Word of the Week: うまい

It’s time for Word of the Week again! Last week we looked at a Japanese word or phrase beginning with ‘i’ (い), and focussed on the phrases いってきます & いってらっしゃい (ittekimasu & itterasshai), which are said when leaving the house. This week I’m looking for a word or phrase beginning with ‘u’ (う). A big thank you to those who joined in with suggestions this week:

Jay Dee suggested ‘urusai’ (うるさい), meaning ‘noisy’ or ‘annoying’, ‘ukiuki’ (うきうき), meaning ‘cheerful’; and ‘unchi deta’/’unkodeta’ (うんち出た/うんこ出た), meaning ‘I peed’/’I pooped’, as a child might say; Japan Australia suggested ‘ugoku’ (動く / うごく), meaning ‘move’; ‘ukeru’ (ウケる), meaning ‘interesting/funny’ (used by young people); ‘utau’ (歌う / うたう), meaning ‘to sing’; and ‘umai’ (うまい), meaning ‘delicious’/’good at’; and Paul suggested ‘uso’ (うそ), which is a lie, but also used as an expression of disbelief; ‘ureshi’ (嬉しい / うれしい), meaning ‘happy/pleased’; ‘uchi’ (家 / うち), which literally means ‘house’ or ‘home’ but is also used as ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’; and ‘uun’/’un’ (ううん / うん) meaning ‘no’ and ‘yes’ in conversation.

This week, I decided to write about…

旨い / うまい


I will always remember when I heard the word うまい (umai) for the first time. One of my colleagues at my school in Nagoya used to say ‘umai’ every time she ate something good, and she said it with such passion that it always came out like ううまああ!(uumaaa!). I learnt that the word meant delicious, but it wasn’t until later that I learnt its other meaning; ‘skillful’.

When used to mean ‘skillful’, the word is synonymous with ‘jyouzu’ (上手 / じょうず), so one might say ‘kanajyo wa uta ga umai’ (彼女は歌がうまい) – ‘she sings well’ (amusingly, Google Translate makes this sentence ‘she is a good song’). I think you can use this word in a lot of different situations to say someone is good at something, but especially when it comes to creative skills such as singing, drawing, etc.

Although I’ve used ‘umai’ to mean ‘delicious’ a number of times, and my female colleague in Nagoya said it a lot, it is more commonly a male expression and women are more likely to say ‘oishii’) (美味しい / おいしい). Although the word can be used by both sexes, it has a masculine sound to it, and Japanese women tend to use more feminine words.

The same kanji is used for ‘umai’ whether it means ‘delicious’ or ‘skillful’: 旨い, and often it is written in hiragana alone.


(Image source)

As a slight aside, ‘umai’ is also used as part of the name of a famous snack in Japan – うまい棒 (umaibou’). ‘Umaibou‘ literally translates as ‘delicious stick’. These snacks are puffed, cylindrical corn snacks, and not something I’m a particular fan off (I prefer a bag of crisps or nuts). The うまい棒 packaging features a cat, and you’ll see these snacks in every convenience store in Japan.


(Image source)


Next week’s post will be about a word or phrase beginning with ‘e’ (え), so please leave your suggestions below. The word can be a verb, adjective or expression, but no nouns please! For example, ‘erai’ (えらい) meaning ‘serious; awful’ would be acceptable, but ‘eiga’ (えいが), meaning ‘movie’, would not. I look forward to reading your ideas! (*^_^)v

Word of the Week 2014

10 thoughts on “Word of the Week: うまい

  1. Thanks for choosing my suggestion. “Umai” is a word I find myself using all the time in Japan, especially being surrounded by all this amazing food. A few suggestions for next week are:

    ええっとねー – Um
    えらい – Great/Superior/Admirable
    エロかっこいい – Cool & Sexy


  2. Umai. Nice word you picked!

    Idea for next week… Echizenya, Onushi Mo Warujyano (越前屋、おぬしも悪じゃのう / It’s one of popular phrase that Evel local magistrate say to Echizen-ya when they planed about bad thing on Jidai-Geki film or TV programme), Enya Korasho (えんやー、こらしょ / one of yell used to time or encourage activity)


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