Super Useful Japanese: What Does Kimochi Mean?

In many Japanese conversations, movies, and anime, a very common word you’ll hear is 気持ち (kimochi).  What does this word mean, and why is it so useful? Let’s see why!

気持ち (kimochi): Feeling, mood, state of mind

Japanese people are often described as non-emotional people. If you board a train in Japan, especially in Tokyo, you may see many Japanese people with no expression on their faces. In Japan, showing what you feel in public can be a little strange.

A stranger in the U.S. might give you a smile when their eyes meet yours because they may want to be friendly. This never happens in Japan. Japanese people will not show you their feelings until they know who you are. Once they know who you are, Japanese people will show their 気持ち (kimochi) through communication with you.

On the other hand, foreigners may meet some friendly people in Japan.  This is because some Japanese people feel more open towards people from other countries.  They think it’s okay to be friendly since it’s part of their culture.  You’ll probably have a higher chance of meeting more outgoing people in Osaka instead of Tokyo.  

What is Kimochi, and How Do You Use It?

気持ち (kimochi) is made up of two terms: 気 (ki) and 持ち (mochi).

気 (ki) has many different meanings: mind, spirit, air, gas, or energy.

持ち(mochi) means “having” or “holding” something. 

Using 気持ち (Kimochi) to Describe Feelings/Emotions

A common way to use 気持ち (kimochi) is to describe your feelings, like in the following sentences:

1. こんなに嬉しい気持ちは初めて。
(Konna ni ureshii kimochi wa hajimete.)
This is the first time I felt this happy.

2. お風呂に入るのって気持ちいいよね。
(Ofuro ni hairu no tte kimochi ii yo ne.)
Taking a bath feels good, doesn’t it?

3. 彼は宇宙に行きたい熱い気持ちがあるんだよ。
(Kare wa uchū ni ikitai atsui kimochi ga arun da yo.)
He has a passion for going to space.

4. 彼女の気持ちを尊重するべきだよ。
(Kanojo no kimochi o sonchou suru beki dayo.)
You should respect her feelings/way of thinking.  

Kimochi in Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana

People often use kanji and hiragana to write 気持ち (kimochi).

People may want to express their feelings more gently when they write it only in hiragana like this: きもち (kimochi). 

When people write it in katakana, キモチ (kimochi), they may want to emphasize a feeling usually associated with something.  For example, you can find the katakana-only キモチ (kimochi) in some advertisements and creative song titles.

Slangs and Onomatopoeia for Bad Feelings: Kimochi Warui

There are may be times when you may want to say, 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui), or “I feel bad” in Japanese. You can use 気持ち悪い in various situations. 

Let’s look at the 3 most common ones here:

 1.  When You’re Not Feeling Well

Saying 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui) can mean that you don’t feel well.  This can be anything from a sore, queasy stomach to an overall lousy feeling throughout your body.  

1. 船に酔って気持ち悪い。
(Fune ni yotte kimochi warui.)
I don’t feel well from riding a boat.

2. ああ飲みすぎた。気持ち悪い。
(Aa nomisugita.  Kimochi warui.)
Ahh, I drank too much.  I don’t feel good.  

Slang: You may hear this expression which is related to this use of 気持ち悪い: オエー ().   オエー () is the sound of someone gagging or throwing up.  Some Japanese people will use this when they feel like throwing up or seeing something gross.  It’s similar to retching in English.  Think of sounds like blarg, ewww, or yuck!  in English.  

2.  Something or Someone Makes you Feel Gross, Disgusted, or Creeped Out

When something or someone makes gives you that creepy feeling inside, or something grosses you out, you can use 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui) to express how you feel:

1. あの人、私のことずっと見てて気持ち悪い。
(Ano hito watashi no koto zutto mitete kimochi warui.)
That guy keeps on staring at me. It’s giving me the creeps.

2. 食器がヌルヌルしてて気持ち悪い。
(Shokki ga nurunuru shitete kimochi warui.)
This dish is slimy, and it’s gross/disgusting.

