Japanese/Chinese Words Series Pt. 2: 8 More Different Meanings

In Part 1 of this series, we have explained and provided you 8 priceless examples of how the shared Japanese and Chinese characters sometimes have very different meanings in each language, thus creating some extreme confusion.

Today, we will explore another set of 8 lovely misunderstandings.

1. 謝る Ayamaru


(Watashi wa ayamaritai)

I want to apologize.

In Japanese, 謝る means to apologize for something. It is, of course, a gesture infused with blame and shame for misconduct at some level. In Chinese, however, means “thank”. Without enough kanji knowledge, one may see the Japanese and mistake it as the verb to display gratitude. Imagine how strange it is if someone accidentally breaks a flower vase in a shop and proceeds to thank the store owner.

2. 我慢 Gaman


(Watashi wa watashi no jinsei no naka de takusan no wo gaman shimashita)

I put up with a lot in my life.

To 我慢 something means to endure it patiently. Perhaps you are getting a shot from the doctor, or the air-conditioning isn’t running. In Chinese, refers to oneself, as in “me”, and  means slow, so all it says is “I’m slow”. I am very certain that the air-conditioner breaking down has nothing to do with your lack of speed.

3. 遠慮 Enryo


(Koko ni suwaggo enryo kudasai)

Please refrain from sitting here.

If you have been travelling in Japan, I am certain you have seen this around the public, indicating things that you are forbidden to do at certain locations. In Japanese, 遠慮 is a polite way of saying “please refrain from doing it”, as seen on signs that ask passengers to not talk on their cellphones on the train or audience to refrain from taking photos at venues. In Chinese, means  “far” and means  “think/consider”. They are asking you to REALLY consider it before you act…… I guess?

4. 以上/以下 Ijou/Ika

三つ以上必要です.  三つ以下必要です. 

(Mitsu ijou hitsuyou desu) (Mitsu ika hitsuyou desu)

I need 3 or more. I need 3 or less. 

I love explaining these two phrases to people who are studying Chinese or Japanese, because the small difference can cause quite some issues. In Japanese, the two words respectively mean “___ or more” and “___ or less”. For instance, 三名以上 means three or more people. In Chinese however, they mean “more than ___” and “less than ___”, so the same三名以上 actually means more than three people. This misunderstanding can create some arguments especially when you are travelling and making reservations.

On a side note: many Japanese teachers also confuse the meanings of the two English sentences and often translate it as “more than ___”, which is inaccurate. Ask around and see if your Japanese acquaintances know about it!

5. 吃る Domoru


(Watashi wa tokidoki domoru)

I sometimes stutter.

吃るis the condition of someone who stutters when they talk. In Chinese, the very commonly used kanji  means “to eat”. Both meanings relate to using your mouth, but one is definitely more appreciated than the other.

6.  Musume


(Sono onnanoko wa watashi no musume desu)

That girl is my daughter.

In Japanese, means “daughter”. In Chinese,  means “mother”. By adding ,the kanji for “kid”, refers to娘子 “my wife” in Chinese.

My goodness, I think you can already see where the problem is……

7. 怪我 Kega


(Watashi wa basuketto borru de kega wo shita)

I got injured playing basketball.

This word means “injury” in Japanese. As we have studied earlier, 我 means “me”, and 怪 in both languages can mean “monster”. In Chinese, however, it can also bear the meaning of “to blame”, so 怪我 means “blame me”. If you injure yourself, you can find yourself responsible, I suppose.

8. 邪魔 Jama


(O Jama shimasu)

I am disturbing you.

邪魔 means that someone or something is being in the way, an obstacle or obstruction of some sort. It inconveniences another person or the situation, but the implication is not necessarily as severe as the Chinese meaning of the word, which means “evil demon”. So the Japanese sentence “邪魔しないで” or “don’t be in the way”, to a Chinese Japanese-learner, the message may appear to say “don’t be an evil demon”. Quite a strong accusation indeed.

Hopefully this article has brought you some new insights about the relationship between Japanese kanji and Chinese characters. Test your friends before you share the knowledge with them!

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