50+ Funny and Embarrassing Japanese Language Mistakes

Here are 50+ funny Japanese language mistakes beginners have made while living abroad in Japan.

Some of these are pretty embarrassing!

Japanese Lesson: Funny Language Mistakes

If you want to sound like native Japanese speaker, make sure to avoid these common misunderstandings. Some of these Japanese language fails are common among beginners and some happen with even the most proficient Japanese speakers.

Funny/Embarrassing Japanese Language Mistakes

  1. When asking for bread, I asked for “pan no mimisu.” (Should have been “pan no mimi.” So I asked for bread worms…I think. (Steve)
  2. Accidentally calling little babies and children ‘scary’ is something that frequently happens for new speakers of Japanese. That’s because the word for ‘cute’ is ‘kawaii’ and ‘scary’ is ‘kowai’. (Travis)
  3. Called a child Kowai so. (pitiful) instead of Kawaii so. (cute) (Craig)
  4. Nikkutai= physical body. Nekkutai= neck tie. Ninshin= pregnant. Nesshin= with conviction.  (Amaree)
  5. I got two words mixed up and told a family that my parents were growing illegal mango drugs in their backyard. (Baden)
  6. During the contacting process, instead of saying that they are volunteer activity performing missionaries, an elder said they were volunteer circumcision performing missionaries. Look it up. “Activity” and “circumcision” are similar when said. (Richard)
  7. One of my companion from Utah was telling someone about his family and he told that his grand-father had 20 “mushi” (mosquitoes), but he really meant to say ushi (cows). (Gabriel)
  8. “If you listen to the prophet, you’ll die.” That one still gets brought up at reunions. (Erica)
  9. The words for sweet bean paste (they put it in snacks or desserts) and poop are very similar, so a missionary meant to say they liked eating the sweet bean paste, but they accidentally said the other word. (Lacee)
  10. I told a man who answered the door that we were there to talk about the law of chastity. I meant to say the purpose of life. (James)
  11. I was teaching a lesson about the Word of Wisdom, and I explained that tea is bad for your books. (Paul)
  12. One time a companion bore fervent testimony to an investigator about the amazing sexual experiences his family would have at church. (He swapped seiteki in place of reiteki). (Ryan)
  13. Calling people carrots instead of “people.” (Greg)
  14. A missionary wanted to say he had a spiritual experience which is “reiteki no keikan” but he said “seiteki no keikan” which means he had a sexual experience. (Ystyn)
  15. I said “onaka suika” which means “my stomach is a watermelon” instead of “onaka suita” which means “I’m hungry” for most of the MTC. (Andrew)
  16. Asking the Omuta Bah chan where she was sick and she showed me by lifting her shirt at stake conference much later in my mission. I know tmi. (Mark)
  17. Don’t try to scare the kids by saying “Boo!”, it’s just not right. (Gordon)
  18. Make sure you clarify the difference between 聖 (“sei”) and 性 (“sei”). (Nate)
  19. I was teaching a lesson about the Word of Wisdom, and I explained that tea is bad for your books. (Paul)
  20. Referring to two glorified carrots (Ninjin) descending in a pillar of light in the Sacred Grove, instead of two glorified beings (Ningen). (Curtis)
  21. This wasn’t much of a mistake…more like a joke from an older missionary to his trainee. Most people who know anything about the Japanese language know that the word “Sayonara” means ‘good bye’. Japanese is full of prefixes and suffixes to make what you say sound more polite. This one particular missionary taught his trainee that the the prefix “Ku-” makes your statement very polite (this is false, by the way. The prefix ‘ku-‘ doesn’t exist in Japanese). So after speaking to an old couple, the missionaries began to bike away as the junior companion says, “Ku-sayonara!!”. That translates to “Stinky flatulence”. (Brandon)
  22. We were talking about the second coming in Elder’s Quorum and the topic of confidence came up (like confidence in your repentance if the second coming were to happen tomorrow). My companion thought we were talking about earthquakes (because both words are pronounced “jishin”) and started talking about natural disasters in the middle of the discussion. (Jordan)
  23. In the Mission Training Center, my companion was trying to say we should follow the prophets teachings (yogensha no oshie) but instead said we should follow the Prophet’s bottom (yogensha no oshiri). (Deirdre)
  24. My companion once got mixed up and when someone turned him down on his offer of a copy of the Book of Mormon, he offered him a “very, very thick (instead of thin)” pamphlet. (Casey)
  25. My companion called his Aunt (Ani) an ogre (Oni). A crazy investigator asked if the DVD we were putting in (Finding Faith in Christ) was a pornography, and not knowing what he said and having a bad habit of saying hai (yes) when I don’t know what they say, I agreed. (Austin)
