Master the Phrase: How to Say Failure in Japanese

Learning a new language can be challenging, but it becomes even more difficult when you’re trying to express a complex concept like failure. In Japanese culture, failure is perceived differently than in Western cultures, so it’s important to understand how to communicate about it effectively. In this section, we’ll explore the different ways to express failure in Japanese, including synonyms, translations, and the specific word for failure.

When learning how to say failure in Japanese, it’s essential to begin with the basics. One of the most common phrases you’ll encounter is “shippai suru,” which translates to “to fail.” However, there are other phrases and words that convey the same meaning depending on the context of the conversation.

For instance, “muzukashii” is frequently used to describe a situation that is challenging or difficult, and it can be used when discussing personal failures as well. Similarly, “hazure” is a term used to describe a missed or failed attempt, such as failing a test or missing a goal in sports.

By understanding these different synonyms and phrases, you’ll be better equipped to communicate effectively about failure in Japanese. In the next section, we’ll explore the cultural context of failure in Japanese society and introduce key vocabulary related to the concept.

Understanding Failure in Japanese Culture

Before delving into the specific phrases used to express failure in Japanese, it is important to understand the cultural context surrounding the concept.

Failure is often seen in a negative light in many cultures, and Japan is no exception. However, in Japanese society, there is a greater emphasis on the shame and responsibility that comes with failure. The pressure to succeed is significant, and failure can have far-reaching consequences, not just for the individual but for their family and even their company.

The Japanese language reflects this cultural perspective on failure. There are numerous words and phrases used to describe different types of failure, each with its own implications and nuances.

Failure in Japanese Language

There are several key vocabulary terms related to failure in Japanese:

Vocabulary Term Meaning
失敗 (shippai) The most common term for failure in Japanese. It can refer to any kind of failure, from a small mistake to a major setback.
落ち度 (ochido) A term for failure that implies a mistake or error in judgment. It can also refer to a personal failing, such as laziness or carelessness.
失言 (shitsugen) A term for failure that refers specifically to speaking inappropriately or saying the wrong thing. This can have serious consequences in Japanese society where proper etiquette and social norms are highly valued.

Understanding these terms and their nuances is essential for effectively communicating about failure in Japanese. It is also important to be aware of the cultural context in which they are used and to exercise sensitivity and respect when discussing failure with Japanese colleagues or friends.

Translating Failure: Synonyms and Variations

Japan offers a range of synonyms and phrases to express failure, each with its own unique connotation and context. Understanding these nuances is crucial for effective communication in Japanese. Let’s take a look at some of the most common failure synonyms in Japanese.

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Japanese Translation
失敗 (shippai) failure/mistake
落ちこぼれ (ochikobore) underachiever
不合格 (fugoukaku) unqualified/failure
敗北 (haiboku) defeat/loss
未練 (miren) regret

As you can see, there are various words that can be used to talk about failure in Japanese. “Shippai” is the most common and direct translation of failure, while “ochikobore” implies underachievement and “fugoukaku” suggests a lack of qualification. “Haiboku” is used in the context of a loss or defeat, while “miren” conveys regret and a sense of unfinished business.

It’s important to note that these synonyms should be used in their appropriate contexts. For example, “ochikobore” can be seen as an insult if used in the wrong situation. Similarly, “miren” is used to express regret for not having done something, not for personal failure.

Another way to express failure in Japanese is with idiomatic expressions. Here are a few examples:

Japanese Translation
転んでもただでは起きない (koronden mo tada de wa okinai) If you fall, don’t just get up, rise higher than before.
破れ鍋に綴じ蓋 (yabure nabe ni tsuji buta) Adding a lid to a broken pot (too little, too late).
不幸中の幸い (fukouchuu no saiwai) A silver lining in a dark cloud.

These idiomatic expressions are often used to provide a more nuanced perspective on failure and offer words of encouragement or wisdom. However, their use should also be carefully considered and appropriate to the situation.

Japanese Phrase for Failure

Out of all the synonyms and idiomatic expressions for failure in Japanese, the most common and straightforward phrase is “shippai” (失敗).

If you’re struggling with how to express failure in Japanese, “shippai” is the go-to word. Its meaning is clear and easy to understand, making it a reliable phrase for effective communication.

That being said, it’s important to understand the cultural context of failure in Japanese society and to use the appropriate synonyms and expressions when appropriate. By mastering these nuances, you’ll be able to communicate effectively in a variety of situations.

The Essential Phrase: How to Say Failure in Japanese

When it comes to expressing failure in Japanese, there is one essential phrase you need to master: 失敗 (shippai). This word is the most commonly used term for failure in Japanese and can be used in a variety of situations.

It’s important to note that in Japanese culture, direct communication of failure is often avoided. Instead, failure is often expressed indirectly through hints or implicit messages. Using the word shippai is a straightforward way to communicate failure, but it’s essential to understand when it’s appropriate to use it.

When you want to express that something did not go as planned or that you made a mistake, you can say:

English Japanese Transliteration
I failed 私は失敗しました Watashi wa shippai shimashita
I made a mistake 私は間違えました Watashi wa machigaemashita

It’s important to note that the word for failure in Japanese can also be used in a more general sense, such as failure in a business or project. In these contexts, you can use the following phrases:

English Japanese Transliteration
The project failed プロジェクトは失敗しました Purojekuto wa shippai shimashita
The business failed ビジネスは失敗しました Bijinesu wa shippai shimashita
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By mastering the use of shippai and understanding when it’s appropriate to use it, you’ll be able to communicate about failure in Japanese with greater clarity and accuracy.

Mastering Failure Vocabulary in Japanese

To truly master expressing and discussing failure in Japanese, it’s important to expand your vocabulary beyond just the essential phrase. Here are some additional phrases and words to help you become more fluent in discussing failure in Japanese.

失敗する (shippai suru)

This phrase means “to fail” and is a common way to express failure in Japanese. It can be used in a variety of contexts, from academic performance to personal relationships.

失敗者 (shippaisha)

This term translates to “failure” or “loser” and can be harsher than other phrases for failure. Use this term with caution and only in appropriate contexts.

落第 (rakudai)

This word specifically refers to failing an exam or test. It’s important to note that Japanese society places a strong emphasis on academic success, so this term can carry a heavier connotation.

やり直す (yarinaosu)

Rather than directly expressing failure, this phrase means “to try again” or “to redo.” It can be a more positive way to approach a situation where you may have failed initially.

打ちのめされる (uchinomesareru)

This phrase means “to be crushed” or “to be devastated” by failure. It conveys a strong emotional response and is useful for discussing the impact of failure on one’s mental state.

By incorporating these additional phrases and words into your vocabulary, you’ll be able to express and discuss failure in a more nuanced way. Don’t be afraid to practice using these phrases in different contexts to enhance your fluency. With time and practice, you’ll become a pro at discussing failure in Japanese.


Q: How do I say failure in Japanese?

A: The Japanese word for failure is “shippai” (失敗).

Q: Are there any synonyms for failure in Japanese?

A: Yes, there are several synonyms for failure in Japanese, including “sboubutsu” (失物) and “fumei” (不明).

Q: Can you provide translations for failure in Japanese?

A: Apart from the word “shippai” (失敗), you can also use “hazure” (ハズレ) or “chie no nai” (知恵のない) to express failure in Japanese.

Q: How is failure perceived in Japanese culture?

A: Failure is often seen as a valuable learning experience in Japanese culture. It is not stigmatized but rather viewed as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

Q: What are some key vocabulary words related to failure in Japanese?

A: In addition to “shippai” (失敗), other vocabulary words related to failure include “mushibamu” (無視する) meaning “to ignore” and “mekurumeku” (目くるめく) meaning “dazzling.”

Q: How can I use the word for failure correctly in Japanese?

A: To use the word “shippai” (失敗) correctly, you can simply incorporate it into your sentence when discussing a specific failure or expressing a general concept of failure.

Q: Are there any cultural nuances I should be aware of when discussing failure in Japanese?

A: Japanese culture emphasizes modesty and humility, so when discussing failure, it is important to be respectful and avoid blaming or criticizing others.

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