One of the great things about the Japanese language is how much you can express with just one word. While English speakers may have one word for something, Japanese folks have no issue expressing more nuance with their word choice. This goes especially for relationships, which is why we have this amazing list of the different ways to say ‘friend’ in Japanese.
Whether you want to call someone a friend, an acquaintance, a childhood friend, or a BFF, you can do it confidently by exploring this fun vocabulary list!
Okay, so shiriai is a little different from the other words on this list because it doesn’t mean ‘friend’ in the same way. This word is perfect for those people you know but maybe not to the level of friends. A perfect example is that person you run in the same circles with but don’t really feel close to.
The kanji (Chinese characters) for this are shiri (知り) or ‘know’ and ai (合い) meaning ‘to do something to one another.’ In other words, the word literally means that you just know each other. That’s it.
ラーメンやをけいえいしているしりあいがいます。Ramen-ya wo keieishiteiru shiriai ga imasu. I have an acquaintance who runs a ramen shop.
The real first word meaning ‘friend’ on this list. Tomodachi is one of the most popular ways to say ‘friend’ in Japanese because it’s also the word everyone learns in their beginner Japanese class or from anime.
This word is pretty broad and can be used to describe a friend whether they’re super close, new, old, or distant. However, there’s not much context to the word, so other words can be better if you want to give more information.
Example: ともだちとラーメンをたべたいです。Tomodachi to ramen wo tabetai desu. I want to eat ramen with my friends.
Meaning: Friend (formal)
Yuujin is a more formal way to say ‘friend’ in Japanese. It’s like the bougie twin of tomodachi. Even the first kanji is the same. You may see this word in more formal situations and in textbooks, but you may not hear it that often in daily conversation or in anime or manga, where the conversations tend to be a bit more casual.
私の友人は醤油ラーメンの美味しさを紹介してくれました。Watashi no yuujin wa shouyu ramen no oishisa wo shoukai shitekuremashita. My friend introduced me to the deliciousness of soy sauce ramen.
Meaning: Mate, Pal, Friend
There’s usually a bit of context to the word ‘nakama.’ ‘Nakama’ does mean mate or friend, but it’s more like someone you do something with, regardless of how close you actually are. In fact, you can combine the word with other words to describe what kind of friends you are.
For example, combine ‘benkyou’ (study) and ‘nakama’ to get the word ‘study buddy.’ Try adding ‘nomi’ (drinking) to ‘nakama’ and you get ‘drinking buddies.’ Last example: put ‘shigoto’ (work) in front and it becomes ‘shigoto nakama’, or ‘work friend.’
Example: ゴルフ仲間と一緒に喜多方ラーメンを食べに行った。Gorufu nakama to isshoni Kitakata ramen wo tabe ni itta. I went to eat Kitakata ramen with my golf buddies.
Meaning: Good Friend, Close Friend, Best Friend
Shin-yuu is a step up from tomodachi and is used to imply a higher level of closeness than the others so far. This isn’t just a friend; this is one of your inner circle, one of your homies, or one of your good Judys. In fact, it basically has the same weight as ‘best friend’ has in English. But there is one word that is even stronger on this list.
Example: 親友のみんなはラーメンが大好きです。Shinyuu no minna ha ramen ga daisuki desu. All of my good friends love ramen.
Meaning: Good Friend, Close Friend, Pal, Chum
Nakayoshi is really similar to shin-yuu, but it has a less formal and a slightly lighter feeling. It’s a close friend or it can be a close-knit group of friends. This is for someone who you feel comfortable with, enjoy spending time with, have a great connection and just have a lot in common.
Example: 仲良しと一緒にラーメン食べると幸せです。Nakayoshi to isshoni ramen wo taberu to shiawase. Eating ramen with my pals is happiness.
Meaning: Best Friend, Bestie, Very Best Friend, Very Good Friend
This is the highest friend status you can get. Daishinyuu is that very best friend that you couldn’t live without. This is your BFF, your BAE, your bestie, your confidant, or your platonic soulmate.
Example: ラーメンはナカマヌードルの大親友です！Ramen wa Nakama Noodles no daishin-yuu desu. Ramen is Nakama Noodles’s best friend forever!
Meaning: Colleague, Co-worker
Unlike the others, this one is more situational. Douryou leans more towards colleague than friend, but it also has limits. As you may know, people who are slightly above or more experienced tend to be called senpai, and those less experienced or slightly below you are kouhai. Douryou is mostly for people who are on more or less the same level as you, are in the same workplace, and are about the same in terms of experience.
昨日ランチで同僚とラーメンを食べた。Kinou ranchi de douryou to ramen wo tabeta. Yesterday, I had ramen for lunch with my co-workers!
Meaning: Ally, Supporter, Comrade
Your mikata is your ally. In some ways, it’s a friendship that comes from being on the same side, which implies a common goal or activity. Think about a battle, a video game with two or more teams, or a game of intrigue. You want people you can trust who are working on the same goal. Those people are your mikata.
Example: ナカマヌードルはラーメンの味方です！Nakama Noodles wa ramen no mikata desu! Nakama Noodles is an ally of ramen!
Meaning: Childhood Friend
This is another way to say ‘friend’ that has a bit of context to it. Your osananajimi is your childhood friend. You go way back to grade school or earlier and grew up together in many ways. This is the friend that you can say, “Remember that time in 1st grade when…?” and they’re answer is “Of course!”
The kanji for osana (幼) tends to mean very young or it can mean immature. Add this to the word najimi (馴染み) or ‘familiarity’, and you get a childhood friend!
幼なじみと15年ぶりに会って、博多ラーメンを食べに行きました。Osananajimi to 15nenburi ni atte, Hakata ramen wo tabe ni ikimashita. I met my childhood friend for the first time in 15 years, and we went to eat ramen.
You may recognize the kanji tomo from the word tomodachi. The reason it’s on this list is because tomo on its own isn’t something native speakers use to describe a friend. However, much like nakama, you combine it with certain words to say what type of friends someone is.
For example, nomitomo (飲み友) means friends who you usually go drinking with. Meanwhile, merutomo (メル友) are like e-mail pen pals who you probably never actually meet in real life.
Example: お酒を飲むたびに、最後に飲み友と一緒にラーメンを食べに行きます。Nomitomo to nomu tabini, saigo ni ramen wo tabe ni ikimasu. Every time I drink with my drinking buddies, we go to eat ramen at the end.
Speaking of end of the night, that’s the end of our list. The beautiful thing about Japanese is that it has a huge vocabulary, so there are plenty of ways to say ‘friend’ in Japanese. We didn’t even touch on slang like my-men and dachi because slang like that falls in and out of popularity all the time.
If you’d love to learn more about Japanese slang or any other words you want to learn about, let us know in the comments!