Posted by: yoko | December 7, 2005

Words From Childhood 3.12

Today’s word: mottainai

The dictionary I use defines mottainai as “too good; more than one deserves; wasteful; sacrilegious; unworthy of.” My mom tends to use it to mean “wasteful.” Sometimes it had to do with taking more food on my plate than I could eat and leaving it uneaten; sometimes, it had to do with wanting to buy something my mom thought was too expensive and wouldn’t be durable. It would be a waste of money to buy something frivolous, my mom would argue with me– mottainai.

Today, I have a hard time buying things for myself, even if they are things I need, like clothes. I’m in the midst of working on managing my finances better, which I desperately need to do.


  1. Maybe your dictionary’s meaning somehow seeped into your subconscious?

  2. I love “mottainai” because when I first heard it, I understood it – or I thought I did. I knew what “mottai” meant – it meant to want something. So since “nai” negates, I deduced that “mottainai” meant not to want something. I took it to mean that you don’t want to want it. If you waste it, you will be found wanting it or something else like it later. Karma. Mottainai. That’s how my brain worked it out. I have no idea whether or not it matches the kanji meaning of it at all!

    I would say that Yoko is mottainai. You are too good to waste! Buy yourself some nice things!

  3. I can just hear my mom say “mottainai yo!” in that singsong she does. Maybe it is in my subconscious.

    Suzanne– I’m not sure I’ve heard mottai as meaning “to want.” I had initially thought that mottai might’ve come from motsu, meaning to hold or have possession of. If mottai meant “to want to have,” then the negative would be “mottakunai.” In any case, motsu and mottainai come from different kanji.

    I do think mottainai means more along the lines of [being] wasteful. But thanks for the sentiment that I’m “too good to waste.”


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