Tuesday, January 11, 2011


It's waayy too early in the morning and I'm on my way to Hokkaido for a workshop. To avoid falling asleep on the subway, let me tell you about my main problem with Japanese: similar-sounding words.

Not homonyms; I have no issues with words that sound the same. Context makes it easy to figure out if "hashi" refers to a bridge, chopsticks or the tip of something, just like Swedish "vad" can mean "what", "river ford", "bet" and "lower leg muscle" without anybody becoming confused.

No, my issue is with confusingly <i>similar</i> words. "hibiki", "nikibi", "chikubi", "nihiki" and "bikini" mean echo, pimple, nipple, two animals and bikini, respectively, and mixing them up is potentially embarrassing as well as confusing for everybody.

Or "motomeru", "matomeru" and "mitomeru" - to seek or request; to bring together or collate; and to admit or reqognize. I first learned these three words more than five years ago but I still mix them up (yes, I had to look them up just now). It doesn't help that all three are abstract verbs dealing with the mental state of somebody.

I'm pretty well resigned to go through life confusing myself and everybody around me with this.


  1. One of my personal favourites for easy mess-ups: 携わる, rooted nicely in the classic tongue twister of 触る vs 座る.

  2. Hi!
    Sorry for intruding so suddenly, I'm a Portuguese 3rd Year Highscooler. In the summer of 2010 I got in an Exchange Program for 1 month in Japan, and I would really like to be back to do university. The Japanese is not a problem, what I'm most afraid of is how to get a living there (like job/work,etc..)
    How did you do it? Is there any advice/tips you could give me?
    Sorry one more time for being so sudden.
    Hope you have a Happy 2011!

  3. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts


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