What are some Japanese words or phrases that you think are very difficult to translate into English?

  • -3

    TheDevilsAssistant

    Itadakimasu and Gochisousama

  • -3

    Brainiac

    "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu" is one. Others are "gokurosama" and when a TV announcer, when introducing a movie, tells viewers "Go yukuri."

    I also can't translate "yappari," and "tsubo" (have no idea how many square meters that is).

    Finally, how much is "1 oku?" Is it 100 million or 1 billion?

  • -3

    Marilita Fabie-Fujisawa

    Otsukare sama deshita, gokuro samadeshita, osewa ninarimashita....

  • 0

    Marilita Fabie-Fujisawa

    Itadakimasu when translated is said "I greatfully partake" Gotchiso sama when translated would mean " thank you for the nice meal". Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, " give my best regards" if to oneself..I have no translation to that either. Yappari, would mean " I knew it"! I hope I was of little help!!

  • -9

    BertieWooster

    "Domo."

  • -6

    BertieWooster

    "Yatsu atari."

  • -2

    BertieWooster

    "Yutashiku onegee sabira," in Okinawan, "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu," in standard Japanese.

  • -1

    zenkan

    "Kimarimonku" (set phrases) are most problematic, and Japanese is full of them. So much depends on context, and most have multiple translation possibilities - all part of the fun! Sasuga!

  • 2

    smithinjapan

    None are particularly difficult to translate, especially if you are somewhat of an interpreter. The problem is EXPLAINING the English equivalents to Japanese because, and this goes for the vice-versa as well, there are many words or set expressions that can take on a myriad of English translations based on the context. Words like 'genki' or 'natsukashii' are quite easy to translate given the context, but again you hear misuse all the time. Slightly more difficult are the innate cultural expressions like "itadakimasu!" before eating, or "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu", etc., but again they CAN be translated based on context and on relationship.

    The only things I would say are TRULY difficult to translate are idiomatic expressions and some proverbs (where there's no equivalent), cultural traditions like 'hanami' or 'kouyou', where you can only explain the background and what you do at present.

    Bad words are hands down the easiest in any language... for whatever reason you tend not to forget, and they are sometimes more applicable in daily life. haha.

  • -7

    TheInterstat

    Gaijin.

  • -1

    papasmurfinjapan

    Soushokukei.

    I know what it means, but can't think of a "short word" in English to describe it. Just calling them "herbivores" will lead to blank stares among English speakers.

    The dictionary says "man who is uninterested in aggressively pursuing women; peaceable men who don't approach women as potential partners". lol

  • -3

    megosaa

    "yadaa.."

  • -1

    crustpunker

    無我- (muga) One of my favorite Japanese bands.

    恋愛-(rennai) sigh.......

    微妙 or ビミョー(bimyo)- not really or I'm not sure?

    意外(igaiiiiiii) kinda gyaru talk? like if you say you like something and someone thinks that is surprising you get that sometimes?

    凛として時雨 (Rin Toshite Sigure)- Another band, just cannot begin to fathom how you might put this into English.

  • -1

    crustpunker

    @papasmurfinjapan- "girly men"

    from Linguist, Edwin Battistella-

    "girly-man is implicitly contrasted with such terms as he-man, macho-man, or manly man. These terms bring together images of physique, strength, courage, and will in an image of comic-book manliness. The controlling male stereotype is that of the muscular action-hero male as manly and of other men (non–weight lifters, nonmacho straight men, gays) as lacking courage, strength, and decisiveness. As critics of the usage pointed out, referring to someone as a girly-man requires adopting this stereotype as an instrument of either humor or derogation. And it further entails adopting the complementary stereotype that women are not so strong or decisive as men"

    use with caution? or with extreme perjudice?

  • -1

    afanofjapan

    Soushokukei = Asexual?

    anyway I think natsukashii is difficult. Nostalgic refers too far in the past for the regular usage; all i can think of is "great memories"

  • -2

    papasmurfinjapan

    @ crustpunker

    lol. The problem with "girly men" is, as pointed out in the definition itself, that in English it comes out as derogatory. Many Japanese don't use it in a derogatory way. Here is the current Japanese definition.