  26. The words reiteki and seiteki often got switched. If you are speaking Japanese, be sure not to switch them. It’ll save you embarrassment later. (Gillian)
  27. My companion said “ansatsu” (assassinate) instead of “aisatsu” (to meet you) when meeting our neighbors in an exchange. I also said “seiteki na” (sexual) instead of “reiteki na” (spiritual) when referring to goals in a lesson with a member. (Evan)
  28. Don’t trust what scheming District Leaders or Zone Leaders may teach you. They might tell you to say something for simple shock value. Trust your trainer. (David)
  29. I have two that were really funny mistakes. Reiteki means spiritual in Japanese. So when you gave a spiritual message you would say Reiteki na messagi. One of the missionaries who came into the mission with me stood up during district meeting and said “I want to give a seiteki na messagi”. Seiteki means sexual. So he said I want to give a sexual message instead of spiritual message. My second is when a new missionary got up to bear his testimony in zone conference. He got up and said “Ai wa Opai”. What he wanted to say “Ai wa Ippai”. What he said was “Love is Boob (Whatever slang word you want for Breast)” instead of saying “Love is full”. (Ryan)
  30. I accidentally said (roughly translated), “I, thankfully, completely forgot!” when I was trying to say, “I, regrettably, completely forgot”. (Edward)
  31. There are a couple of common language mistakes, but the translation is probably not appropriate for this site. (Aaron)
  32. There are so many words that sound the same however have significantly different meanings. Unfortunately, I do not remember exactly which words. I do remember some very kind people correcting me several times so I wouldn’t embarrass myself again. (Clayn)
  33. We all thought we were better than we were. (Alice)
  34. After being in Marugame for an extended period of time, I picked up some bad habits that my ward mission leader in Hiroshima loved to point out. Apparently, I picked up a rural accent to my speech pattern and sounded like a redneck. Always try to practice polished pronunciation. (Brad)
  35. My future wife stood up in my first Sacrament Meeting in Japan and asked if she was from Mesa, Arizona (it’s a “ka” thing). (Paul)
  36. Kowai vs kawai, Scary vs cute. (Shaun)
  37. Confusing ningen (person) and ninjin (carrot). (Mark)
  38. Ningen vs ninjin. Joseph Smith did not see two glorious carrots descend from heaven. (Kelly)
  39. When I was first trying to learn honorifics, I asked a housewife when her husband was going to turn into a frog. (Grant)
  40. Asked for kiss instead of spoon. Sepun instead of spun. Said I was diarrhea instead of tone deaf. Unchi instead of onchi. (Gregory)
  41. Kusai and Kuusai… Kuusai means to stink. Ku-sai is 9 years old. So, one of my missionary companions said he was Jyu-kuusai (which translated meant he was 10 times stinky. He should have said Jyu-kusai, which would have been 19 years old. (Casey)
  42. My companion got up to bear his testimony and says he like the ward mission leader and his wife but when saying he like his wife he used the term diaski, or that he loved her. (Val)
  43. Said pan no unko instead of pan no mimi to the bread store lady… green beans! (John)
  44. One day, my Japanese companion and I visited a local man who had visited Texas and loved it, to the point where he still wore a Western belt buckle and boots. As we rode away on our bicycles, my companion asked me what Texas was like. I wanted to tell her that it was grassland, but, not knowing the word for that, I tried to talk around my lack of vocabulary and communicate the essence of the idea. In my attempt to say, “Texas is full of grass,” I accidentally changed one vowel in “grass”. Immediately, my quiet, petite companion started laughing so hard she almost fell off her bicycle. I asked what I had said, but she said I would have to look it up in my dictionary. When we finally stopped long enough for me to do that, I found that, instead of saying, “grass”, I had said, well, to put it delicately, “manure.” The really funny part is that, in a way, because of all the ranching operations, Texas could be said to be full of that, too . . .(Anneliese)
  45. Ningen is Human and Ninjin is carrot. (Kelly)
  46. I am sure that I made many funny mistakes with the language, but often times the Japanese people are too polite to laugh or tell you of the mistake. One thing I did when I had been in Japan for less than a week was to tell a Japanese person who spoke English to me that I didn’t understand them in Japanese. I thought they were speaking Japanese. Also, one of the most famous warnings is the similarity between nekutai (neck tie) and nikutai (body). Never say suteki nikutai (nice body) when you mean suteki nekutai (nice neck tie). As far as I know I never made this mistake. (Tyler)
