Japan Word of the Day #47 – Nimaime/Sanmaime (Cool guy/Dorky guy)

Today’s Word is: Nimaime and Sanmaime (二枚目 and 三枚目)

Nimaime is a term that describes a handsome-looking guy with graceful manner. Basically, anything he does or says makes him look cool. The literal translation of the word “nimaime” is “the second one,” where the last syllable “me” is an unit of measurement for a flat object.

The term originates from kabuki industry in Edo period. When kabuki is performed, it is customary to post a set of eight banners at the performance venue. The first banner shows the name of protagonist. The second banner is usually reserved for a young, good-looking actor. Thus “the second one,” or nimaime, eventually became an expression referring to any handsome man.

From right, the second banner is used for a cool guy, and the third banner for a funny guy.

The third banner, on the other hand, usually has the name of comic relief character. Thus “the third one,” or sanmaime, became an expression referring to a dorky, uncool guy. Although someone who’s described as sanmaime is generally not good-looking, it also carries positive connotation of being funny and lovable.

Examples of anime characters that fall in sanmaime category would be Lupin from Lupin the Third, Usopp from ONE PIECE, and Kuririn from Dragon Ball.


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