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False friends in Japanese and Chinese


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I'd like to start a thread to collect false friends in Japanese and Chinese, that is words that are written with the same characters in both languages but mean different things (or have different connotations). There's the old joke about 手紙 of course (and if you read Japanese, here are some more examples)

So here's one I came across just now:

標榜 biāobǎng/hyōbō: this looks like a difference in connotation, in Chinese it's negative along the lines of "brag about, flaunt", while in Japanese it's more positive, in the sense of "profess, stand for, advocate". (There might be some overlap here, I'm not 100% sure)

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Ah, now looking at the link, I just remembered that was the source of the joke about 手紙:


So, a Chinese exchange student received a note from a Japanese woman that read 「手紙ください」, and ignored it as he was bewildered why she would ask him to give her toilet paper. Little did he know that she was asking him to write her a letter....

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One of my favorites to come across is "true man" 大丈夫. I moved to Japan six months ago, had my wife's cell phone, and then got a text from our real estate guy. He writes a bunch and I'm trying to decipher what he is saying (my Japanese at that time was based on the kanji I know from Chinese basically). And he writes "大丈夫?" I'm like oh that must be me. Cool that he asks, but why am I a "true man".

Well in Japanese 大丈夫 means "ok, alright". So the guy really didn't care at all about me. haha!


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The false friends will start at many basic words, especially if you take into account different parts of speech. The words may have a common origin but they have a different meaning in the moden language, e.g. 私 (watashi) - "I", "me" (pronoun) doesn't have this meaning in Chinese.

Japanese: 勉強 (べんきょう, benkyō). Add ...する to make a verb "to study"

Chinese: 勉強 / 勉强 miǎnqiǎng - to force (smb. to do smth.)

Japanese: 若い (wakai) - young (adj.)

Chinese: 若 (ruò) - if, as if

The usage of these two is very different and the meaning is not the same, although they can be translated as "to dislike".

Japanese: 嫌い (kirai)

Chinese: 嫌 (xián)

Will this be considered a false friend?

In Japanese 才 (sai) can be used instead of 歳 in Japanese because they sound the same.

Edited by atitarev
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So, a Chinese exchange student received a note from a Japanese woman that read 「手紙ください」, and ignored it as he was bewildered why she would ask him to give her toilet paper. Little did he know that she was asking him to write her a letter....

Weirdly enough, I was asked about 手紙 and toilet paper recently. I didn't know, so I did some looking, and no dictionary I found lists that as meaning toilet paper. So I searched google images, and found only pictures of letters :wall Limiting google to only Taiwan websites found pictures of what looks to me like paper towels, not toilet paper. :help

Back on topic, I've been trying to learn to read some Japanese food words, and came across a couple. 鳥, for example, is used to mean only chicken, while in Chinese it means bird, and 雞 is used for chicken.

Do you want to include differences in usage of common words? e.g. Japanese uses 卵 as the common word for "eggs", while Chinese uses 蛋. Similarly for 丼 vs 碗.

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Yes, false friends should be defined more clearly here.

着 has many uses (especially as a grammatical particle) and readings in Chinese. In Japanese it also has a few meanings and readings. Notably, 着る (kiru) - to wear, to put on, and 着物 (kimono).

着: The number of strokes is different too.The vertical left curving stroke () is not one stroke in Japanese but a vertical stroke and then a curving stroke.

Perhaps, we can limit the discussion to nouns only and Japanese words without Okurigana "送り仮名" (Hiragana letters written after the Kanji, like verb or adjective endings)?

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atitarev, please don't take over my thread here :wink:

I was just interested in what kind of experiences people had, not in a typology of false friends (though of course I'm not disinclined to discuss how to classify them), or books about them. Any misunderstanding caused by characters would count in my book.

So keep them coming please :clap

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按, for example, seems to be used for red bean paste (?). Also, 天 is used for tempura. But at least that's also a noun

For read bean paste I'm most familiar with , as in 粒餡 (tsubu-an).

天 is just used phonetically for tempura, and the full word when written completely in kanji is 天麩羅 or 天婦羅, and according to the entry in 大辞林 the word actually came from the Portuguese tempero.

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My guess is you were running with the mistakenly elongated "o" at the end. It happens. There was a point when I felt like every character that was read with its Sino-Japanese reading had an elongated vowel just because it's so prevalent, and would stick them in places they didn't belong. I still hold on to vowels too long sometimes in speech.

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