  47. It took about 6 weeks before my native speaker companion told me that I was telling people that my mom was a prostitute. I thought I was telling them she was a housewife. (It’s just one long vowel different.) (Ann)
  49. None really funny. Missionaries just do not sound like the locals no matter how hard they try. Often you don’t know if you may have said the wrong word, they usually get what you’re trying to say if you’re close. I was told I talk like a child and they liked it. Think of how children speak in English. Often slurring, lisping, or putting sentence structure together in funny ways. Happens all the time when speaking a foreign language. (Kevin)
  50. I said it in the funny section but repeat…..In learning Japanese, it took me a while to master some words…..like the difference between kowai and kawai….I love kids, my calling the last 6 years has been Primary…. I would always get shocked looks from moms on trains when I would talk to the little ones and say ” ooooooo sugoku kowaiii”…. ha ha ha. I would also mix up ningen and ninjin…..calling people carrots. My worst, hopefully funny blunder was in teaching the first lesson about our Beloved Savior Jesus Christ…..and said ‘unko Iesu Kiristo’ when I should have said, ‘Onko Iesu Kiristo’. Thank goodness as a gaijin, we were forgiven for language blunders. (Lynda)
  51. I said ‘sexual freedom’ instead of ‘free agency’, hahaha. (Loren)
  52. I intended to say we are God’s children, but I said ‘God is our child’. (Caitlin)
  53. I called a young man a woman when I meant to call him an adult Otonappoi (adult) vs. Onnappoi (woman). Asked my trainer once if he had a pistol instead of if he had freedom Jiyu (freedom) vs. Jyuu (pistol). Told my trainer that I boiled instead of understood what he was saying Wakashita (boiled) vs. Wakatta (understood). (Tanner)
  54. My companion wanted to say “Two beings came down from the sky”, but ended up saying “Two carrots came down from the plate”. But, that investigator ended up getting baptized, so it proves the Spirit is most important!!! (Phil)
  55. Japanese children like to use the F-word on Americans. They hear it in movies but don’t know what it means. When they would say that, I would look at my watch and tell them the time. They would scratch their heads and I would just smile. (Scott)
  56. All adjectives end in “ii” — tanoshii = fun; kawaii = cute; utsukushii = beautiful. By cutting off an “i” and adding SOU, it converts the word to “it LOOKS fun, it LOOKS cute, it LOOKS beautiful. With one exception. Kawaii (cute) when converted to Kawaisou becomes PITIFUL. One or two elders made this mistake. (Patrick)
  57. One time my companion and I were knocking on people’s doors, and I was still a new missionary. When I was telling the person about our message, I meant to say we’re sharing a message about God, but accidentally said we’re sharing a message about how to become God. While it is technically true, it was funny to think about what they must have been thinking. (Stephen)
  58. The funniest language mistake that I can think of making was in my very first area. I already knew some Japanese, so I could sound like I was at least half Japanese. My trainer had me contact some houses. So I asked if we could introduce a short message, which is how you asked if it were okay to share a message. Something to remember is that Japanese is a very easy language to mispronounce. Instead of saying introduce, I said execute. This wasn’t like executing a command or anything like that. No, no. I said the word that meant killing someone. I couldn’t understand why the guy was refusing to listen to our message. I thought I asked if we could share a short message. Nope. I asked if we could brutally punish with death. Afterwards, my trainer chuckled and said, “You need to watch what you say.” He told me what I need to say to introduce, not whatever I said. I asked him what I said and he showed me on my dictionary. Boy did I feel stupid. (Ted)
  59. “Joseph Smith saw two carrots descending out of heaven…” Poor pronunciation! (Andy)
  60. One of the first doors I knocked on myself, the lady kept telling me “Kaere!” which means to return (go away). I thought she was saying “Haere!” which means to enter. So I did. ✌🏻️ Also, since the word for person and carrot sound similar, I heard an Elder once say Christ was “no ordinary carrot” in Japanese. (Chris)
  61. Personal: Mixing up the words of “future” and “life” on my first street approach.. “I have a message about your future purpose,” instead of “We have a message about the purpose of life.” Elder that was in the MTC with me: nikutai vs nekutai.. Telling the Bishop’s wife that her husband has a great body instead of a great necktie. (Jeremy)
  62. My companion tried to say that the number of sister missionaries had increased (shimaitachi ga fueta) and instead said that the sister missionaries had gotten fat (shimaitachi ga futotta). (Kirk)
