friend-in-japanese

How to Say Friend in Japanese: From BFFs to Business Associates

With 130 million Japanese speakers on the planet, it would be surprising if you didn’t know one or two of them.

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.

Below, I’ll teach you 11 different ways to say “friend” in Japanese and show you exactly when to use each one!
 


 

How to Say Friend in Japanese: From BFFs to Business Associates

“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.

My friend Yoshiko explained it to me like this:

We do not use the word friend like you do in English. It would not be unusual for you to say to me something like, “Yoshiko, would you be my friend?” in English, but it would be a little strange if I were to say that to you in Japanese. We don’t really talk about being friends with the person we are friends with. We would find that uncomfortable. If you want to know if we are friends, [see if] I am speaking with you in a friendly way.

So, why have the word “friend” at all?

Yoshiko continued:

We talk about our friends, colleagues, co-workers and other people we know or are close to in more of a third person way. I would say to my brother, “My friend John bought a television” or, “My co-workers went to eat sushi.”

Yoshiko also pointed out that there are, in fact, many words in Japanese that express friendship, but that most should be used with great care because they might only be spoken by certain types of people or in very specific situations.

friend-in-japanese

One of the best ways to learn when to use friendship words in Japanese is to see them used by native speakers in authentic contexts, which you can do with FluentU!

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into language learning experiences. Each video comes with interactive subtitles so you can click on a word or phrase to learn more about it and see it used in additional videos.

You can add words to customized vocabulary lists and flashcard sets or text your knowledge with fun quizzes. Sign up for a free trial to see this cool app in action!

And now, for our list of 11 Japanese friendship words.

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Basic Ways to Say Friend in Japanese

友達 (ともだち) — Friend

This is the most recognizable 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.

大親友 (だいしんゆう) — Very best friend

Many students will recognize that the addition of (だい) to the beginning of 親友 (しんゆう) indicates that 大親友 (だいしんゆう) refers to a very best friend.

私の大親友は魔法の豆を買った。 (わたしの だいしんゆうは まほうの まめを かった。) — My best friend bought some magic beans.

私の大親友は魔法の豆を植えた。 (わたしの だいしんゆうは まほうの まめを うえた。) — My best friend planted some magic beans.

巨大な植物が私の大親友を雲に連れて行ってくれた。 (きょだいな しょくぶつが わたしの だいしんゆうを くもに つれていって くれた。) — A giant plant carried my very best friend up to the clouds.

ダチ (だち) — Buddy, bro (very informal slang, outdated)

While a dated phrase, you may run across ダチ (だち) in an older manga or anime series. It’s slang that’s used mostly by young people and is considered very informal speech. As such, it should be used with care. These days, it probably shouldn’t be used at all unless you’re absolutely confident that you’re using it in the correct context.

Its inclusion in this post is more for you to be able to recognize it when it appears in reading or viewing material.

俺のダチはレースカーが好きだ。 (おれの だちは れーすかーが すきだ。 ) — My friends like race cars.

ダチの車が衝突した! (だちの くるまが しょうとつした!) — My friend’s car has crashed!

ダチが燃えてる!助けてくれ! (だちが もえてる! たすけてくれ!) — My friends are on fire! Help!

Note that when referring to a close friend, you’d say マブダチ (まぶだち) — best buddy/bro (very informal). Again, care should be used, as it’s an outdated phrase and highly informal.

I’d even go so far as to say that you should never use ダチ (だち) or マブダチ (まぶだち) in a conversation, but at least now you can recognize them when you come across them.

連れ (つれ) or ツレ — Friend (informal, slang)

連れ (つれ), sometimes written as ツレ, is another informal/slang term for a friend or companion and is most often used by young men. As with most slang words, you’re going to want to be careful how you use it and probably avoid it unless you’re certain you’re using it in the right context.

ツレは全員東京に行ってしまった。(つれは ぜんいん とうきょうに いってしまった。) — All of my friends have gone to Tokyo.

東京が消えて以来、俺は連れに会っていない。 (とうきょうが きえていらい、おれは つれに あっていない。) — I have not seen friends since Tokyo disappeared.

連れの消息を聞いたことがあるかい? (つれの しょうそくを きいたことが あるかい?) — Have you heard the news of my friends?

Ways to Talk About Specific Kinds of Friends in Japanese

相棒 (あいぼう) — Partner, friend, associate

When referring to a partner in a common activity, you might choose to use 相棒 (あいぼう) when describing the relationship. The friendship is usually linked to a similar interest in something. 相棒 (あいぼう) can describe this relationship in a very friendly manner and is similar to the English word “buddy.”

僕の相棒は二人共、切手収集家だ。 (ぼくの あいぼうは ふたりとも きってしゅうしゅうか だ。) — Both [partners] of them are stamp collectors.

俺の相棒はとってもテニスがうまい。(おれの あいぼうは とっても てにすが うまい。) — My buddy is a very skilled tennis player.

相棒もチェスクラブにいる。 (あいぼうも ちぇす くらぶに いる。) — My friend is also in the chess club.

仲間 (なかま) — Colleague, fellow, comrade

You often hear this word used in anime or see it in manga. It’s a little rarer in general conversation, but it can be used in a few specific contexts. Its meaning stresses the collegial nature of a friendship, either professionally or within a social group. In English, you might associate it with the words “fellow” or “comrade.”

仲間が富士山に登ります。 (なかまが ふじさんに のぼります。) — My friends climb Mount Fuji.

その人は私の仲間です。 (そのひとは わたしの なかま です。) — That man is my comrade.

私達は皆、チェスクラブの仲間です。 (わたしたちは みな、ちぇす くらぶの なかま です。) — We are all friends of the chess club.

Ways to Refer to Friends Around the Office in Japanese

We all have friends who are more “work friends” than friends we’d normally socialize with outside of the workplace. The Japanese are no different. When expressing this type of friendship, you can use the following words.

同僚 (どうりょう) — Co-worker, colleague

This word refers to a co-worker or colleague.

同僚は今夜、バーで会っている。 (どうりょうは こんや、ばーで あっている。) — My co-workers are meeting at the bar tonight.

同僚は昨夜、非常に酔っていた。 (どうりょうは さくや、ひじょうに よっていた。) — My colleagues got very drunk last night.

同僚は全員、刑務所にいる。 (どうりょうは ぜんいん、けいむしょに いる。) — All of my co-workers are in jail.

盟友 (めいゆう) — Business colleague or co-worker, political ally

When referring to a business colleague or when indicating an ally in a political context, you can use 盟友.

私の盟友は政治職に立候補しています。(わたしの めいゆうは せいじしょくに りっこうほ しています。) — My colleague is running for political office.

私は緑の党に盟友がいません。 (わたしは みどりのとうに めいゆうが いません。) — I have no allies in the Green Party.

盟友と私は固い握手を交わした。(めいゆうと わたしは かたい あくしゅを かわした。) — My colleague and I clasped hands.

 

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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