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Be careful with these Japanese words!

By Memrise Blog

Let’s explore the many possible ways you can put your foot in it and embarrass yourself by mis-saying Japanese words! Often getting something wrong is the best way to learn how to get it right: “Mistakes are the seeds for the flowers of success”(『失敗は成功の元』).

So this is your survival guide to avoid making glaring faux pas, a guide which will hopefully only reinforce your memory of these words!

Be sure to enunciate when paying compliments

If you are like me, you probably get shy and all squeaky-sounding when saying nice things to someone you fancy. When complimenting someone in Japanese, you’d better speak up loud and clear, as the simplest difference in pronunciation could potentially cost you an amazing date!

How it sounds in your head:

Kittane, kami
“Oh, you had a hair cut!”

“It suits you.”

Kirei dayo
“You look beautiful.”

How your mumbling could sound if you’re not careful:

Kitta, kami
“Ew, such dirty hair!”

“It smells.”

Kirai dayo
“I hate you.”

Stretched sounds
It’s not only in sports where stretching makes the difference. Stretches of sounds in Japanese can make “a map” (chizu地図) into “cheese” (chīzuチーズ), or “dream” (yume) into “famous” (yūmē有名) … Not knowing when to stretch sounds can, in some cases, leave the other person quite puzzled. Here are some examples:

Unchū wa tachiagaranaide kudasai
“Please do not stand up while (the train) is in motion.”

Unkochū wa tachiagaranaide kudasai
“Please do not stand up when you’re ‘having a motion’ 💩.”

rin no otoga wasurerarenai
“I cannot forget the sounds of bells.”

Furin no otoga wasurerarenai
“I cannot forget the sounds of adultery.”

Kyampu no yoru wa ka wo tabemashita
“I ate curry on the night of camping.”

Kyampu no yoru wa kare wo tabemashita
“I ate my boyfriend on the night of camping.”

50 shades of “you”
It is mind boggling to learn that there are so many ways to say “you” in Japanese. あなた (anata), 君 (kimi), お前 (omae), お前さん (omae-san), そちら (sochira), お宅 (otaku), おのれ (onore), 自分 (jibun), 貴様 (kisama) and so on… But what is even more puzzling is that NO ONE actually uses them in real life! These terms are outdated and although you will still see them in novels, songs, or TV dramas, they can actually make you come across rude or awkwardly distant in real situations. So what do you do in conversations? You refer to the other person by his/her name, adding honorific titles such as さん (san) or ちゃん (chan) if required.


Being adventurous with food
Are you ready to try Japanese cuisine? Historically Japan had quite limited food resources and because of this the Japanese people developed a proud tradition of eating almost every part of the animals and fish found in Japan. Some of theses food items sound very similar, so make sure you understand what you are ordering!

しらす shirasu
= “baby sardines”

白子 shirako
= “fish testicles”

たらこ tarako
= “cod roe”


Being kind on trains
Giving up your seat for someone else is a thoughtful gesture no matter what country you’re in. Just make sure you say it right! You don’t want to be mistaken for one of the infamous sexual gropers on Japanese public transport!

Dōzo, suwatte kudasai
“Please, sit”

Dōzo, sawatte kudasa
“Please, touch”

People are very sensitive about the amount of hair they have
Baldness is a very sensitive subject for a lot of men in Japan. It doesn’t help that we are a nation of dark haired people, which only serves to highlight the tiny amount of hair left on ones head, and thus making it look extra sad and pathetic. For some, being called a hage (ハゲ – “a bald head”) is all it takes to be emotionally destroyed. You may want to avoid saying this at all cost, but sadly there are many words that sound very similar.

Sono hige, yameta hōga iidesu yo
“You should get rid of that beard.”

Sono hage, yameta hōga iidesu yo
“You should stop being so bald.”

Kage ga mietande wakarimashita
“I recognised because I saw your shadow.”

Hage ga mietande wakarimashita
“I recognised you because I saw your bald head.”

Sokono hake, totte kudasai
“Could you pass me that brush please?”

Sokono hage, totte kudasai
”Hey bald head, could you pass that to me please?”

Send in your personal faux pas, we are all ears!