- Viking: Scandinavian seafaring raiders and traders, 8th-11th century
- バイキング (baikingu): all-you-can-eat, buffet
Tetsuzo Inumaru was a Manager at the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, when traveling through in Denmark in 1957, he first experienced Smörgåsbord. Smörgåsbord is a buffet style meal that become popular in the West in the late 30’s but was not known in Japan. Inumaru, upon his return, instructed his staff to design a similar style restaurant at the hotel.
Not much was known about Scandinavian culture in Japan at the time and the word Smörgåsbord was somewhat difficult to pronounce. However, a very popular American movie was playing in theaters, called The Vikings (1958) and so the term バイキング (baikingu) was born. Although prices at the first “Viking” restaurant were similar to what one night at the Imperial Hotel would cost, the idea quickly spread all over Japan in the 60’s at lower price points and was a great success.
The term バイキング still remains in use in everyday Japanese. Considered by many to be a simple transliteration of the English term, we now know that the meaning is somewhat different.
This article is part of the weekly Katakana English series, where we discuss Japanese words borrowed (mostly) from English that have acquired a different meaning. For questions or comments, please click here.