Japanese Language Blog

What is Japanese word, mottainai? Posted by on Mar 27, 2016 in Culture, Grammar


The other day, one of my friends heard me telling my kids, “Mottainai!”, and asked me what that means.. this is another one of those Japanese words that we use often, quite often and that if you are learning Japanese, this is the one that you would want to know for sure.


Mottainai ~Mottainai is written as “勿体無い” in Kanji and “もったいない” in Hiragana. There are varieties of way to use this.

Mottainai just means “waste” mainly in English. We often use the word, “mottainai” to let people know that “It’s a waste!” However, that is not the only meaning we associate in Japanese. Sometimes, we use Mottainai, meaning “too much”, or “too good” for ourselves. When you use “Mottainai” in this context, you are putting yourself lower than the person you are speaking to.

Below are some of the examples, hope you will get a good idea of how to use this word here..


For example:

Nande yobunna mono kattano? Mottainai yo!

何で 余分な もの 買ったの? 勿体無いよ!(なんで よぶんな もの かったの? もったいないよ!)

Why did you have to buy the extra one? That’s a waste!

**Implies that the money was wasted to spend on such an extra item..



Konnna ko-ka na puresento arigatou. Watashi niwa mottainai yo.

こんな 高価な プレゼント ありがとう。私には、勿体無いよ。(こんな こうかな プレゼント ありがとう。わたしには、もったいないよ。)

Thank you for giving me such an expensive present. This is too much for me.

**Implies that the present was “too much for me”, or “too good for me”.



Mada tsukaeru no ni doushite suteruno? Mottainai yo.

まだ 使えるのに どうして 捨てるの?勿体無いよ。(まだ つかえるのに どうして すてるの?もったいないよ。)

You can still use it. Why would you throw it away? That’s a waste!

**Implies that the value of the item was lost, wasted.



Shinsetsu na okotoba  arigatou gozaimasu. Watashi niwa mottainai okotoba desu.

親切な お言葉、ありがとうございます。 私には 勿体無い お言葉です。(しんせつな おことば ありがとうございます。わたしには、 もったいない おことば です。)

Thank you for your kind words. Those are too good for me.

** Implies that the words given were too precious for me. You are putting yourself much lower than the person you are speaking to.


In Japanese culture, we often use “Kenjo-go” which in a way place ourselves lower than the person you are speaking to, in order to show respect. For that purpose, we use the word, “mottainai” in such a way that is explained in the last example above.  This is a common expression.

Hope you got to know a bit more about the word, “Mottainai” today.

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About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.


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