The meaning of umai (上手い、旨い) in Japanese and how to use it

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

What does umai mean?

The Japanese word umai means good, as in being skilled or proficient at something (written as 上手い) or food being delicious (written as 旨い or sometimes 美味い). You can usually distinguish between the two meanings based on the situation or the kanji characters. In daily conversation, I would say that umai most often refers to food.

What’s the difference between umai and oishii?

Umai means proficient or delicious in Japanese.

When the topic is food, the Japanese words umai and oishii both signify good or delicious. They can even be written with the same kanji! (美味い and 美味しい, respectively). The difference between them is one of politeness.

Oishii is the vanilla term you can use in any situation, whether with strangers or friends. Oishii is the word that you will be taught in textbooks and Japanese courses.

Umai is more casual and somewhat vulgar. Umai is also used more by men than women, although there’s no rule that says girls can’t use it too.

The choice of which word to use will therefore depend on your company at the time and the situation. Feel free to use umai with friends, but stick to saying oishii desu (it’s delicious) around your boss!

What is umma?

Umma (うっま) is an even more casual way to say (the food is) so good. This expression’s emotional tone suggests that the taste is a notch above the standard umai.

If you have ever watched Japanese TV shows, then you have probably seen someone crying out “umma!!” to express how amazing their helping of ootoro sushi tastes. In English, a close equivalent might be “mmmm!”.

Make sure to pronounce umma with a glottal stop (in other words, a gap where you double down on the next sound) between the “u” and “ma”, otherwise it might sound like uma (馬), the word for horse!

Example sentences using umai (food)

Below, we take a look at some examples of how to use umai in Japanese.

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.

Kono hanbaagu wa umai!
This hamburger is delicious!

Sono resutoran no pasuta wa umai rashii yo.
I hear that restaurant’s pasta is good.

Nande konnani umai n darou na!
I wonder why it tastes so darn good!

Example sentences using umai (skilled/proficient)

As mentioned, umai can also signify being good at something. This has the exact same meaning as jyouzu. The two words are also written with the same kanji (上手い and 上手). The only real difference is that umai is an “i”-type adjective, while jyouzu is a “na” adjective.

Kare wa e ga umai.
He is good at drawing.

Oosutoraria ni go nenkan sundeita yo.
I lived in Australia for five years.

Souka. Dakara eigo ga umai n da ne.
I see. So that’s why you’re good at English.

Tomodachi wa ryouri ga jyouzu desu.
My friend is good at cooking.