  63. During his first testimony in church (he had landed in Japan less than a week earlier), one of my companions told the congregation that his family is crazy. This usually flies and gets a couple of people to chuckle in American congregations, but the word for “crazy” in Japanese has a much heavier connotation. The ward took his mistake in stride and then some. After he said his family was crazy, EVERYBODY just started laughing uncontrollably, even the bishop! It took about a minute for everybody to settle down. It was hilarious. (Eric)
  64. Since we often couldn’t read the kanji, we would ask other to read things for us using ( O yomi ni narimasu ka?) which was a very polite way of asking someone to read for you. Every so often an elder would not pay attention to the importance of correct pronunciation and would say ( O yome ni narimasu ka?) which was asking someone to be your bride. Fortunately most Japanese would just grin and move on to what they thought was more likely……to read for us. (Troy)
  65. A green missionary companion kept giving the Joseph Smith story about two ningen (people) appearing in the grove using the word ninjin (carrot), instead of ningen. It was hard to be reverent listening to him make that mistake over and over. (Kevin)
  66. The difference between nikutai and nekutai when you point to someone’s tie. When asking for a spoon, do not listen to your companion and ask for a sepun. Also, the difference between haku and hiku in regards to playing the piano. (Darren)
  67. I don’t remember any off the top of my head. But I’m sure I had many and the Japanese were too kind to say anything. (Morgan)
  68. Instead of giving a new investigator the assignment to read 1 Nephi 3:7, a sister accidentally gave 3 Nephi 3:7. Look it up. NOT good. Haha. I once told an investigator that a carrot appeared to Joseph Smith in the grove of trees. I once told an investigator that the Savior ‘killed’ for us instead of ‘died’ for us. (Colby)
  69. Proposing marriage to someone instead of passing out a simple pamphlet. (Paul)
  70. Don’t confuse kowai with kawaii! (Teresa)
  71. Accidental swap of words. Kowai vs kawai…trying to compliment a beautiful baby. (Ricky)
  72. When I was introducing myself to an investigator, I accidentally said (in Japanese) “I think I am Sister West” instead of ” I am called Sister West.” (Dani)
  73. I had a trainee who always said he was 91 instead of 19. He was an awesome companion who helped convert a teenager. Good companion. I left for home before I learned if he ever got it right. (Joseph)
  74. In the beginning of my mission, I was sick due to the change of temperatures. So, one investigator told me that I was Kawaiso when she came to visit us at our door. I thought she mean “So cute.” Kawaii = Cute. But Kawaiso means “You poor thing.” I kept on thanking her. She looked at my Japanese companion and said: “She has no idea what I am talking about, does she?” No. I didn’t. (Adriana)
  75. I told them two carrots had appeared to Joseph Smith, you should have seen their eyes light up… (Andrew)
  76. Jibun no uchi (one’s own house) or Jubun no ichi (one tenth). When discussing whether one will either give one tenth of one’s income to tithing, not one’s mortgage payment. Ningen= people and ninjin= carrot. “God’s people,” or “God’s carrot.” (Tina)
  77. Learn the right verb and object combinations. In Japanese, you don’t open an umbrella, you point it. Listen to how natives speak. (Dylan)
  78. Well, one evening soon after arriving in Japan, we were handing out invitations to our free English Conversation Class, and I kept saying “Dozo, kore wa midori desu” to people we met. What I thought I was saying was “Here you go, this is free,” while what I was really saying was “Here you go, this is green,” No wonder why I got so many strange looks. Another time, we were teaching the Law of Tithing and I thought I said that that we have been commanded to pay “one tenth” (jubun no ichi) for tithing, but instead I said we have been commanded to pay (jibun no uchi) “our own house”. That led to an interesting chat during and after the lesson. Ha ha. (Alan)
  79. I was able to answer the phone, hear the speaker and determine whether I could talk to them in English or if I needed one of the young Elders or the President to speak Japanese. My husband didn’t learn even the two sentences that I could speak, so one day I heard him answer the phone in a bright and cheery voice and make something up that sounded the same to him. We laughed and laughed. (Elder & Sister Ockey)
  80. Mixing up the verbs to meet with to love, when talking with a female investigator on the phone. I knew I had made a mistake when all the other Elders dropped to the floor laughing. (Jared)
  81. Shofu and Shufu Nigin and Nigen Kintama for Liahona. (Janet)
  82. “Tamago-tachi wa dou desu ka?” instead of “mago-tachi wa dou desu ka?” He said “how are the eggs?” instead of “how are your grandchildren?” hahaha. (Sarah)
  83. Accidentally said ‘dang’ instead of ‘beast’, said someone’s cooking was good in the past, but no longer in the present. (Jonathan)

