In May this year, frogs were infesting salads and udon bowls in Japan. This month in June, we’ve learned that frogs are leaping up in the love lives of the Japanese—ruining their chances at love. They call this kaeruka-genshō (蛙化現象), which translates to “the frogification phenomenon”.
It’s basically the grim reaper of romance. In the English world, we call it the ick. And it’s one of several hot new buzzwords that’s sweeping Japan’s Gen Z by storm.
Flipping a fable on its head
Think of the 19th century fairy tale The Frog Prince and its modern adaptations such as the 2009 Disney film, The Princess and the Frog—but in reverse. With kaeruka-genshō, no frogs turn into your love interest. Rather, some act causes you to fall out of love. You instantly lose feelings for your partner. Prince mode out, amphibian form back in.
Psychologists officially recognize Kaeruka-genshō. However, psychiatrists like Dr. Kasuga Yūichiro, chairman at Heart Clinic (こころ診療所) in Tokyo, use the word with only one kind of ick in mind: your love interest liking you back.
“Kaeruka-gensho is the phenomenon in which you dislike whoever you fancy—once they like you back,” says Dr. Kasuga.
However, the ick factor for kaeruka-genshō isn’t limited to feelings of reciprocation among Japanese Gen Z.
“It means my feelings suddenly go cold when I catch someone I like do something small,” says a 28-year-old woman interviewed by TBS News in Shibuya.
According to street interviews, something as trivial as seeing your date struggling to get the attention of waiters can be a trigger for kaeruka-genshō. Even seeing them rejected by the train’s ticket scanner because of their empty IC card can undo that Prince Charming magic. Twitter and TikTok users post a plethora of other triggers for kaeruka-genshō.
kaeruka-genshō: Anti-romance is a trend
The word kaeruka-genshō is such a buzzword among Japanese Gen Z that the think tank Zsouken said it’s the no.1 trending word in the first half of 2023. Ironically, only love-dovey couples would use the second and third most popular words.
In second place is kawachii (かわちい), a baby talk version of the word “cute”, or kawaii (かわいい). In third came uchukushi (うちゅくしい) or uchukuchi (うちゅくちい), again baby talk but for the word “beautiful” that’s originally utsukushī (うつくしい).
Perhaps it was the overuse of baby talk that’s causing kaeruka-genshō? We don’t know—at least for now.
Zsouken surveyed a pool of 120 thousand Japanese to predict the last half of the year’s top trending words. Kaeruka-genshō ranked no.1 in this category too. Zsouken releases survey results every 6 months to see what trends are gathering momentum. The categories of trends they investigate include words, food and drinks, actors and actresses, artists, songs, TikTokers, YouTube channels, idols, and cosmetics.
(Note: The Zsouken survey is separate from the U-Can survey of hot new buzzwords, which we cover every year.)
Clinically icked out?
A word doesn’t trend for no reason. Kaeruka-genshō is no exception. If people are talking more about icks, they are getting more icks—which Dr. Kasuga from the Heart Clinic located in Kichijōji and Fuchū has taken notice of too.
The Heart Clinic runs a YouTube channel with videos that cover everything from the diagnoses of psychological disorders to patients’ road to recovery. There are currently 3 videos covering kaeruka-genshō. In one video uploaded this month, Dr. Kasuga addresses the difference between what kaeruka-genshō means in the clinic and online chatter.
“The difference lies in whether you steeply lower your ratings for someone because of reasons related to low self-esteem,” says Dr. Kasuga.
People with low self-esteem don’t think of themselves as good people—which makes them question how anybody could like them. They conclude that they must also be a bad person to like a bad person like me. This pattern of low self-esteem leads to kaeruka-genshō.
Psychologist: don’t ghost the frog
Another pattern is that low self-esteem breeds the fear of abandonment. You become convinced that your true flaws mean that whoever interests you now will dislike you eventually. Therefore, you decide that it’s better to be the first one to lose feelings first.
The clinical definition of kaeruka-genshō—losing interest when romantic feelings are reciprocated—locates the real problem within the detaching individual. The popularized definition of the term—losing interest when they forget to charge their IC card, etc—relocates the now-frog.
So what should you do when you feel the disenchanting effects of kaeruka-genshō? Dr. Kasuga advises his audience not to ghost your frog. The ghosted will suffer from low self-esteem which they might project onto their next relationship, creating a viscous domino effect of kaeruka-genshō.
If the talk about kaeruka-genshō dies down this summer, at least we’ll be left with croaking frogs in rice fields.
What to read next
 蛙化現象 振り向かれると、嫌になる. Kokoro Shinryousho
 高校生の流行語１位「蛙化現象」ってどんな意味？実は些細な行動が“蛙化”しているかも【Nスタ】. TBS NEWS DIG
 Z世代流行語ランキング、１位は「蛙化現象」. @itaiTikTok
 2023年上半期Z世代が選ぶトレンドランキング 流行った言葉. Zsouken
 蛙化現象、２つの定義【本来と最近の流行で意味に違いあり、精神科医が6.5分でまとめ】. Kokoro Shinryousho Channel