Words to express “truth” in Japanese

By | April 30, 2015

In this post I’d like to review some of the ways to represent “truth” in Japanese, and as you’ll see there are quite a few.

The most common one to know for everyday conversation is 本当 (hontou). This can be used as an adjective or as an adverb. In the latter case に is often added.

  • Person A: 今日は僕の誕生日だよ!
  • Person A: Today is my birthday!
  • Person B: 本当
  • Person B: Really?
  • 日本語って本当に難しいよね
  • Japanese is really (truly) difficult.

The word ”まじ” (sometimes said as ”まじで?” when asked as a question), is a modern slang term used by younger people that has pretty much the same meaning as ”本当”.

The opposite to this (false) can be said using the word 嘘 (uso).

  • Person A: 僕、日本に行くんだよ!
  • Person A: I’m going to Japan!
  • Person B: 嘘!
  • Person B: No way !

This word can also mean “a lie”, referring to a purposefully false statement made by someone, as in the phrase “嘘をつくな” (don’t lie).

Another related word is 実際 (jissai), though this one is more often used as an adjective. It has the flavor of “in practice” or “in reality”.

  • 簡単そうだけど、実際にやってみると意外と難しい。
  • It seems easy, but if you actually try it, it’s surprisingly difficult.

The word 現実 (genjitsu) means “reality”. It is similar to 実際 but is typically used as a noun. This word can be used to contrast against non-real places such as virtual worlds or games.

  • これはゲームの世界じゃなくて現実だよ。
  • This is reality, not the world inside a game!

If you are talking about a cold, hard fact you can use 事実 (jijitsu).

  • 彼女が殺されたのは事実である。
  • It’s a fact that she was killed.

If you want to get even more formal, or even philosophical, you can say 真実 (shinjitsu). For example this word was used in the definition for 嘘 as “真実でないこと”。

Perhaps a better way to understand these two words is that “jijitsu” talks about objective things (“a man is dead”) and “shinjitsu” talks about subjective things (“the man wanted to end his life anyway”). The “jijitsu” is an indisputable fact, whereas “shinjitsu” involves interpretation of facts. (See this page and this page for an explanation of this difference in Japanese)

You’ve probably noticed the Kanji character 実 (jitsu) is used in many of these words, and if you don’t know it already it’s a good character to learn sooner than later. In fact, this character plus に can be used as an adverb to mean “truly” or “really”

  • 実に面白い。
  • Truly intriguing.

Keep in mind this word has sort of a academic or stuffy atmosphere. The line above was said by the main character of “Galileo” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_(TV_series)), who is a genius scientist that has a serious ego.

Another term I hear only once in awhile is “現に” (gen ni), which means pretty much the same thing.

If you are looking for a formal way to say “lie” or “untruth”, you can use 偽り (itsuwari).

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4 thoughts on “Words to express “truth” in Japanese

  1. Confanity

    Hi there! Good stuff! I don’t expect a listing like this to be exhaustive, but thought I’d pop up and mention 誠 (makoto) as well for “truth.” 8^)

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Nice, forgot that one. It always reminds me of Hirosue since she was a character with that name in one drama. Do you know which? (:

  2. Kyle

    I recently had a conversation with my wife about JIJITSU 事実 and SHINJITSU 真実 and how they’re used especially in drawing informed conclusions such as with a murder court case. She’s Japanese and was a high school Japanese teacher so I know she’s not mixing words, but rather it was a bit of my own language barrier I had to overcome to understand what she was teaching me. From what I could gather, JIJITSU are like individual facts that are more or less indisputable such as a time of death or a murder weapon used; however SHINJITSU are subjective truths that are claim-based and can be used to form hypotheses, determine motives or human connections, or draw conclusions based on evidence. SHINJITSU can be faulty if new JIJITSU come to light, or if JIJITSU are being omitted or lied about. I think this is more or less the best description of how those particular words are used, and the conversation seemed to gel around this–can anyone confirm this? I’d appreciate it, I’m always up to learn something new.

    1. locksleyu Post author

      Kyle, thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!

      To answer your question, yes I think you are describing the difference between these words pretty accurately.

      I’ve added another paragraph to the post to clarify this difference.


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