The meaning of gohan (ご飯) and how to use it

This article will give you all of the knowledge you need on the Japanese word gohan, including its Japanese definition and translation, example sentences, related expressions and more!

What does gohan mean?

In Japanese, gohan (ご飯、ごはん) means cooked rice. Since rice is the common staple of most meals in Japan, gohan can also mean meal or dinner in a general sense.

The go- (ご) in gohan is an honorific form added to the han (飯) part. Honorifics basically add politeness to any word, but gohan is always said this way (perhaps because the monosyllabic han alone would be too short).

Without further ado, let’s look at some examples.

To make it easier for you, I have written each sentence in full Japanese kanji on the first line, followed by roman letters (romaji), and hiragana, with the English meaning coming last. I have also highlighted the new word in bold.

Gohan meaning 1: Rice

Gohan is a common word that means rice or meal in Japanese.

Kare wa takusan no gohan wo taberu.
He eats a lot of rice.

Gohan ka pan, docchi no houga suki?
Which do you like more, rice or bread?

Nichijouteki ni nihonjin wa gohan wo taberu.
Japanese people eat rice on a daily basis.

Gohan is a common word that means rice or meal in Japanese.

Gohan meaning 2: Meal/dinner

Although gohan literally stands for rice, Japanese commonly use this word when talking about meals or dinner. Naturally, this is a useful word to master when learning to speak conversational Japanese.

Of course, the meal does not need to contain rice for you to use the word gohan!

Mou gohan tabeta?
Did you eat already? (Lit: did you already eat a meal?)

Yokattara kondo, gohan ikimashou.
If you’d like, let’s go for dinner next time.

Gohan wa dou shiyou ka?
What shall we do for dinner?

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner?

As we have seen, gohan can generally refer to a meal, but what about when you want to be more specific and talk about breakfast, lunch, or dinner?

The answer is simple. You add the time of day to gohan, which transforms it to refer to the particular meal. Therefore:

  • Asagohan (朝ごはん、あさごはん), or morning meal, means breakfast.
  • Hirugohan (昼ごはん、ひるごはん), or afternoon meal, means  lunch.
  • Yorugohan (夜ご飯、よるごはん), or night meal, means dinner.

Quite straightforward isn’t it? In fact, you can easily use these words instead of gohan in any of the three example sentences from above.

Below, I will introduce a couple more similar words which you may find useful.

Kome = uncooked rice

Gohan is a common word that means rice or meal in Japanese.

Kome (米、こめ) also means rice in Japanese, but instead refers to the uncooked kind that you buy in big bags.

Nihon no kome wa ichiban oishii to omou.
I think Japanese rice is the best tasting.

Saikin, kome wa takaku narimashita ne.
Rice has gotten expensive recently, hasn’t it?

Watashi wa kome ga nakya ikite ikenai.
I couldn’t live without rice.

Meshi: A casual word that also means “meal”

Meshi (飯、めし) is a more casual word that also means meal. It is mostly used by Japanese men and gives a slightly rougher impression. Note that meshi uses the same kanji as gohan (ご飯).

When using meshi, you would usually use kuu (食う、くう) instead of taberu (食べる、たべる) to talk about eating. Both verbs mean the same thing – to eat. The only difference is politeness. Kuu is much more casual (or put another way, vulgar) so it matches meshi better in tone.

Mou meshi kutta?
Did you eat already? (Lit: did you already eat a meal?)