Is there really no word for ‘foot’ in Japanese?

By | April 16, 2014

You may have heard there is no word for ‘foot’ in Japanese. That’s only partially true, and in this post I’ll talk about this misconception.

When speaking everyday Japanese, it’s true there is no single which maps exactly to the English word ‘foot’. Generally speaking, the word あし refers to both the leg and the foot, but that isn’t the end of the story.

When writing in Kanji, the distinction is easy to make as shown below, where both characters are pronounced as (あし).

  • 足 = foot
  • 脚 = leg

When speaking, one might hope that these words have different pitch, but that is not the case – each of them has a falling pitch on the second syllable. If you really wanted to express the same region as English ‘foot’, you could say “くるぶしから下” which literally means “below the ankle”. But that’s not something you’ll hear too much in everyday life.

Instead, the words 脚の裏 (あしのうら – ‘the back of the foot’) or 足裏 (あしうら) are used to mean the sole of the foot, and there’s many times when that will be sufficient for explanation.

If you’re really pressed to talk about the top of the foot, you can always just indicate with your finger the exact part you’re trying to describe.

So, in summary, even though there isn’t a single word to express “foot” in Japanese, there are ways both in writing and speaking to convey this well enough.

“Feet” used as a unit of measure could be expressed with “フィート”, but in Japan generally the metric system is used, so it’s best to convert to meters, which is メートル.

And what about ‘football’? Well, as you might guess, a loanword (外来語) is used for that: “フットボール”.



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