Useful Japanese: What Does Oishii Really Mean?

おいしい (oishii): delicious, yummy, tasty: can also mean attractive, favorable, or convenient

The most common use for oishii in Japanese is to describe food or drinks. When you enjoy the food you just ate, you can say it’s “oishii!” However, there are other ways to use this term. Let’s see how.  

Writing Oishii in Kanji

You may have seen Japanese people write oishii using kanji characters in the following way: 美味しい. However, the proper way* to write oishii in Japanese is using hiragana: おいしい

The way of using kanji for oishii, 美味しい is known as ateji (当て字).  Ateji can refer to kanji characters used purely for their meaning without considering their regular reading. It can also be the complete opposite; using kanji characters for their reading without considering their meaning.

These two kanji characters 美味 (pronounced as bimi) mean “beautiful” and “taste.” However, adding “しい (shii)” changes the reading to oishii (美味しい). Japanese people often use kanji to express deep feelings, even though they did not learn to use it in school that way.

*Note:  There is a guide on how to use kanji by the Japanese ministry. It’s called jōyō kanji

How to Use Oishii Naturally in Japanese: 3 Different Ways

A flat, black plate on a black background. There are several types of nigiri and maki sushi on this plate (salmon, maguro, unagi, cucumber, shrimp, fish, etc.)

Oishii can actually mean more than just “delicious.” Let’s take at 3 different wants oishii can be used in natural Japanese.

 1. おいしい (Oishii): To Describe Delicious Food or Drink; Delicious; Tasty

One way oishii is used is to talk about food and drink. This is the first, and maybe only definition that Japanese learners ever learn. While there other usages, this is by far the most common.

Examples:  

1. このサンドイッチ、とってもおいしい!
(Kono sandoicchi tottemo oishii!)
This sandwich is so delicious!

2. おいしいから、もっと食べていい?
(Oishii kara motto tabete ii?)
Can I eat more? It’s so yummy!

3. おいしい物食べに行こう!
(Oishii mono tabeni ikō!)
Let’s go out to eat something good!

4. おいしいコーヒーにケーキ。これが私の最高の時間。
(Oishii kōhi ni kēki. Kore ga watashi no saikō no jikan. )
Good coffee and cake. My happiest moment.

5. 妻が作る料理がおいしいから、全然痩せられない。
(Tsuma ga tsukuru ryōri ga oishii kara, zenzen yaserare nai. )
My wife’s cooking is delicious, so I cannot lose weight.

6. おいしい物を食べると幸せになるよね。
(Oishii mono o taberu to shiawase ni naru yo ne. )
Tasty food makes us happy, doesn’t it?

7. おいしい料理とワイン。もう明日死んでもいい。
(Oishii ryōri to wain. mō ashita sindemo ii.)
Great food and wine. It’s okay if I die tomorrow.

 2. おいしい (Oishii) to Describe Nouns/Non-Food Items

Sometimes Japanese people use oishii for things they can’t physically taste. Things like “tasting” clean air can be described by using おいしい (oishii). Example 1 below shows how this is used.  

Oishii can be used to modify nouns to describe them. For example, a delicious restaurant. You are not physically eating the restaurant and saying it’s delicious. In Japanese, an おいしいレストラン (oishii resutoran – delicious restaurant) refers to the food or drink that the restaurant serves is delicious (example 3 below).  

Examples:

1. 山の頂上の空気はおいしいなあ。
(Yama no chōjo no kūki wa oishii nā.)
The air on top of the mountain is so good.

2. シェフの作る料理は目にもおいしい一皿です。
(Shefu no tsukuru ryōri wa me nimo oishii hitosara desu.)
The dish the chef creates is very delicious, not only for your tastebuds but also for your eyes.

3. おいしいレストラン見つけたんだ。今度一緒に行こうよ。
(Oishii resutoran mitsuketanda. kondo issho ni ikōyo.)
I found a good restaurant. Let’s go there someday.

