15 Hilariously Literal Japanese Words

There are a surprising number of Japanese words that are incredibly literal. The Japanese word “tebukuro” (手袋) is made up of the characters “Te” (Hand) and “Bukuro” (bag) = “hand bag”. It’s the Japanese word for “glove”! That makes sense, considering gloves technically are bags for your hands… Here are 15 other hilariously literal Japanese words that are used quite frequently!

1. Hana Uta (鼻歌)

Hana 鼻 = Nose

Uta 歌 = Song



Note: The verb “to hum” is hanauta o suru (鼻歌をする), which is literally “to do a nose song”.

2. Hana Mizu (鼻水)

Hana 鼻 = Nose

Mizu 水 = Water

LITERAL: Nose Water


Note: Although mizu is water, hanamizu is used to described all snot-related things that come out of the nose, while English differentiates between snot, mucus, etc.

3. Hanakuso (鼻くそ)

Hana 鼻 = Nose

Kusoくそ = Shit

LITERAL: Nose shit

ACTUAL: Booger

Note: Another gross one, but it does make sense to describe boogers as being literal “nose shit”.

4. Kōshū (口臭)

Kō 口 = Mouth

Shū 臭 = Odor/Smell

LITERAL: Mouth Odor

ACTUAL: Bad Breath

Note: The kanji for mouth 口 is often pronounced as kuchi or guchi, but in this case, the pronunciation comes from the Chinese word for the same symbol.

5. Kuchiguse (口癖)

Kuchi 口 = Mouth

Guse 癖 = Habit

LITERAL: Mouth habit

ACTUAL: Habitual saying

Note: One of the most common phrases that you’ll hear Japanese people utter habitually is Doushiyo… (どうしよう。。) which is like saying “Ah, what should I do?!” out loud to yourself.

6. Hayaguchi (早口)

Hayai 早 = Fast

Guchi 口 = Mouth

LITERAL: Fast Mouth

ACTUAL: Speed-talker, fast talker

Note: If a friend talks very quickly, you can jokingly/affectionately call them out for being a “hayaguchi“! Some people are naturally fast talkers, but many people turn into speed-talkers when they are nervous.

7. Nekojita (猫舌)

Neko 猫 = Cat

Shita 舌 = Tongue

LITERAL: Cat tongue

ACTUAL: Someone sensitive to hot foods and drinks.

Note: Considering how cats carefully eat their food, compared to dogs, who quickly wolf down their food, this phrase makes a lot of sense! Someone who is a nekojita slowly takes bites of hot foods, or takes small sips of hot drinks, often blowing to cool it down.

8. Mejiri (目尻)

Me 目 = Eye

Shiri 尻 = Butt, Bottom


ACTUAL: Outer corner of the eye

Note: Just like the outer corner of the eye is called the “eye butt” in Japanese, the inner corner of the eye is the “eye head”. Megashira, the word for the inner corner, uses the symbols for eye (目) and head (頭).

9. Mayuge (眉毛)

Mayu 眉 = Brow

Ke 毛 = Hair

LITERAL: Brow hair

ACTUAL: Eyebrow

Note: Unlike English, mayuge does not refer to the eye, but rather just the hair that’s located on the brow. While English is “eye brow”, Japanese is just “brow hair”. The Japanese word has no mention of the eye.

10. Kutsushita (靴下)

Kutsu 靴 = Shoes

Shita下 = Under

LITERAL: Under shoes


Note: Although the Japanese word for “socks” is kutsushita (靴下), many Japanese people also understand the katakana version of the English word: sokkusu (ソックス).

11. Hiru ne (昼寝)

Hiru 昼 = Noon

Ne 寝 = Sleep

LITERAL: Noon sleep


Note: True, the Japanese word for “nap” has the word “noon” in it, but hirune is used to describe a nap taken at any time of the day – whether it’s morning, noon, or night!

12. Futsukayoi (二日酔い)

Futsuka 二日 = 2 days

Yoi  酔い = Drunkenness

LITERAL: Two days drunk

ACTUAL: A hangover

Note: Hangovers are the illness-like symptoms your body experiences when trying to recover from excessive amounts of alcohol. Often, alcohol is still in your system the day after drinking. It makes sense that the Japanese word for “hangover” would literally mean “two days of drunkenness”!

13. Shimauma (縞馬)

Shima 縞 = Stripe

Uma 馬 = Horse

LIT.: Striped horse


Note: Shima (縞) is the Japanese word for stripe-pattern. So shima (stripe) uma (horse) is the word for “zebra”. Interestingly enough, the word for “tiger” is NOT shima (stripe) neko (cat)! Tiger in Japanese is just tora (虎).

14. Hanabi (花火)

Hana 花 = Flower

Hi/Bi 火 = Fire

LITERAL: Fire Flower

ACTUAL: Fireworks

Note: When you think about it, fireworks do kind of resemble giant flowers glowing in the sky.

15. Chikatetsu (地下鉄)

Chika 地下 = Underground

Tetsu 鉄 = Iron

LITERAL: Underground Iron

ACTUAL: Subway

Note: The Japanese word for “subway” is not “underground train”, but rather, “underground iron”. The iron refers to the iron rails that run underground.

QUIZ LIVE: 15 Hilariously Literal Japanese Words!

For this week’s Facebook Live, we talked about literal Japanese words and quizzed our viewers in the comments to see if they could guess the words in English! Watch our weekly episode below:


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