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Both 世間{せけん} and 世界{せかい} seem to mean "world" in the sense of "a sphere of human activity or interest", or "a particular way of life", and that sort of thing. (As opposed to 地球{ちきゅう}, the literal globe of a planet we live on.)

What is the difference between them, though?

Bonus question: When looking up the above words, I came across this odd variant: 浮世{うきよ}, which also means "world", but also means "this fleeting life". It conveys the temporariness of being in this world. Is it interchangeable to any degree with the above words, or is it strictly poetic and reserved for flowery ruminations?

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う~ん・・浮世はちょっと古い・・・w – user1016 Feb 3 '12 at 6:04
Bonus answer: Floating world! Ghosts? – silvermaple Feb 3 '12 at 16:19
I know I was joking around when I made the above post, but I just read 浮世 in the book I'm reading, and I had to (drop everything and) share. It is sort of in a context of putting one's life on the line for one's job, if that helps :) – silvermaple Feb 5 '12 at 6:06
up vote 8 down vote accepted

In my feeling, those sound quite different.

世間 : the Japanese society.

  ex. "世間の常識" = common sense of our society.

世界 : the whole world on the globe. Particularly outside of Japan.

  ex. "世界のニュース" = international news. "世界一周" = a round-the-world trip.

In short, "世間" sounds like more local stuff.

is it strictly poetic and reserved for flowery ruminations?

Yes I think so. Never used in daily life.

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Related: 世間体 means "one's appearance in the eyes of society". 世間 will judge you; 世界 doesn't seem to have that capacity. – Trevor Alexander Jan 7 '14 at 0:35

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