Monday, March 12, 2012

Q&A: Ban-gohan or Yoru-gohan?

Today we explore a deep mystery of the Japanese language. What is the correct name for dinner?!
(, that'd be "supper" for many of our non-American readers.)

yesfit99 writes:

Is the correct Japanese word for the evening meal 晩ご飯 (ban gohan) or 夜ご飯 (yoru gohan)?

Ever since I was a kid, I always said ban gohan, but recently it seems like everyone on TV is calling it yoru gohan. At first I just thought it was stupid idols who don't know proper Japanese, but then I heard some pretty big-name celebrities saying yoru gohan, too.

And gray wizardman sets him straight:

Well, dinner is the meal we originally took from 2 to 5 hours or more before going to sleep, which would place it at roughly 5:00 to 7:00 in the evening. So the term 夕飯 (yuuhan) is generally applied, even though there are some people who always eat dinner later at night.

In the dictionary, we can find the word 晩ご飯, but the word 夜ご飯 doesn't show up.

Although some people think that because in the morning, 朝 (asa), we eat 朝ご飯, and in the afternoon, 昼 (hiru), we eat 昼ご飯, then at night, 夜 (yoru), we ought to be eating 夜ご飯. However, the word 夜ご飯 didn't initially exist in Japanese. Someone just made that word up recently.

In Wikipedia, the word 夜ご飯 shows up, but it is classified as a type of 夜食, or a midnight snack.*

So the right word for the meal you eat in the evening is definitely 晩ご飯. Celebrities might be calling their last meal of the day 夜ご飯 because they're often eating well after the sun's down, after 8:00 or even later at night.

*[Translation note: The Wikipedia article linked has since been revised and now specifies that 夜ご飯 is sometimes used to refer to a normal evening meal.]

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  1. My husband actually calls dinner 夕食 yuushoku. 晩ご飯 is what I learnt in classes, and we sometimes use it as an alternative word. But 夜ご飯 just sounds wrong. It doesn't even show up when typing it. Isn't that just a "try-to-be-polite" but wrong version of the rather harsh, but correct 夜飯 yorumeshi?

  2. Makes sense for Japanese (though I was searching for a more general ban vs yoru when i found this) but English wise....
    Dinner is what we eat at midday. The evening meal is tea or supper.

  3. Yes, thank you for the comment, Bernician. The term in the opening paragraph was a bit American-centric. Fixed now.