10 Japanese-English False Friends

As I’ve covered in a previous post, Japanese loanwords can be trickier than they initially seem. In that post, I wrote about ‘false friends’, where Japanese words that appear to be the same as English can actually have a totally different meaning in Japanese.

I find Japanese-English false friends extremely interesting, so I wanted to post about some of the ones I’ve come across. This is a mix of words that have completely different meaning in English, and words where the meaning has a different nuance to them.


1) マンション

Romaji: manshon


The word ‘mansion’ in English conjures up the image of a large house with more rooms than anyone would realistically need.

However, in Japanese a mansion is an apartment/ flat/ condominium (normally larger than what the Japanese call アパート).

Source: By アラツク [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons



My older sister is rich and lives in a spacious apartment.


2) アバウト

Romaji: abauto


Like English, アバウト can mean ‘roughly’ or ‘approximately’. In Japanese, it can also mean ‘sloppy’ in regards to someone’s personality (ie. they are not particularly concerned with finer details).



Literally “he has a sloppy personality”, it could be translated as “he is not a meticulous person”.


3) サイダー

Romaji: saidaa


As a British person, discovering what Japanese cider really was a bit of a disappointment. In the UK, cider is a type of alcoholic drink normally made with apples (or sometimes using other fruits such as pears).

So imagine my shock when I saw saidaa in the non-alcoholic section of a bar menu! It turns out saidaa is a fizzy soft drink, which is best translated in English as ‘soda’.


Source: By Mj-bird [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons




This morning, I bought a bottle of soda at the convenience store.


4) スマート

Romaji: sumaato


Like English, スマート can mean ‘stylish’ or ‘refined’ in reference to the way someone dresses or acts. However, it can also be used to mean ‘slim’.



She is very slim, isn’t she?


5) コンセント

Romaji: konsento


Originating from ‘concentric plug’, コンセント refers to an electric outlet or plug socket.


I plugged the TV into the socket.


6) サービス

Romaji: saabisu


サービス does overlap with the English meaning ‘service’ as in ‘customer service’:


However, サービス can also be used to describe something given as a discount or as a special extra when buying something.



Literally “this is service”, when buying something at a store this would be used when you get an extra item for free, or a free service offered at a hotel.



Romaji: toranpu


Whilst searching this word is quite likely to bring up a certain American president (he’s normally referred to as トランプ氏/ toranpu-shi), トランプ refers to playing cards.

トランプします = play card games




Last night I played cards with my grandfather.


8) Japanese: シール

Romaji: shiiru


Shiiru can mean the same as its English counterpart ‘seal’ but is more commonly used to mean ‘sticker’.



I put a sticker of a blue flower on the letter.


9) Japanese: サイン

Romaji: sain


サイン means signature or autograph in Japanese. It can also mean sign as in ‘signal’.



Please sign this document.


10) Japanese: タレント

Romaji: tarento


Talent refers to a TV personality or celebrity in the world of entertainment. There are tons of popular タレント on Japanese TV who are generally there to play games, tell the occasional joke and react to pre recorded material. They may also sing or act in addition to their variety show appearances.



My little sister is a famous TV personality.


So that’s it for today’s post – here’s all of the words in today’s post summed up in one image:

As I wrote in my post, sometimes the easiest way to double check the meaning of loanwords is to use Google image search. If there is a different meaning or broader meaning in Japanese compared to its English counterpart, you’ll get a pretty good idea of this from looking at the search results.

I’m interested to know what is your favourite Japanese-English false friend? Let me know in the comments!

0 thoughts on “10 Japanese-English False Friends”

  1. I remember when I first came to Japan I was so confused when I first heard the word コンセント. Obviously my brain went to the English word ‘consent’ and it was just not making sense in the context I was hearing it lol.

  2. This is such an important post, thank you! It is also useful for Japanese people coming to the U.K. – one of my Japanese friends had cider with lunch (in the U.K.) and wondered why he felt a bit tipsy!

    1. Hi Christina, thank you for commenting and I’m glad you liked the post. That is a good point – I might send this blog post to my Japanese friends who are coming to spend time in the UK so that they are informed beforehand!

  3. I was so confused when I was at a bar and a Japanese guy said he f****d a bitch every night. Turns out bitch means slut in Japan. Since then it has been my favourite false friend because it confused me so much

  4. Haha, this post is so funny! In Korea, I have been puzzled for months by the word 사이다, same pronunciation and same meaning as サイダー. With the result that I refrained from ordering it because I didn’t want to drink cider, all I wanted was just a Sprite-like drink! It was so confusing! 😅

    1. I had exactly the same experience in Japan, which is basically what inspired this whole post! At least I know when I visit Korea that cider has the same meaning as the Japanese.

    1. I’m glad this post has helped someone 🙂
      I always go through that process of thinking “what I think this means doesn’t make sense in this context”, which reminds me to double check the meaning in a dictionary and it always ends up being something completely different!

  5. This is great! Thank you for sharing. I used to get really confused about サービス, but there are so many of them. Another one is ハプニング borrowed from English happening. Yet, usually it means incident, accident or trouble haha

    1. Hi, I’m glad you liked the post 🙂 ハプニング is a confusing one for me too, I had no idea what it could possibly have meant when I saw it for the first time!

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