    "草食系男子とは、心が優しく、男らしさに縛られておらず、恋愛にガツガツせず、傷ついたり傷つけたりすることが苦手な男子のこと "

    Yes, they are girly, but in a good way... according to some girls at least...

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%8D%89%E9%A3%9F%E7%B3%BB

  • -1

    fds

    "osananajimi"

  • 0

    bicultural

    お邪魔します。Literally, I'm going to bother you. Best translation would be, May I come in?

    同級。Someone who entered the company at the same time as me and is usually the same age. No such word in English.

    中途半端。Half-assed is the best word I can think of for that one.

  • -5

    smithinjapan

    afanofjapan: "Nostalgic refers too far in the past for the regular usage."

    Not at all. As in, it is very regularly used, though it does refer to a sort of yearning for the past. Nostalgia is in itself equally as difficult to translate into Japanese as natsukashii is into English, though with context and a knowledge of both languages it's not too hard. You can often hear "This takes me back" when a person hears an old song on the radio, or walks into some mom & pop shop that sells penny candy or what have you, but again it needn't be THAT far back in the past -- just a certain period in someone's past. The noun form is a bit more difficult to translate.

    I agree with bicultural that 'Doukyuu' is difficult to translate, but as I said that's a cultural thing, as is Kouhai and Sempai (easier in those cases). We would just explain it, or simply say classmate or co-worker.

    One of the best ways to learn proper translation in the 'everyday' sense of language usage is movies with subtitles, especially Western movies with Japanese subtitles when in Japan.

  • 0

    Zen student

    Any vague Japanese onomatopoeia (giseigo) like 'chara chara' or 'gyuttto' etc.

  • 0

    combinibento

    Probably "zannen" - almost universally translated as "regrettable" although I don't think that gets the meaning across. The speaker could be using that work to describe something that "sucks," or a "tragic accident" or "horrible event" or unspeakable or just lousy. That one word is always used by politicians or spokesman to describe negative things and yet the only word I see in the english language media is "regrettable" or "unfortunate" which are rather mild and don't convey what that word is intended to express. In my opinion anyway...

  • -2

    nandakandamanda

    Apart from the ones given above by other readers, can't think of any right now, (there are tons out there) but it depends also to a great deal on your audience and the situation. If you have the time you can use the Japanese word/phrase again and slip in a quick explanation with a smile. Some people get there quickly, but others have zero knowledge or understanding of Japanese culture, food etc. This can make translation especially difficult.

  • -1

    sighclops

    tashikani!

  • -1

    syrup16g

    Brainiac: "Yoroshiku onegaishimasu" is one. Others are "gokurosama" and when a TV announcer, when introducing a movie, tells viewers "Go yukuri."

    I also can't translate "yappari," and "tsubo" (have no idea how many square meters that is).

    Finally, how much is "1 oku?" Is it 100 million or 1 billion?

    goyukkuri (douzo) - enjoy / relax and take your time yappari - after all / as suspected tsubo - 3.31 square meters or 3.954 square yards. The size of 2 tatami mats put together like a square. 1 oku - 100 million. 1 billion is the same as 1000 million. For the record 1 billion in japanese is 10 oku. Keep in mind that these measurements are American short scale, which Japan does not use. Powers of 10 in Japan group in myriads (10,000) as opposed to thousands (1000) which are used in the States.

  • -2

    syrup16g

    Messed up on my quotation on the last post. Sorry about that

    bicultural 同級。Someone who entered the company at the same time as me and is usually the same age. No such word in English.

    I believe you mean 同期, 同級 would be same class.

  • 0

    oikawa

    I don't like natsukashi being translated as nostalgia either, simply because that word is not used in the same situation in English. Japanese people would see or hear something and let out a "natsukashi na.." but we'd never go "ahh nostalgia" or "I feel so nostalgic!" in English. Like smith said "that takes me back" or "that brings back memories" are what's usually said. I don't think it's that difficult but it's situations like this where explicit descriptive adjectives are used in Japanese where they're not in English that you have to be careful. "Bikkurishita!" is another. It's often used as an exclamation of surprise but you'd never say "I'm surprised!" in English. It's not the translation that's difficult so much as getting the right English phrase for the situation.

