I found Curazy’s list of Japanese words exported into other languages quite amusing. I’m still not exactly sure if it’s meant to be serious or not, considering how it includes shio taran, which is a totally coincidental close phonetic match of the Hungarian phrase (sótlan) of the same meaning (“not salty enough”). I’d say some of the others are similar coincidental matches too. Nonetheless, I decided to come up with a similar list.
I’m pretty sure tsunami is now a recognized word all around the world, especially after the devastating effects of the one that hit north-east Japan three years ago. While the word typhoon is often thought to be of Japanese origin too, it’s more likely to have been ported directly from Chinese.
Then of course there is a long list of various sports that originated in Japan and are now known internationally. There is sumo, which is maybe the most representative, and also the various popular martial arts like karate and judo.
There are also plenty of warfare related words that found their way into other languages. I think even people in the boonies would understand samurai and kamikaze, and let’s not even mention ninja.
Some unique pieces of “high” Japanese culture gained some popularity in the west too, but just as with any other such kind of culture, people who don’t care about it don’t know about it. Just think of bonsai or haiku. On the other hand, paper folding art is widely called origami around the world, and “tatami mats” might be known among people interested in interior design.
Restaurants offering Japanese cuisine are getting more common in the west too, and that resulted in sushi and sake becoming commonly known phrases, just to name a few.
Last but not least, there is the Japanese popular culture that is now also popular in the west. Words like karaoke, anime and manga are now common. While otaku is probably understood by some, its meaning changes from the general “nerd” in Japanese to “a fan of anime/manga”. People who use social networks or online chats often could be familiar with emoji too.