Slang: 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui) can be shortened to キモイ (kimoi). Generally this is written in katakana (キモイ), hiragana (きもい), or a mix of katakana and hiragana (キモい). It is never written in kanji.

3.  For Bad Feelings Arising From Thoughts or Frustration

You can also use 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui) to describe your thoughts.  Have you ever been so frustrated that it bugs you to the point where you feel uneasy?  That’s 気持ち悪い (kimochi warui), isn’t it?

あの映画の名前が思い出せなくて気持ち悪い。
(Ano eiga no namae ga omoidasenakute kimochi warui.)
I can’t remember the title of that movie, and it’s bugging/frustrating me.  

Onomatopoeia: If you can not solve a problem or can’t remember something, you may feel uncomfortable. Japanese people express this feeling using モヤモヤ (moya moya), which means “hazy” or having “uncertain feelings.”  It can even mean that you feel “uneasy” or “gloomy.”

Using Kimochi to Show Appreciation in Japanese

You can also use 気持ち (kimochi) to show how thankful or appreciative you are towards someone. Usually, you’ll also use humble Japanese language with this, called 謙遜 (kenson).  This works both for receiving and giving gifts.

A common expression used when you give someone a gift is:

つまらないものですが、ほんの気持ちです。
(Tsumaranai mono desu ga honno kimochi desu.)
This gift is not anything special, but I just want to show you my appreciation (so please accept it).

Note: Even if a gift is worth $500, Japanese people describe it as “nothing much” just to show how humble they are (or how important the other person is).

Here is a phrase often used in advertisements:

気持ちが伝わる贈り物。
(Kimochi ga tsutawaru okurimono.)
A gift to express the feelings of your heart.

Other Meanings of Kimochi

気持ち (kimochi) also has the meaning of “a little.”

This can be used in various situations:

 1. その花瓶、ほんの気持ち右にずらしてくれる?
(Sono kabin, honno kimochi migi ni zurashite kureru?)
Could you please move the vase a little (slightly) to the right?

 2.  今日は用事があるから、気持ち早めに仕事終わらせて帰るよ。
(Kyō wa yōji ga aru kara, kimochi hayame ni shigoto owarasete kaeru yo.)
I have things to do today, so I’ll wrap up my work earlier than usual and go home.

Notice in the first example than ほんの気持ち (honno kimochi) is the exact phrase we used to describe our appreciation of someone:  

つまらないものですが、ほんの気持ちです。
(Tsumaranai mono desu ga honno kimochi desu.)

In this case, it means “just my appreciation/feelings.”  

However, in the sentence above, honno kimochi means “slightly:”

その花瓶、ほんの気持ち右にずらしてくれる?
(Sono kabin, honno kimochi migi ni zurashite kureru?)
Could you please move the vase slightly to the right?

Using 気持ち (Kimochi) to Express Determination

1. 今年は気持ち新たに頑張ろう。
(Kotoshi wa kimochi arata ni ganbarō.)
I’ll turn over a new leaf (renewed spirit) this year and do my best.

2. 気持ちを引き締めて仕事にとりかかろう。
(Kimochi o hikishimete shigoto ni torikakarou.)
I’ll be on the ball (focus my energy) and start a job.

Kimochi vs. Kibun vs. Kanji:  What’s the Difference?

気持ち (kimochi) and 気分 (kibun) are very similar in meaning. Both describe physical or emotional feelings. So what is the difference between the meanings of these words?  

気持ち (kimochi) describes a feeling or sensation that someone is experiencing.  This can be physical, like feeling uncomfortable because rocks are in your shoes.  This can also be emotional, like feeling happy when you see children playing happily. 

Let’s look at some examples.

Using 気持ち (Kimochi) to Describe Physical Feelings:

1. 肩を揉んでもらって気持ちがいい。
(Kata o monde moratte kimochi ga ii.)
Having my shoulder massaged makes me feel good.

