Since I’ve started to write blogs, I’ve had time to think about the linguistical and cultural differences between Japan and US. I am also thankful for the many responses I’ve had to the blog posts from many people.

I feel that compared to English, Japanese is a more delicate language. It is said that “English is a language of expression, while Japanese is a language of concealing”. English is very good at expressing one’s thoughts and emotions. Japanese, on the other hand, expresses the hidden thoughts and feelings with different expressions.

There are many instances where I struggle to translate some words due to these linguistical and cultural differences. I would like to share 5 Japanese words that are difficult to(or impossible to) translate. How many words can you think of that are difficult to translate?

  1. “Natsukashii” : When you meet up with someone after a long time of no contact, or you revisit your old school, you feel “Natsukashii”. This word is a difficult word to translate to English. “Nostalgic” comes to mind immediately, but this is more for thinking back on a memory from long ago, or thinking of your home town, so it is not always the same meaning as the Japanese counterpart. A friend of mine suggested the translation “Brings back memories”, which is a better fit for the Japanese word

  2. “Sasuga” : When you are impressed, you are inclined to say “Sasuga!”. Did you know that this word actually has multiple meanings? The first is about “Being impressed by something that has met or exceeded your expectation”. The other is to have contradicting feelings, so this word is a difficult word to use. “Just as expected”, or “Even for.. ” may be a suitable way to translate

  3. “Yahari / Yappari” : “Yahari” came from the old word “Yaharaka”, which refers to something that doesn’t change. This meaning changed to something that is “as expected”. When translating this word, the phrase “As always” may be close to the Japanese meaning

  4. “Itadakimasu / Gochisousamadesita” : When eating food, Japanese naturally say “Itadakimasu”. Most likely we don’t really think about why we say this. Overseas in some cultures it is tradition to pray to God for the food before eating, but “Itadakimasu / Gochisousamadeshita” is not quite the same. “Itadakimasu / Gochisousamadesita” is thought of as a way of saying thanks to those who prepared the food(People who grew the food, prepared the food, and served the food), but it is also said to be a way to say thank you to the food themselves for giving up their life to give us life instead

  5. “Tekito / Iikagen” : “Tekito” and “Iikagen” are both words that do not have much good image nowadays. Both words used to have meanings equivalent to “Just right”, or “Just enough”. However, now the meaning is closer to “Trying to deceive” or “Having the impression of being just right”. Depending on the usage of the word, “Just right” may be good, but for some cases “Sloppy or Careless” may be a better expression

There are differences in language as well as culture, and some of the words have multiple meaning, so translating is difficult unless one understands the whole context. There are other words that are difficult to translate, so I will cover them next time.

1 Comment

Terese · 2021年7月13日 at 4:19 AM

Great blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast!
What web host are you using? Can I get your
affiliate link to your host? I wish my web site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

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