Until further notice this blog remains here for archival purposes and is not actively posted on. It is unclear as to when this will change, but this is to let you know.

Can You Really Play in Japanese?

by DumbOtaku on February 3, 2010


The word for “play” in Japanese does not necessarily have the same context in Japanese as it does in English.

In English when we think play we think, in general, we think games or sports. From tennis and golf to video games or mind games.

The word 遊ぶ (あそぶ) can mean up to three main things.

  • to play
  • to spend time pleasantly
  • to pay a social visit

To Play generally refers to the concept of playing not “actual” playing.

  • こどものとき、よくともだちとあそびました
  • When i was a hild, I often played with friends

To Spend Time Pleasantly refers to having a good time like going to a club or hanging out with friends.

  • せんしゅうのしゅうまつはとうきょうにあそびにいきました
  • I went to Tokyo to have fun last weekend

To Pay a Social Visit refers to when you visit someone as more a social obligation to be nice. Like if you had in-laws you hate and they invite you it is a social call to go visit them usually “playing” isn’t involved.

  • わたしのうちにあそびにきてください
  • Please come and see us again

The last one is the one that bugs me the most as it is so often mis-translated or purposely not changed in translation. I have seen a few j-drama where someone is invited to a house, party, or in one case a boat ride. Each of these they left play as the translated word and it is confusing if you don’t know the context from the Japanese langauge point of view.

If you want to say you are going to play a sport or video game you would use the verb する.

  • テニスをする
  • テレビゲームをする

There are other nuances to “playing” stuff, but this is the gist of it. I’ll come back down the road and expand more.

Update: Just Another Day in Japan posted a good compliment to this. Give it a read.Let’s enjoy Japanese: Playing around

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Marfil February 4, 2010 at 2:04 am

The meaning of "play an instrument" is also more complex in Japanese, according to the instrument you would need to use different verbs:

– For wind instruments: ふく
– For stringed instrumen: だんじる


DumbOtaku February 4, 2010 at 2:07 am

That is why I didn't want to touch that yet. I think I have it down but not confident enough to post on it yet.


Blue Shoe February 4, 2010 at 3:39 am

Or ひく for piano or guitar.


Nyan February 4, 2010 at 2:47 am

In Indonesian language we use the word "main" (pr. mah-een) or "bermain" (pr. ber-mah-een) with a wide range of meaning, be it "to visit a friend" or "to go out and have a good time" even "to play a game/musical instrument"… that's very similar to the use of 遊ぶ in general. Nice.


Pasqual February 4, 2010 at 4:05 am

I've also heard 遊び being used as a phrase when parting from friends. Someone said to me 「今度遊びに来てね。」This was being said kind of like "See yah around," cause I never saw the person again. =P

Anyway nice post.


Japanese words February 12, 2010 at 4:35 am

Yeah, this is a difficult one going both ways. Since play also works for instruments in English.


neko October 13, 2011 at 1:40 am

you spelled child wrong
you said hild
“when i was a hild i often played with friends”
but it doesn’t matter great job!



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: