A Language and Culture Question

I’ve noticed lately that there are a LOT of words that, at least on the surface, can mean “neighborhood.” 近所、辺り、付近、界隈、近傍 are just a few, I’m sure.

My question is not “why are there so many” but more like, “what does having so many synonyms about an similar idea say about the people in that culture?”


I’m not sure it’s really more than English. We have plenty of synonyms for neighborhood.

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Like what?

You want me to copy and paste a thesaurus entry?

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Yes please. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Just a few off the topic my head… vicinity, proximity, these parts (getting colloquial), neck of the woods

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Leebo, I’m just messing with you. You’re one of my WK heroes, of course you are right :sweat_smile:

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It’s probably worth discussing. I’m interested in what prompted the question.

Most of these Japanese words listed literally just mean “the nearby area” without any necessary connection to “the place around your house” or “the part of town you live in.”

Like you can say 扉の付近に立たないでください (don’t stand near the door), but maybe it sounds a little strange to say “don’t stand in the neighborhood of the door”. The fact that neighborhood is listed as a gloss for them is just a consequence of the broadness of the meaning in English, I think.


Yes, and also it’s true Japanese is rich with synonyms, and they are also very commonly used. But, as you point out, this is the same in many other languages. The problem in Japanese is that they often sound very close to each other (often having one kanji in common), so they are not easy to memorize and distinguish for us students.

Interestingly, with so many words translated as “neighbourhood” here, not many actually mean neighbourhood as in “the few blocks around the place one lives” or “an area of a city with a similar character”. I say that because last year in a Japanese class I was trying to say something like, “I like my neighbourhood because it’s quiet and convenient.” I used the word 近所 but the teacher (who I’ll admit was probably not a great teacher anyway) insisted that that word referred more to the people in the area than to the physical environment (I’ve since heard other opinions) and she couldn’t come up with a word that fit my meaning.

On a related note, In a language exchange I participated in, one of the Japanese people who spoke reasonable English asked me what “neighbourhood” really means, because she couldn’t figure it out by using a E-J dictionary.

Maybe the real problem is that “neighbourhood” actually has so many meanings in English.


1 a quiet neighborhood: district, area, locality, locale, quarter, community; part, region, zone; informal neck of the woods, hood, nabe, stomping ground, stamping ground.
2 in the neighborhood of Greensboro: vicinity, environs, purlieus, precincts, vicinage.

I can see your point but personally I’d recommend against trying to learn the differences between different vocabulary words via wanikani. I want wanikani to give me the broad strokes and then I pick up the more subtle differences between words from exposure to natural language in books, conversation etc. Or that’s the plan at least I’ve actually been learning Japanese for a long time so haven’t got far enough through wanikani yet to be learning new vocab.


True, but we can use these forums to help learn the nuances (assuming there are people here who are experienced enough to provide them).

What prompted the question was listening to a podcast wherein the two hosts were talking about how learning a second language expanded or broadened their own thinking, and about words that aren’t easily translated (ex: saudade in Portuguese). That branched off into conversations about what that culture found important and how deeper knowledge of the language inevitably lead to deeper knowledge of the culture.

Well the next day I picked up WK again after a 4 month hiatus and what d’ya know, there’s tons of words I’m typing “neighborhood” for as an answer. I guess the two ideas got kind of sticky in my brain and it made me curious.


Different environments require different grades of subtlety in distinguishing concepts. English, curiously enough, invests a great deal in many nouns, which leads to English speakers usually concentrating on differences in the selection of nouns, although verbs are arguably more important and even more interesting for the casual user. The equivalent of “hill” in English is a multitude of words in Scottish Gaelic (possibly reflecting a more varied geography). By contrast, English uses pincers, talons, claws and nippers for what are essentially a single category of items. Something like “uncle” in English has more specific explanations according to the relationship in Scottish Gaelic (brother of my father/mother and husband of my father’s/mother’s brother/sister), and more still according to relationship and ages of the people mentioned in Chinese. (The one-child policy has affected the usage in China, though.)


In Dutch animals don’t have the same legs as humans do, except horses, because apparently they’re ‘noble’ animals. Also different words for the heads and mouths of animals (except horses).


They all mean very different things, but it’s hard to express them easily in English. Neighborhood kind of does the trick, but that’s because neighborhood is a versatile word in English while these Japanese words aren’t quite so versatile. Looking at a Japanese dictionary can clarify (that is, a dictionary written in Japanese for Japanese people.


  1. near one’s own house (neighborhood)
  2. a nearby house

The extent to which one thing is near to another, taking an object, place, or time as a standard.

  1. the vicinity (of an object or place)
  2. roughly (a certain time)


  1. a nearby place
  2. the act of getting near something

界隈 (this one I left in the original Japanese because it’s defined in terms of the words above)

近傍 (this one I also left alone because it’s also defined in terms of the above)


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