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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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