Here are some helpful videos to help you avoid making embarrassing mistakes in Japanese.

Japanese Language Mistake Videos

5 Japanese Pronunciation Mistakes to Avoid

3 Mistakes Rookies Make in Japanese

3 Mistakes to Avoid While Speaking Japanese

8 thoughts on “50+ Funny and Embarrassing Japanese Language Mistakes

  • Twice during my first month in the field, while teaching a lesson about the First Vision, I solemnly and sincerely testified with all my heart that Joseph Smith learned that the Father and the Son had edible bodies like carrots. My investigators nodded along seriously as if that made perfectly good sense.

    (Here’s a tip: the Japanese words for “tangible” and “edible” differ very slightly, and missionaries often say the word for “carrots” when they mean “human beings.”)

  • O ai shimashou = a polite, humble way to say let’s meet.
    Ai shimashou = “let’s make love.”

    A leader of significant importance made this mistake. I was very proud of my poker face.

  • This is a reverse Japanese mistake. After my mission, I hosted a Japanese family living in Canada in our home for the discussions. The English-speaking missionaries taught the first lesson about Prophets. How our church is founded on Prophets, how we have always had Prophets, and how even today we have Prophets. I interrupted to ask if the Japanese couple knew the meaning of Prophets – they said “oh yes, it is when you make money; profits”. lol. Luckily, I remembered yogensha and explained it to them in Japanese.

  • It would be nice to edit the list so there are not so many duplicates. Also, some of the suggested correct Japanese is not correct. For example, to clarify, kowai = scary; kawaii = cute; kawai sou = pitiful.

  • As a missionary, My second night in Japan I was housing with one of the Elders from the Mission Home. I opened the door and instead of saying “Gomen Kudasi” (Hello? Anyone home?) I said “Gohan kudasai” (please give me rice).
    After my mission I once meant to tell my friend’s brother that I had a bad habit (kusei)but I said it was a bad bowel movement (kuso). I knew as soon as I said it what I’d done, but the look on his face still made all three of us laugh ourselves silly.

  • I had a companion that would always discuss the law of tithing as requiring “jibun no uchi” (your house) rather than “jubun no ichi” (one tenth).

    One week in Elder’s Quorum, the instructor asked where we lived before we came to earth. A recent convert raised his hand and said we were frozen before we came to earth. This got a somewhat shocked response. Turns out, the missionaries that taught him said that we were frozen (reitou shite imashita) rather than that we were spirits (rei toshite imashita). After it got straightened out, the convert explained he had thought it was a pretty strange teaching, but he had felt the spirit so he joined the church anyway.

    While living there with my wife after the mission, we were on the way to a ward activity. A recently returned missionary who spoke English was sitting next to us in the car. My wife had a skirt that came to her knees and had painted her toenails. She noticed him looking at her toenails and wanted to show off her Japanese, so she asked “ashi ga suki desu ka?” to ask if he liked her feet, not realizing that it also meant legs, which were bare from the knee down. He got pretty embarrassed thinking she thought he was checking out her legs and commented to let him know she caught him!

  • A common way for a Japanese person to reject a door approach is to say “te ga hanasenai” which literally means “hands can’t talk” but in reality means they are busy/occupied at the moment. Well, not really understanding the true meaning, and fed up with hearing that rejection all day, I finally, sarcastically said to one woman “you know what, I’ve tried all day long, and my hands can’t talk either, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk to each other”. The woman looked at me rather shocked and puzzled, and as we left, my Japanese companion explained what “te ga hanasenai” actually means.

  • My Ward Mission Leader’s high school aged daughter came to church for a social gathering in the most beautiful Kimono I’d ever seen. Sea green variations with white embroidery. She was also made up in traditional Japanese make-up – very sharp looking. I told her “Anata no Kimono wa totemo utsukushii desu!” (Your Kimono is very beautiful!). Everyone (Japanese) around us kind of gasped (they were mostly her school friends). She, being used to dumb Missionary mistakes, just leaned in closer and said that I shouldn’t use “wa” (just a subject marker), that instead I should use “mo” (meaning also) as in “Anata no Kimono mo utsukushii desu!” (Your Kimono also is very beautiful!. Essentially, what I had implied, since I hadn’t used the “also” particle, was that the Kimono was beautiful but she was not. Ooops!

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