NILS Fukuoka Times

Today's Phrase

4 Different Ways To Say Friend In Japanese


If you’ve been studying Japanese for any length of time, you’ve likely gotten to know at least one native Japanese speaker to some extent. They might be a teacher at your school, a classmate, the new guy in the shipping logistics office at your job or possibly someone you met on Twitch or another video chat service. Inevitably, you’re going to need to describe your relationships with these friends and acquaintances.

“Friend” is an important word, and it’s equally important to know how to use it correctly. It’s also important to understand that using the word “friend” in spoken Japanese is not quite as simple as it is in English. Below, I’ll teach you 4 different ways to say “friend” in Japanese and show you exactly when to use each one!

Basic Ways to Say Friend in Japanese

友達 (ともだち) — Friend

This is the most recognisable word for “friend” that students of Japanese come across, and with good reason. It’s the most analogous in usage to the English word and has the broadest use.

You’ll see the word in movie titles (きみの友だち (きみの ともだち) — “Your Friend”), book titles (彼はトモダチ (かれは ともだち)— “He Is a Friend”) and popular songs (ともだち — “Friend”) as well.

アキラは私の友達です。 (あきらは わたしの ともだち です。) — Akira is my friend.

私の友達は赤いジャケットを着ています。 (わたしの ともだちは あかい じゃけっとを きています。) — My friend wears a red jacket.

私の友達は政府機関に逮捕されました。 (わたしの ともだちは せいふきかんに たいほされました。) — My friend has been arrested by agents of the government.

友達 (ともだち) should also be considered a casual word—polite, but not appropriate for very formal conversation.

友人 (ゆうじん) — Friend (formal)

You might see 友人 (ゆうじん) used in older Japanese language textbooks that rely on a more formal version of spoken Japanese. If a lot of your Japanese practice comes from manga or anime, you’re a little less likely to see this usage outside of very specific scenes.

私の友人は向こうにいます。 (わたしの ゆうじんは むこうに います。) — My friend is way over there.

月に住んでいる友人がいます。 (つきに すんでいる ゆうじんが います。) — I have a friend who lives on the moon.

私の友人は月の皇帝です。 (わたしの ゆうじんは つきの こうてい です。) — My friend is the Emperor of the Moon.

親しい (したしい) — Close friend

When you’re talking about close friends or even best friends, you can use 親しい (したしい). Just remember that it works best when talking about someone in the third person—not with the person you’re describing as a close friend.

彼らは親しい友人です。 (かれらは したしい ゆうじん です。) — They are best friends.

彼は彼女と親しいですか? (かれは かのじょと したしい ですか?) — Is he close to her?

私は犬を訓練する人と非常に親しいです。(わたしは いぬを くんれんする ひとと ひじょうに したしい です。) — I am very close to people who train dogs.

親友 (しんゆう) — Close friend

This also refers to someone who’s a close friend. As with 親しい (したしい), 親友 (しんゆう) is reserved for very close friends, and the same rules apply when using it.

彼女の親友は猫です。 (かのじょの しんゆうは ねこ です。) — Her best friend is a cat.

私の親友の猫は私を好きではありません。 (わたしの しんゆうの ねこは わたしを すきでは ありません。) — My close friend’s cat doesn’t like me.

私の親友は誰も猫を飼っていません。 (わたしの しんゆうは だれも ねこを かっていません。) — None of my close friends have cats.

While Japanese speakers may not explicitly discuss friendship among each other, there’s no shortage of Japanese words or phrases to indicate a variety of friendship types. The range of words referencing friendship outnumber those in English, but, as with any language, it’s important to understand the context behind a word before using it.

In most cases, 友達 (ともだち) and 友人 (ゆうじん) are the safest choices.

But go ahead and explore the broad spectrum of ways to express friendship in Japanese. Talking about friendship is always a good thing!


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