You’ve probably heard different words to refer to the various meals of the day in Japanese. But how do they differ? Read below to learn what words work better in what situations!
Breakfast in Japanese
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that applies in Japan too. While fewer folks nowadays eat the traditional rice, grilled fish, nattō, raw egg, pickles, and miso soup breakfast, the meal is still important enough to warrant several lexical items.
1. 朝ご飯 (Asagohan): Standard Way to Say Breakfast
This is the most common way to say “breakfast” in Japanese, the word you’ll learn first if you take Japanese classes. You can use it in casual conversations with family and friends.
(asagohan wa konbini de kaimasu.)
I buy breakfast at the convenience store.
(asa wa isogashii node asagohan wa kōhī dake desu.)
I’m busy in the morning, so I only have coffee for breakfast.
2. 朝食 (Chōshoku): More Formal Expression
This is a more formal word, commonly used in business situations. For example, hotels will offer discounts for reservations that are 朝食付き (ちょうしょく つき: with breakfast).
(chōshoku wa nanji kara desu ka?)
What time do you start serving breakfast?
(chōshoku wa washoku dake desu ka, soretomo yōshoku mo arimasu ka?)
Do you have only Japanese style breakfast, or do you have western style breakfast too?
3. 朝飯 (Asameshi): Slang/Masculine Way to Say Breakfast
This is the informal and almost rough way to refer to breakfast. It works well as slang to use among your friends and is often used by men. Although the original meaning of めし is food or meal, it is now more commonly used as slang for food.
(asameshi kutte konakatta kara hara hetta)
I didn’t have breakfast so I’m hungry.
Breakfast is not ready yet?
4. モーニング (Mōning): Most Used to Refer to Breakfast Sets at Restaurants
This word is used to refer specifically to a deal offered at Japanese coffee shops in the morning, where, for the price of a drink, you also get toast, a hard-boiled egg, or other light breakfast items. Not bad!
(ano omise no mōning wa tatta 500en da yo.)
The morning (breakfast deal) at that restaurant is only 500yen.
(ashita wa haya oki shite mōning o tabe ni ikō)
Let’s get up early and go get mōning tomorrow.
Lunch in Japanese
From kyūshoku at school to bento on the shinkansen, your midday meal also has a few different monikers.
1. (お) 昼ご飯 (Hirugohan): Standard Word for Lunch
Like 朝ご飯 (asagohan)、this is the most common word used for “lunch.” You can add the お to be polite, or you can say 昼ご飯 to people you are close to.
ohirugohan wa itsumo hitori de tabemasu.)
I always eat my lunch alone.
(hirugohan o tabe sugita sei de nemuku natta.)
Because I had a big lunch, I’m sleepy now.
3. 昼食 (Chūshoku): More Formal Word for Lunch
This is the more formal word used to refer to your midday meal. You might have 昼食 with your business clients to discuss important matters!
(Tanaka buchō wa chūshoku ni dekakemashita.)
The manager, Mr. Tanaka went out for lunch.
(Chūshoku no ato sugu ni kaigi da sō desu.)
I heard there will be a meeting right after lunch.
4. ランチ (Ranchi): Loan-Word for Lunch
This is カタカナ (katakana) for “lunch.” This is also used commonly in both formal and informal situations. You might find this used by a restaurant to refer to their ランチセット (ranchi setto: lunch set).
(ano omise no ranchi wa ninki ga atte itsumo takusan no hito ga narandeiru)
Lunch is popular at that restaurant and I always see a line of people waiting outside of the restaurant.
(jikan ga aru toki ni isshoni ranchi demo dō?)
How about we get lunch together when we have time?
Dinner in Japanese
Like “dinner” and “supper,” nuanced differences exist among Japanese terms that refer to your evening meal.
1. 夜ご飯 (Yorugohan): Probably the Most Commonly Used Word for Dinner
While there are many words for dinner in Japanese, 夜ご飯 (yorugohan) is probably used the most. Of course, other words may be more popular in some areas in Japan, but you can’t go wrong with saying yorugohan if you want to talk about dinner.
(yorugohan wa itsumo shichi-ji goro ni tabemasu.
I usually eat dinner around 7:00.
(yorugohan o tabete sugu ni neru no wa karada ni yokunai yo.)
It’s not good for your body to go to bed soon after eating dinner.
2. 晩ご飯 (Bangohan): Another Word For Dinner
The equivalent of 朝ご飯 and（お）昼ご飯、this is the most common way to say “dinner.” Like（お）昼ご飯、the optional お (o) adds a level of formality. You can use it with family and close friends.
(kyō no bangohan wa karē raisu da yo.)