 3. おいしい (Oishii) To Describe Appealing, Attractive or Favorable Opportunities/Situations

おいしい can also be used as an adjective to describe things (mostly opportunities or offers) that are appealing or attractive.  

Examples:

1. おいしい仕事が転がり込んできた。
(Oishii shigoto ga korogari konde kita.)
An appealing job came out of nowhere.

2. おいしい話には裏があるから気をつけて。
(Oishii hanashi ni wa ura ga aru kara ki o tsukete.)
If something sounds too good to be true, there’s probably a catch, so be careful.  
Literally: Attractive talk has a backside (more than meets the eye) so be careful. 

3. 勝って当然だよ。おいしい状況がそろった試合だったからね。
(Katte tōzen da yo. Oishii jōkyō ga sorotta shiai datta kara ne.)
Of course they won. It was a game where everything fell into place for them.  
Literally: Of course they won. Because it was a game where favorite situations lined up (for that team).

Different Forms of おいしい (Oishii): Past tense, Conditional, Negative, Looks Delicious

A display of ichigo daifuku, or strawberries with sweet bean paste in mochi in white and pink wrappers.

Oishii is an i-adjective. It can be conjugated into the past tense or negative form. You can also say something “looks delicious” with the そう (sou) suffix. Let’s look at all of these forms.

Past Tense of Oishii: おいしかった (Oishikatta)

For i-adjectives like oishii, you create the past tense by removing the final い (i) and then adding かった (katta).  

おいしい
(oishii)
delicious; favorable; attractive
remove final い (i)
= おいし (oishi)
+ かった (katta) = おいしかった
(oishikatta)
was delicious, favorable, or attractive

Examples:  

1. ハワイで食べたマンゴーは本当においしかった。
(Hawai de tabeta mangō wa hontō ni oishikatta.)
The mango I ate in Hawaii was really delicious.

2. おいしかったことを思い出すと、今でもよだれが出る。
(Oishikatta koto o omoidasu to ima demo yodare ga deru.)
I still drool thinking of how tasty that was.

3. ここのお料理すごくおいしかったから、また来ました。
(Koko no oryōri sugoku oishikatta kara, mata kimashita.)
Your dishes were very delicious, so I came again.

4. え、デート失敗しちゃったの? ディナーおいしかったんだからいいじゃない!
(E, dēto shippai shichatta no? Dinā oishikattan dakara ii janai!)
What? Your date didn’t go well? But the dinner was really good, so it’s all good!

Conditional Form: If It’s Delicious 

If you take an i-adjective in the past tense and add a “ら (ra)” to it, you’ll create the conditional tara form.  

This is a super useful form that means “if.” 

おいしかった
(oishikatta)
Past tense i-adjective
+ ら (ra)= おいしかったら
(oishikattara)
If it’s delicious

Example:  

1. おいしかったら遠慮しないでいっぱい食べてね。
(Oishikattara enryo shinaide ippai tabete ne.)
If you like it, don’t hold back and eat a lot.

The Negative Form Of Oishii : おいしくない (Oishikunai)

To turn an i-adjective into the negative form, you need to drop the final い (i) and replace it with くない (kunai).  

おいしい
(oishii)
delicious; favorable; attractive
remove final い (i)
= おいし (oishi)
+ くない (kunai) = おいしくない
(oishikunai)
Not delicious, favorable, or attractive

 Examples:  

1. おいしくない物なんて食べたくないよ。
(Oishikunai** mono nante tabetaku nai yo.)
I don’t want to eat any food that’s not delicious.

2. 1人で食べる食事はおいしくない。
(Hitori de taberu shokuji wa oishikunai**.)
Eating alone makes everything tasteless.

3. 猫はおいしくない物は食べないよ。
(Neko wa oishikunai** mono wa tabenai yo.)
Cats donʻt eat if the food is not delicious.

**Note: Instead of saying something is “not delicious” using oishikunai, you could also use the word まずい (mazui), which describes something that tastes bad.   

Something Looks Delicious: おいしそう (Oishisou)

If you would like to say that something looks delicious, you’ll use the そうsou suffix form.