  • -1

    nandakandamanda

    同慮doryo means colleague or co-worker, but no sense of college year about it.

  • -3

    Marilita Fabie-Fujisawa

    Fds...ossananajimi when translated would mean " childhood friend".

  • -3

    Marilita Fabie-Fujisawa

    Sorry for the error above!!,can't seem to be able to delete.

  • -3

    Marilita Fabie-Fujisawa

    Smithin Japan....hanami is flower viewing while kouyo is foliage.

  • -2

    MrBum

    I'd say "bimyo" is pretty close to "meh" in the context you hear often. Although "meh" can also mean a lot of things. Meh...

  • 0

    Disillusioned

    otsukade sama desu - The security guards say this to me every time I walk past them five or six times a day. My only translation is, "G'day!"

  • 0

    lucabrasi

    If I hear 'kawaii' one more time, I think I'm gonna scoop out my brain with a spoon.

    Ha ha! Kawaii!

  • 2

    timtak

    yatsuatari is good.

    Natsukashii as people say. Even young people (my students) use it. Academics claim that proliferates due to the loss of traditional Japanese culture in the face of Westernization but this is not true since the Japanese have always liked wallowing in nostalgia. Read Basho or any travelogue. The Japanese are even nostalgic about other people's memories. I think that it is a product of the Japanese family (which is the complete reverse of the Western one) you get it good when you are young but have nothing to look forward to.

    amae is famous. I translate it as "fawn" and backtranslate as the neoligisms "Bambiru" or "Kojikaru," (I pretend to be bambi as I say them) kaizen is famous too.

    genki occurs a lot in the speech of gaijin.

    hansei should be famous, or famous that there is no word in English. jigajisan (blow ones own trumpet?) jikomanzoku (with the negative implication) sasuga (as to be expected from...?) meisho, meibutsu famous place doesn't quite work - the "name" is important. oyakouko (being nice to the folks) nemawashi shugyou ao (as in aoshingou, aouba,aujiru) boku etc not so much the variety but the fact it can be used as a SECOND person pronoun. "Boku no name ha?" rikutsu(ppoi) bunbetsu-kusai (and other anti-word words) uchi (us/inner, the ingroup?) tobu (as in what a plane and a rabbit does!)

    ganbatte, ganbaru and the positive nuisance of simlar words like doryoku, nintai,

    The variety of words connected with shame and embarassment haji, hajiru, hajirai, hazukasii, tere, terekusai, tereya, agari, shuuchi, kimarigawari, hanikamu especially sekentei, seken no me, seken, teisai (whaaat?), and perhaps mentsu (face, but...is it?) ba wo wakimaeru

    kuukiwoyomu/e (KY) and various words for non-verbal communication sasshi (observe the emotions of) kiwokubaru (distribute your spirit) kidukau (use your spirit)

    ichigan to naru, enman and other expressions that suggest being circular and/as good.

    iki wo awaseru (is this only about oppenents?) aun no kokyuu

    munashii (empty in the sense of meaningless) hinekureteiru (emotionally dishonest?)

    and of course there are loads of sayings deru kui (or kugi) ha utareru (The famous "The wedge that sticks out gets hit" don't rock the boat?) ko ha kasugai (children are staples!) wa-shite dou-sezu (be harmonious, not the same) dana ha rusu de genki ga yoi (Hubby is best genki, and out of the house)

    Conversely pat (not stroke), feedback, foot (not leg), controversial (there is a word but it is hardly used), falling (落下中?), opening, stopping etc. And corny/schmaltzy/phoney and other words that might be used to deride the cute. And many more. See also http://www.amazon.com/Japans-Cultural-Code-Words-Attitudes/dp/B008SLKJOU http://www.amazon.com/Womansword-Japanese-Words-about-Women/dp/4770028881/ http://www.amazon.com/Words-Context-Japanese-Perspective-Characters/dp/477002780X

  • -3

    bass4funk

    What's with all the negative thumbs down???? I thought the article asked which japanese phrase is difficult to translate into English? I thought the article was quite good.

  • -1

    papasmurfinjapan

    Okonomiyaki = Japanese pancakes anyone?

  • -1

    Nessie

    kouyo is foliage.

