Three confusing Japanese words

By | January 28, 2014

Japanese has several words which contain opposing meanings and these can be tricky to understand at first. As always, the key to unlocking their meaning is context. I’ll discuss these with examples of both opposing meanings.

やっぱり (Yappari, also written as やはり or abbreviated as やっぱ)

This word is more frequently written using hiragana, but learning the kanji (矢っ張り) can help you remember the meanings, because 矢 means “arrow”. The first meaning of this word is “I thought so”, or you can remember as “the arrow hit”.

  •  村上春樹ってやっぱりすごいな〜
  •     I knew it, Murakami Haruki (the author) is awesome!

You could say this phrase if you were thinking Mr. Murakami was a great author, but after reading another of his books your admiration was renewed.

As it turns out, this word can also have the exact opposite meaning, “On second thought…” or “Actually…”. Using the “arrow” memory aid you can think of this as “the arrow missed”.

  • やっぱりやめとこう
  • On second thought, I think I’ll pass.

You could say this phrase after someone invites you to a party, but after thinking for a moment you decide to not go.

(I want to thank my old friend “K” for first teaching me this word’s meanings way back in the day)

こんど  (Kondo)

This word’s kanji is 今度 which matches up with the first of its meanings – “this time”.

Let’s say you just started playing a game of chess with your friend. You could say:

  • 今度勝ってみせる!
  • This time I’ll show you (and win) !

This word can also loose the sense of “recurring time” and just turn into a general feeling of “later” in cases like “今度また遊ぼうね”, which can be translated as “Let’s play again later”.

Can you guess this word’s other meaning? Thats right, its “next time” (:

Continuing with the same example, assume you lost that game of chess but plan to play the same opponent again next week. In that case you could say:

  • 今度こそ、絶対に勝ってみせるよ!!
  • Next time, I’ll definitely show you (and win) !!

Seem confusing? It is! But if you think about it, in both of these examples it’s clear which meaning is being used.

適当 (Tekitou)

This word’s first meaning is “appropriate” or “suitable”. For example,

  • その仕事には彼が最も適当
  • He is the most appropriate person for this job.

(Example inspired by the one found here)

I hear this word used for a different meaning more often. That’s right, you guessed it – “not suitable”, “random”, “inappropriate”, etc.

  • 適当なことを言わないでください。
  • Please don’t say things arbitrarily (i.e. things that are random or untrue).

Another example you’ll see often in school settings:

  • 適当に座ってください
  • Please sit down anywhere you want.

A synonym for this second meaning is いいかげん。

That’s all for this time. I hope you learned something and can add these words to your lexicon (if they weren’t there already).


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6 thoughts on “Three confusing Japanese words

  1. SasBChan

    Just wanted to say hi ! A fellow blogger (Fujikotoyohashi) pointed out your blog out to me & I’m glad she did. I’m currently in the process of teaching myself Japanese and will definitely be reading over many of your posts.

    – Sas

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Hi, thanks for the comment and welcome to my blog! I’m really glad to get one more reader, it’s very motivating.

      If you ever have any questions feel free to ask and I’ll try to help, and maybe write a post about it.

  2. Kurt

    your most recent post brought me here so I thought I would just add something re: 適当 for others who might stumble onto this post:

    My wife will often say, referring to herself (only to me and our son, not to others):
    ママは適当料理は上手ね。ラッキーだね。(Loosely, “I’m good at just throwing stuff together to make dinner, aren’t I? You guys are lucky.”) In other words she opens the pantry and/or refrigerator, grabs some things, and creates dinner by combining stuff in different (and seemingly random) ways, and quickly at that. (She’s been cooking since she was 13!)

    I guess this meaning would fall somewhere between the “random” and “anywhere” examples above, though she’s not using it negatively. At any rate, I often here this 適当に+[動詞] to kind of imply that something was done in a “where there’s a will there’s a way” kind of way. FWIW!

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Interesting usage, I haven’t heard that too much myself. This definition of 適当 perfectly fits that usage:

      > その場を何とかつくろう程度であること


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