2. 車に酔って気持ちが悪い。
(Kuruma ni yotte kimochi ga warui.)
I don’t feel well because I got motion sickness from riding a car.

Using 気持ち (Kimochi) to Describe Emotional Feelings:

1. おいしそうに食べる人を見るのは気持ちがいい。
(Oishisō ni taberu hito o miru no wa kimochi ga ii.)
Watching someone eating food deliciously makes me feel good.

2. 葉っぱに虫の卵がいっぱい付いてて気持ち悪い。
(Happa ni mushi no tamago ga ippai tsuitete kimochi warui.)
There are many bug eggs on the leaf. It’s creepy.

Using 気持ち (Kimochi) For General Statements Or Feelings

気持ち (kimochi) can also be used to describe feelings in general:

人の気持ちを大切にしなければなりません。
(Hito no kimochi o taisetsu ni shinakereba narimasen.)
We must value people’s feelings.  

気分 (Kibun)

気分 (kibun), on the other hand, describes mood.  More specifically, it describes YOUR mood.  Because it is used to describe how you are feeling (and only you), it cannot be used to talk about other people or used in general statements like 気持ち (kimochi).

The tricky part is that both 気持ち (kimochi) and 気分 (kibun) can be used interchangeably for physical and emotional situations in many situations.  However, when talking about your emotional state, 気分 (kibun) is used to describe your personal mood, while 気持ち (kimochi) is used for expressing your feelings.  

  • 気持ち (kimochi):  Feeling happy, motivated, satisfied, etc.
  • 気分 (kibun):  Being in a good or bad mood, not being in the mood for something, etc.

Using 気分 (Kibun) to Describe Physical Feelings:

1. 熱が下がって、ちょっと気分がいい。
(Netsu ga sagatte chotto kibun ga ii.)
I feel better because my temperature is now lower.

2. 風邪気味で気分が悪い。
(Kazegimi de kibun ga warui.)
I have a cold, so I’m feeling sick.

Using 気分 (Kibun) to Describe Emotional Feelings:

1. 掃除したら部屋がきれいになって気分がいい。
(Sōji shitara heya ga kirei ni natte kibun ga ii.)
I’m in a good mood when I clean my room.

2. 彼女とつまんないことでケンカして気分が悪い。
(Kanojo to tsumannai koto de kenka shite kibun ga warui.)
I feel bad (not in a good mood) because I fought with my girlfriend for no reason.

感じ (Kanji) 

In contrast with 気持ち (kimochi) and 気分 (kibun), 感じ (kanji) describes your impression of something. 

1. 妹さん、かわいい感じの人ですね。
(Imōto-san, kawaii kanji no hito desu ne.)
Your younger sister looks like a cute/sweet person (My impression of your younger sister is that she is cute/sweet).  

2. あの人、いつも不機嫌で感じ悪い。
(Ano hito itsumo fukigen de kanji warui.)
He is always unhappy, so he is creepy  (My impression of him is that he is creepy).

Since 感じ (kanji) is used to describe your impression or something, you can use it to describe things as well as people.  

Saying, いい感じ(ii kanji) can be used whenever you see something that looks good to you.

You cleaned and reorganized your room, and it looks great:

いい感じ!
(Ii kanji!)
It looks great!

Summary: Special Phrases Using 気持ち (Kimochi)

In conclusion, I would like to introduce to you a common Japanese expression:

気持ちを察する
(kimochi o sassuru).

This refers to “reading someone’s mind without having them explain to you what they are feeling or thinking.” 

In Japan, people are often expected to understand what others are thinking or feeling without it being said. For example, if someone is not their usual, cheerful self, you may want to give that persona some space or ask them what’s wrong.  

It seems obvious, but sometimes these situations are very subtle.  Japanese people may expect this type of awareness and understanding in many situations. If you do these things, you will be described by Japanese people as a person who understands others, “気持ちがわかる人 (kimochi ga wakaru hito).”

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