    Specfically, autumn foliage.

    An associated but more obscure English expression is "leaf peeping", to describe fall tourism.

  • 1

    timtak

    Yes, what is it with all the thumbs down? Perhaps Japanese readers are reading thinking, all these gaijin are being orientalists - seeing linguistic differences and difficulties when there aren't any. I don't think anyone is saying that the words can't be explained in English, just that explanation is required. Kawaii means cute except without any negative connotation, and great admiration and positive feeling.

    Another famous one is Mottainai. I used to think "nah" that is wasteful. But then wasteful does not describe an emotional reaction. "Sense of waste" is closer, but mottainai is more tangible, familiar. One of my students this year suggested that a strong awareness of it may be related to the relative lack of "Buy two get one free" type promotions in Japanese shops, or even, the converse at 100 yen shops for instance, there are sometimes two batteries for the price of four. I think that she (Hisano, 2013) may be right. If you have a strong, familiar, tangible "sense of waste," then buying stuff you may not use may be less appealing. That is not to say that "mottainai" is untranslatable.

  • -1

    MrBum

    What's with all the negative thumbs down???? I thought the article asked which japanese phrase is difficult to translate into English? I thought the article was quite good.

    I was thinking the same thing. I thought the article was a little short though ;) Also, whenever I get asked what "kancho" is in English, my answer was always "butt rape."

  • -1

    Peter Payne

    何となく

  • 0

    Laguna

    ふれあい

  • 1

    afanofjapan

    as for my mentioning of natsukashii, i find it most difficult to translate when used in the sense of more recent memories.

    For example something that happened a couple of years back. You wouldnt say "that takes me back" in English in this case. What you might say is "oh that brings back fond memories" or "oh i havent heard this song in a long time!"

    Both of which are noticeably longer

  • 0

    The passage

    Yabai

  • -1

    The passage

    ah.... muzukashii! Literally it means "difficult", but we all know the real meaning!

  • 1

    Bad2Dbone

    Becha , becha

    gunya, gunya

    picho , picho

    nebu , nebu

    I found no translation

  • 1

    nandakandamanda

    bilderberg, oops, thanks for the correction.

    Now c'mon, whoever is handing out those naughty minuses! :D

  • 2

    Ewan Huzarmy

    Also, whenever I get asked what "kancho" is in English, my answer was always "butt rape."

    Strangely enough, 'kancho' means suppository, or any medicine taken via the back passage. Why little kids run around doing this to each other remains a mystery.

  • 4

    BertieWooster

    Ewan-san,

    Strangely enough, 'kancho' means suppository, or any medicine taken via the back passage. Why little kids run around doing this to each other remains a mystery.

    That's right. It also means enema. It's not uncommon for a mother to give a constipated child an enema in Japan.

    But surely, little kids ANYWHERE find anything to do with excretion or flatulence intensely amusing.

    You can have a kindergarten class in uncontrollable stitches just with the word, "unko!" (poo!)

    In fact, they have so much interest in the subject, that they usually remember words like "stinky," "poo," "wee wee," and so on with only one repetition. Have them say the word, tell them what it means, and they've got it, they won't forget it.

  • 2

    budgie

    Sucking air between one's teeth and saying, "Saa, muzukashi naa." Apparently there is an English translation but it's not fit to print here.

  • 0

    jamplass

    Are desu kedo...

  • 2

    Himajin

    Strangely enough, 'kancho' means suppository, or any medicine taken via the back passage.

    Kancho is 'enema' 潅腸. A suppository is 'zaiyaku' 座薬. Aren't you glad I told you that before your next doctor's visit? ;-P I wouldn't want my fever meds by enema :-D

  • 4

    ChibaChick

    元気. Nothing I can think of in English quite captures it.

  • 2

    Soseki

    kokoro

  • 0

    Juan U Love

    Gomennasai is far from the equivalent of, I'm sorry. English speakers use it for everything (I'm sorry you have a headache. I'm sorry you didn't pass your test. I'm sorry you hate me so much. I'm sorry you're such an ass. ...), whereas in Japanese it's more of a general statement of submission.

    Sumimasen is another general statement of submission, the nearest English approximation I've ever been able to conjure being, I am not worthy your Honor.

