The English phrase “pick up” actually has a lot of different meanings that really depend on the context of the situation. In Japanese, there are different words used for each of these situations, so today I’m going to go over how to say pick up in Japanese.
Although this article isn’t exhaustive, I’ve included what I feel are the most important words to use in some of the most common situations.
My intention is to provide you with a lot of helpful and useful information, so let’s get started with the first one now!
To Pick Up An Item
The first word that I want to cover is 拾う (hirou) which means “to pick up; to find; to gather” but for the purposes of today’s post, we will just stick to that first meaning.
This word is used when you are talking about picking up an item off of the floor, or the table, or where ever it may be residing at.
- supūn o hirou
- pick up a spoon
A good way to help remember this kanji is to focus on its radicals. On the left we have the abbreviated version of the kanji for hand 手 in Japanese. On the right, we have the kanji for fit together 合.
If you use mnemonics to help you remember the meaning of kanji, you can think about a hand (or fingers) fitting together to pick up an object.
This is a pretty common word, but there is also another one that can be used instead.
The other word that can be used to say “pick up” is 取り上げる (toriageru) which is formed from the two words 取る (toru) “to take” and 上げる (ageru) “to elevate.”
- mou ichido toriageta.
- (he) picked it up once more.
There are a lot of combination words like this in Japanese just like there are in English. When you see them, try to imagine what each of their separate meanings are and then see how they fit together.
To Pick Up An Idea
We just talked about picking up physical items, but what about picking up non-physical ones? In other words, what about when you learn something new?
It wouldn’t be out of place to say something along the lines of “I picked up a little Japanese while I visited Japan” and the like when speaking English.
The right word to express this type of “acquired knowledge” in Japanese is 覚える (oboeru).
When this word is used in this context, it usually gets translated into English as “learn” since the meaning is pretty much the same.
- gaikokugo o oboaru
- to learn a foreign language
To Pick Up A Person
In English is pretty common to say something like, “I will pick you up at five” or “Can you pick me up at the airport?” when talking to someone about a future meeting.
The airport example is a pretty good one because it helps envision the situation where one person drives to the other’s location, and then takes them back home.
In Japanese, we can’t use those words from the first section to say that we are going to “pick up” the person we are talking to. If we did, they would assume we were talking about physically picking them up off the ground.
Instead, the expression that should be used is 迎えに来る (mukae ni kuru) which means “to come for someone” or “to pick someone up.”
- kare ga anata o mukai ni kuru.
- He will come pick you up.
The 迎えに part of the phrase basically means “to go meet” the other person and then the 来る part has that meaning of “bringing them back” to the place you were just at.
To Pick Up On A Meaning
Another way that we tend to use this phrase in English is to say that you discern or perceive something that is not apparent. This happens in conversations a lot of times when certain messages are transmitted through things other than the words that a person says.
For example, a person’s tone of voice or body language can send out a different message than the actual words they are using, and if you notice this and are able to decipher the underlying meaning then you have “picked up” on it.
A Japanese word that is similar in meaning to this is 悟る (satoru). A couple of dictionary translations of this word are:
- to perceive （a truth）
- to apprehend （the meaning）
- to grasp （the situation）
This is a case where Japanese doesn’t really have a phrase like the English phrase “to pick up on something” so we have to fall back on using a word that carries the same general meaning.
To Pick Up Where You Left Off
Actually, now that I think about it, there are very few English phrases that have Japanese equivalents.
What this means as a language learner is that instead of looking for a Japanese phrase that matches the English one you want, it’s better to find the English word that has the same meaning and then find the right Japanese word.
In this case, when we say “to pick up where you left off” what we are really saying is “to resume an activity” or “to start an activity again” from the point where you last stopped at.
A good word in this case is 再開 (saikai) which means “resumption; restarting” and is formed by using one of the Japanese words for “again” 再 along with 開 which means “to start.”
- ~to no koushou o saikai suru
- resume negotiations with~
Did You Pick Up Something New?
There was a lot of different information presented in this post, and I hope that you found it valuable.
If I caused any confusion, then please let me know and I will do my best to clear it up with more examples, or a different explanation.
Other than that, if you would like to share your own thoughts about these phrases or just the Japanese language in general, then please feel free to do so. Thanks!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: