How to Sound Native: Japanese's Best Expressions

Ever wanted to sound native when learning a language ? Japanese, among many other languages, has very specific and typical expressions which show if you are (really) a native speaker or not. Of course it is hard to master a language when it is not your native language but you can at least sound native.

Let us see how to sound native in Japanese with very famous (and funny) expressions!

乾杯 (kanpai) 

This expression is known even you do not speak any Japanese and it is the Japanese equivalent of "cheers" when drinking with friends. It came from the Chinese word 乾杯 (Gan Bei) and had been incorporated into Japanese language centuries ago.

仕方がない (shikata ga nai)

This expression is maybe one of the most "native" and is used in many context. It means "it can"t be helped" or "it's too late" and is generally used when all of the solutions had been used already.

甘い (amai)

Literally "sweet", this expression can lead to misunderstanding because when used with its first meaning it means that something (food) is sweet. However it can bear another meaning which is to be naïve. 

おなかすいた (onaka suita)

Literally "Poor stomach", it means you are very hungry and it is mainly used by men as it is not a very polite way of saying it. It is another version of the traditional Japanese expression 腹減った (hara hetta) which means "Im hungry".

足りない (tarinai) 

This expression means "Not enough" and is the same as "十分ではない". You can use it when you need more of something whether it's a physical thing or not.

相変わらず (ai kawarazu) 

This expression means "Same as always" and can be understood as "nothing changed". It is used to talk about one's daily life and customs. For example when someone has a tendency of eating a lot you can perfectly use this expression for this context.

花より団子 (hana yori dango)

Literally means "Dumplings rather than flowers". To prefer substance over style, as in to prefer to be given functional, useful items (such as dumplings) instead of merely decorative items (such as flowers).

喉から手が出る (nodo kara te ga deru)

Literally "My hand is coming out of my throat" you use this expression when you want something really badly and you think you’ll die if you can’t have it. The expression probably came from a time when food was much more scarce and people were so hungry that it felt like a hand might come out from your stomach through your throat to grab any food that was around.

蛇足 (dasoku)

Literally "Snake legs" this expression originated from a historical Chinese text. Since snakes do not have legs,this phrase means something additional that is unnecessary and possibly detrimental. If someone makes a remark that is uncalled for and nonconstructive, you can describe it as “蛇足.”

犬猿の仲 = “Dog and monkey relationship” (ken en no naka)

Literally "Dog and monkey relationship". You use this phrase when talking about two people who are at loggerheads and hate each other. If their relationship is stormy and they’re on very bad terms with bitter enmity between them, you say that they’re “犬猿の仲”. The English equivalent would be “they are like cats and dogs.”

まな板の上の鯉 (manaita no ue no koi)

When there is nothing you can do in a certain situation you can say this which literally means "a carp on a cutting board" and shows that it is already over.


Feeling native already? Then know how to use them in specific contexts and your Japanese will be acknowledge even more !

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Fabien Mizart

Author & Translator

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