    Both of these, particularly when contrasted with most English speaking cultures, reveal a relatively great concern with displays of submissiveness in daily relations among the Japanese. Those who try to gloss this by calling it humility rather than submissiveness do students of both languages and cultures a great disservice. The Chinese "kòu tóu" is the nearest I can think of, but as several comments above have mentioned regarding other words, the positive meanings in Japanese and Chinese become distinctly negative in English cultures.

  • 2

    jonobugs

    I tend to agree with SmithinJapan that most things can be translated properly given the context. The difficult part is taking one word or phrase and give it an equivalent English expression. That's nearly impossible considering how many different uses one word or phrase can have in EACH language. In many cases the meanings just don't fit if the context is not the same. If it were those computer translation programs would actually make sense.

  • -2

    cubic

    Surely there is only one winner - 魑魅魍魎

  • 0

    American Devil

    to add my 2 yen's worth, I feel puri puri, as used when describing food is difficult to translate. The dictionary only has it as "angrily" and google is no better. I think the closest I got from asking around is "plump and juicy" which works for foods like wieners and shrimp, but not really for sashimi. I've also noticed that babies' butts are also referred to as being "puri puri," which could imply being plump, but hopefully not juicy. Any other ideas?

  • 0

    Foxie

    hanabanashi and mendokusai

  • 0

    Himajin

    Zunguri-mukuri.

  • 0

    BertieWooster

    I wonder if the eight "bads" I received so far for "domo" is eight people agreeing that it's a difficult word to translate into English. Or if the eight people think that I'm somewhat lacking in the grey cell department because I can't think of a good translation for it.

    There seems to be a lot of Japanese that has about the same depth of meaning as bird twitter.

    Perhaps you could translate "domo" as "grunt."

    Another one is "taihen." The word actually means "very," so, you could have a conversation like this:

    "You finished your test?"

    "Whew. Yes I have."

    "How was it?"

    "Very!"

    "You mean really very?"

    "Yeah! Really, really very. I haven't a hope of getting a pass on that!"

  • 0

    philly1

    One more: kishi kishi

    Perhaps there is a small problem with definitions on the part of posters here: Translate and explain are not the same. Kishi kishi can be explained but not translated.

  • 0

    Himajin

    'taihen' means 'serious' or 'awful' not 'very'.

  • 0

    Goals0

    philly1 What do you mean by kishi-kishi きしきし can be explained but not translated? It's not a word I knew but a quick look shows that 'creak' or 'squeak' is often going to be fine for translation purposes.

  • 0

    philly1

    Goals0: Kishi kishi is the specific squeak made by a nightingale floor... Not the squeak of a mouse or a rubber duck or any other pedestrian squeak.

  • 0

    Himajin

    Well, not exclusively. 'kishimu'  軋む just means 'squeak' or 'creak'.

    When DS was 4 my parents were here and I took them to Nijojou. As we walked across the nightingale floor DS pipes up with 'it sounds just like our kitchen floor!" A whole bus-full of Obaachans totally cracked up.

  • 0

    Xeno23

    As Smithinjapan said, or to paraphrase, it's not translating that's difficult, it's providing equivalent meaning that can be challenging, particularly if you want to use only one word. Take 面倒くさい for example; Google Translate says "Messy", and I've often seen it as "Troublesome", but it's better as "Pain in the a**". Messy and troublesome don't have the same annoyance connotation, and that's critically important here.

    Onomatopoeic words are very difficult to express cross-culturally, but there's not really that much need to do so. There are some English equivalents for Giongo 擬音語 (whoosh) and Giseigo 擬声語 (meow), even a very few for Gitaigo 擬態語 (phew!), but how often are you really going to try and translate パクパク? Even in manga and anime translations, most just leave them as is, and fans have become used to it. On the other hand, look at US comics like old school Batman... plenty there.

  • -1

    Daijoboots

    "zannen" - That one word is always used by politicians or spokesman to describe negative things and yet the only word I see in the english language media is "regrettable" or "unfortunate" which are rather mild and don't convey what that word is intended to express.

    Yes. Then I read all about the pollies etc using the word "regrettable", when really they didn't. The translator did.

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