Today’s dinner is curry over rice.
(bangohan ga sundara ofuroni hairu.)
I take a bath after dinner.
3.(お) 夕飯 (Yūhan): Yet Another Word for Dinner
A close second to 晩ご飯 is (お) 夕飯 as another word for “dinner.” In general, 夕 suggests evening, a time when day turns to night. In contrast, 晩 suggests nighttime, later than sunset and twilight.
(Tanaka-san no ie de oyūhan o gochisou ni narimashita.)
I had dinner at Tanaka-san’s house.
(shigoto gaeri ni yūhan no zairyō o katte kaeru.)
After work, I pick up some ingredients for dinner on my way home.
In actual usage, both 晩ご飯 and (お) 夕飯 refer to the main meal of the day that is eaten at night, and they can be used in similar situations, though (お) 夕飯 might sound more natural with people who are not your family.
4. 夕食 (Yūshoku): A More Formal Way to Say Dinner
Similar to 朝食 (chōshoku) and 昼食 (chūshoku)、夕食 is more formal. You can invite your work colleagues (who may not necessarily be your friends) to have 夕食 together.
(kono kusuri wa yūshoku no atoni nonde kudasai.)
Please take this medicine after dinner.
(yūshoku ga sundara minna de gēmu demo shimashō ka?)
Would you like to play a game or something after dinner?
5. 夕飯 (Yūmeshi): Slang Word For Dinner
Although written with the same kanji as ゆうはん (yūhan)、ゆうめし is slang reserved for casual conversation. Suitable for use with close friends.
(yūmeshi, kutta no ka?)
Did you have dinner?
(yūmeshi made ni wa kaette koi yo.)
Come back by dinner time.
6. ディナー (Dinā): Loan Word for Dinner
This, of course, is カタカナ for “dinner.” You can use this in many situations, particularly when there is a pretense for formality and an air of sophistication or elegance, and you are eating something that is not Japanese. Your meal at the local ファミレス (famiresu: family restaurant/diner) would not necessarily qualify as ディナー.
(konya ha tomodachi to dinā ni ikimasu.)
Tonight I’m going to get dinner with my friend.
(kinō wa tanjyōbi datta node dinā ni stēki o tabemashita.)
It was my birthday yesterday, so I had steak for dinner.
7. 夜食 (Yashoku): Late Night Meal/Snack
Although it includes the word for “night,” 夜食 refers to your late-night snack—when you’re up studying late, or when you’ve come home late after a night of drinking. It tends to be carbs, such as rice and noodles.
(okāsan ga yashoku ni sūpu o tsukutte kureta.)
My mother made me some soup for a late-night snack.
(onaka ga suita no nara, yashoku nanka tabenai de neta hō ga ii desu yo.)
If you are hungry, you should just go to bed without eating a late-night snack.
Snacks in Japanese
OK, this isn’t really a meal, but snacks are very important in Japan. Here are some ways to refer to them in Japanese.
1. おやつ (Oyatsu): Standard Word for Snacks
This is the most common but somewhat childish way to say “snack” in Japanese. ３時のおやつ (san-ji no oyatsu: 3 o clock snack time) is an important daily ritual for kids in Japan! おやつ in Japan usually include things like cookies, senbei, or fruit.
(shukudai suru mae ni oyatsu tabete ii?)
Can I have a snack before I do my homework?
(ensoku ni motte iku oyatsu o kai ni itta)
I went to buy snacks to bring on a school trip.
2. 軽食 (Keishoku): A Light Meal
Literally meaning “light food,” this word refers to simple meals like onigiri, sandwich, and salad that is eaten to satiate your hunger when you feel like 小腹が空いた (kobara ga suita: to get a little hungry).
(kono chikaku ni keishoku o taberareru kafe wa arimasu ka?)
Is there a cafe that serves light meals?
(amari onaka ga suite inai node nani ka keishoku demo taberarereba ii desu yo.)
Since I’m not that hungry, if I can have some small meal, that’ll be fine.
3. 間食 (Kanshoku): Eating Between Meals
Both a noun and a verb, this phrase means the food you eat between the three main meals of the day. 間食 has to be re-evaluated when you are on a diet…
(yasetai nara kanshoku wa yameta hōga ii desu yo.)
If you want to lose weight, you should stop having snacks between meals.
(kanshoku ni osenbei o tabemashita.)
I had rice crackers for a snack.
That sounds like a lot of similar-sounding words with minute differences—and they are! There are also words like 朝餉 (asage), 昼餉 (hiruge), 夕餉 (yūge) that have a longer history dating back to the feudal era, but those tend to get used more in fictional works nowadays.