To use the そう form with i-adjectives, you need to remove the final い (i) and replace it with そう (sou).  

おいしい
(oishii)
delicious; favorable; attractive
remove final い (i)
= おいし (oishi)
+ そう (sou) = おいしそう
(oishisou)
Looks delicious favorable, or attractive

The そう form turns an i-adjective into a na-adjective. This means that to use it to modify nouns, you’ll need to add a “な (na)” to the end of it:

おいしそう物 (oishisou na mono): Something that looks delicious

If you use it as an adverb to modify a verb, you’ll need the particle “に (ni).”

おいしそう作れば (oishisou ni tsukureba): If you make it look delicious

Examples:  

1. おいしそうに作ればみんな買ってくれるよ。
(Oishisou ni tsukureba minna katte kureru yo.)
If you make it look delicious, people will buy it.

2. うわー、なんかおいしそうな物食べてるねえ。
(Uwa-, nanka oishisou na mono tabeteru nē.)
Wow! You’re eating something that looks appetizing.

3. おいしそうに見えるけど、実はおいしくないんだ。
(Oishisou ni mieru kedo, jitsu wa oishikunain da.)
It looks tasty, but actually, it’s not. 

Another Useful Word Similar to Oishii: うまい (Umai)

A close-up of ramen in a black bowl. The soup base appears to be tonkotsu, with char siu slices, a hard-boiled egg, and some vegetables.

Generally speaking, umai is used by men to describe food or drink that tastes good. However, if umai describes a situation instead of food, both men and women use it.

Examples: Umai to Describe Taste (Usually Said by Men)

1. うまい!  おかわり!|
(Umai! Okawari!)
(This) Tastes great! More, please!

2. うまいメシと酒があれば、この世は極楽。
(Umai meshi to sake ga areba, kono yo wa gokuraku.)
If there is good food and sake, this world is heaven.

3. おかずがうまいから、ご飯がどんどん進むよ。
(Okazu ga umai kara, gohan ga dondon susumu yo.)
The side dish is so good, so I eat rice endlessly.

Using Umai to Describe Skill of Good Situations

うまい (umai) can also describe situations as good or favorable (examples 1-2 below). It can also mean skillful (example 3 below).  

Examples:

1. 今回もうまい具合に終わったわね。|
(Konkai mo umai guai ni owatta wa ne.)
It’s done as great as the last time.

2. あの人に頼むと、うまい感じに仕上げてくれる。
(Ano hito ni tanomu to umai kanji ni shiagete kureru.)
If you ask that person, that person will complete the job nicely.

3. うまいわねえ。さすがコンテストで優勝しただけのことはあるわ。
(Umai wa nē. Sasuga kontesuto de yūshō shita dake no koto wa aru wa.)
You’re so good (skilled). I can see why you won the contest.

Famous Uses of Oishii in Japan

Even if schools in Japan teach children to use hiragana to write oishii, many Japanese people still use kanji to write it.  

A huge-selling popular foodie manga comic book, 美味しんぼ (Oishinbo), may be one of the reasons for this.  Oishinbo is a story about gourmet food and issues in the food industry, the environment, and health. Writing oishii in kanji, 美味しい, may have become more common after this comic book became famous.

Oishii: Common Mistakes With Similar Words

There are some words in Japanese that is often mistaken for おいしいWhile the pronunciation may sound the same, these words have a completely different meaning.  

These are some words that sound similar and often confuse Japanese learners:  

  • oshii (惜しい): unfortunate, almost but not quite (as in, “you’re almost there!)
  • koishii (恋しい): the feeling of missing something or someone 
  • toishi (砥石): grindstone, sharpening stone
  • hoshii (欲しい): wanting or desiring something
  • ōishi (大石): big stone, or a Japanese family name

Keep these different words in mind, but don’t worry too much about making a mistake. Japanese people are really understanding and are impressed if you speak Japanese at all. So go out and give it a try the next time you eat some おいしい food!

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