use it as a general cheer of excitement. We’ll talk more about how the definition has shifted in just a moment. 

Common Confusions

Unfortunately, the word banzai is commonly confused with another Japanese word: bonsai. A bonsai is a particular horticulture technique that is important to Japanese culture. It was adapted from the Middle Chinese practice of penjing and entered Japenese culture in about the 6th century.

Bonsai is not a species or type of tree. Rather, it is a technique of growing them. Bonsai trees are meant to be miniature versions of nature. Several techniques are used to get the tree to be small yet proportional, including minimal soil usage, leaf pinching, and pruning. 

Bonsai is quite different than banzai. And although the words have similar spellings and pronunciations, there are great differences in their definitions. 

What Is the History of the Word Banzai?

The word banzai is much younger than you might think. Although the Japanese language has been around for thousands of years, it still has new words added from time to time. Let’s look at its etymology.

The word origin of banzai did not happen until the latter part of the 19th century. The word combines two Japanese figures. Ban (万) is the Japanese word for 10,000, and sai (歲) is the Japanese word for year. Put them together, and you get “万歲,” which means 10,000 years. 

As we mentioned above, the word originated as a formal greeting given to the Emperor of Japan. Think of it as a way to say, “Long live the king.” It was a formal way to give a blessing to the king and let him know that you desired his reign to last for ten thousand years.  

As people continually used the word, it began to evolve. People started using it as an exclamation in various contexts, shouting it as a way to boost confidence or celebrate a momentous occasion. 

During World War II, the word took on a new meaning. The Japanese soldiers were notorious for their reckless attacking. The Japanese had a lot of pride, and it was considered shameful to be taken as a war prisoner. So, Japanese soldiers would launch kamikaze attacks, knowing they wouldn’t make it out alive, but trying to do as much damage to the enemy as possible. 

Many soldiers, during these attacks, would shout, “Banzai!” as they charged in. This Japanese battle cry was a way to say that they were laying down their lives as martyrs for the longevity of the Japanese Empire. Because of this, this attack began to be known as a banzai attack or a banzai charge.

How Is the Word Banzai Used in a Sentence?

To help bring more clarity to the word’s meaning, let’s take a look at some example sentences that utilize the word banzai. 

As the brave warrior entered the presence of the great emperor, he bowed low, proclaiming with a strong voice, “Banzai!”

He stood atop the cliff, and after a few moments, he lept into the water below, letting out the exclamation, “Banzai!”

The banzai attacks by the Japanese soldiers were ruthless, and they drove back the Allied forces. 

The Japanese soldiers burst out of the random house, screaming, “Banzai!” as they attacked.

We ordered some apps for the table, and Ricky shouted, “Banzai!” as he dove into the pile of chicken wings. 

What Are Some Synonyms for the Word Banzai?

Here is a list of some synonyms for the word banzai you might find in a thesaurus or English dictionary. 

  • Charge
  • Rally cry
  • Battle cry
  • War song
  • War whoop
  • 10,000 years
  • Long live the king
  • Gung ho
  • Let’s go
  • Tally ho

The Word Banzai

Although banzai isn’t an English word, many English speakers have adopted it as a fun and important exclamation. It shows how even recently created words can shift in their definitions quickly in the scope of history. 

Now you know everything you need to know about the word banzai. Use it confidently in your writing and conversation. And if you need a refresher on the word banzai, just come back to this article for the information you need. 


Banzai Attack: Saipan | The National WWII Museum, New Orleans 

Bonsai: Small Trees, Big Misconceptions | Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum 

What does banzai mean? definition, meaning, and audio pronunciation | Audio English