Get Spooky in Korean, Japanese, and Chinese

‘Tis the season for scary costumes, carved pumpkins, and frightening amounts of candy! But Halloween wouldn’t be complete without some spooky words. So in today’s article, let’s learn some scary expressions in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese!

How to say “Boo!” in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

While in western cultures, “Boo” sounds more or less similar (like “Bouh” in French and “Buh” in German), Asian societies seem to prefer starting the scary sound with the sound of “w” or “h”.

Japanese ワッ! (watu)
Korean 와! (wa)
Chinese 吓!(hè)/ 嘿!(hèi) 

Unlike “boo”, these words don’t express disapproval or contempt. However, they can be used in other situations like when feeling surprised, startled, or trying to get someone’s attention.

Scary words in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

The phrase 剪头 (jiǎn tóu) may sound pretty scary at first (to cut head), but actually it means cut hair in Chinese. Similarly, in the Korean phrase 머리 자르다 (meo ri ja reu da), 머리 (meo ri) actually means hair 머리카락 (meo ri ka rak) rather than head.

This expression is quite commonly used especially in oral language. So don’t be surprised when you hear someone say “나 오늘 머리 잘랐어.” (I got my hair cut today.) or “你需要剪头吗?” (Do you need a haircut?)

However, there are indeed some taboos related to cutting hair. In Ancient China, people kept long hair because they believed hair and skin are gifts from parents and should be treated with respect. Even today, Chinese people believe it’s bad fortune (especially for your maternal uncle) if you cut hair during the first month in Chinese new year.

Some dish names in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese also sound quite scary, but only at first sight. Take a look!




Literal meaning

Actual meaning


親子丼 (Oyakodonburi)

Parent and child in a bowl

Scrambled eggs and chicken over rice

きつねうどん (Kitsune Udon)

Fox udon noodle

Udon noodle with deep-fried tofu


할머니 뼈 해장국 (hal meo ni ppyeo hae jang guk)

Grandma’s Bone soup

Pig’s bone soup made by an old lady

눈깔 사탕 (nun kkal sa tang)

Eyeball candy

Ball-shaped candy

엄마손 파이 (eom ma son pa i)

Mom’s hand pie

Mom’s (handmade) pie



Wife pie

Sweet pie with pastry and filling


Husband and wife lung slices

Sliced beef in chili sauce

Taboo numbers in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

Like the number 13, the number 4 is considered very unlucky in many Asian societies including China, Japan, and Korea. This is because the sound of the number 4 (sì) sounds a lot like the word for death – 死 (sǐ).

Because of the influence of the Chinese language, Japanese and Korean also consider 4 as unlucky. The number 4 has two pronunciations in Japanese (shi and yon). People avoid using shi because of its similarity to 死 (shi). In Korean, the number 4 also sounds like the hanja for “death” (사).

As a result, elevators and hotels sometimes use other signs to represent the number four or entirely skip it. In Korea, the fourth floor is sometimes labelled “F”. If an apartment contains multiple 4 (like 404), its value is also likely to be affected.

In Japanese, the number nine (九 ku) is also considered unlucky. Because it sounds like 苦 (suffering, agony or torture). Therefore, there are also two readings for nine – ku and kyu.

How to say trick or treat in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

Generally, trick or treat is not a popular thing in all 3 Asian cultures. With people living in high-rise buildings, it’s also quite inpossible. However, just like Christmas, Halloween is getting more and more popular in Ancien societies. Young people love putting on festive costumes or carving their own pumpkins.

In Chinese, “trick or treat”  is translated into 不给糖,就捣蛋 (Bù gěi táng, jiù dǎodàn), which literally means “will be naughty if no candy”. Japanese language directly borrowed the English words using katakana: トリック オア トリート (torikko oa torrito). The same is for Korean using 트릭 오어 트릿 (teulig o-eo teulis).

There you go! Happy Halloween everyone!

Don’t forget to keep your day streaks ^ з^

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