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In English, fruit and vegetable have actual scientific meanings, which make eggplant, tomato and zucchini fruits. However, most people just ignore the actual definition and like to just say those are vegetables.

Does Japanese have the exact same problem with 果物 and 野菜?

Or is it the case that 果物 and 野菜 don't actually 100% mean the same as the English "fruit" and "vegetable"? What I mean by this is: when an American says that "eggplant is a vegetable", they are incorrectly using the word "vegetable". But when a Japanese person says "ナスは野菜です", perhaps they are correctly using the word 野菜, as 野菜's actual Japanese definition does apply to ナス. So 野菜 and "vegetable" actually have different definitions, but in 99% of cases, they agree (and they only disagree 1% of the time). Is this the case?

And I suppose one final question is: is mushroom considered a 野菜?

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    I'd like to point out that the everyday usage of those words is older than the scientific use - but also, the separation of 野菜 and 果物 is quite different from the separation of 'fruit' and 'vegetable'. Watermelons can be considered 野菜
    – Angelos
    Commented Apr 23 at 10:00
  • @Angelos That sounds fascinating. I'd love to see an answer which details how 野菜 and 果物 may not necessarily correspond to vegetables and fruits.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Apr 23 at 12:44
  • @A.Ellett - My understanding is 果物 in its scientific sense grow on trees. So any kinds of melons (and berries, too!) would be 野菜. However, we normally treat sweet ones like 西瓜 as 果物.
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Apr 23 at 14:23

2 Answers 2

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Most people are vaguely aware of controversies around this topic, but in daily life, they just use "traditional" classifications without thinking much about the definitions. That is, people usually regard eggplants as 野菜 and strawberries as 果物. As far as "traditional" classifications are concerned, I don't think there is a large perception gap between English and Japanese.

However, tomatoes and watermelons may be called recurring topics of discussion. Although most people have traditionally recognized tomatoes as 野菜 and watermelons as 果物, there are a few who confidently argue otherwise.

Mushrooms are usually recognized as a separate category (i.e., neither a vegetable nor a fruit), although they are typically sold in the vegetable section of supermarkets.

(By the way, I doubt there is a single "scientific" definition of vegetables that is universally accepted...)

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The answer to the question of the title is, there are no definitions regarding what is 野菜 and what is 果物. So rather than the distinction being scientific or casual, there's no strict distinction (source) And similarly for mushrooms - it depends on contexts whether they count as vegetables (source).

There are (from my perspective) two different meanings of English fruit: (1) as meant by the expression bear fruit speaking of a plant. I suppose an eggplant is a fruit in this sense. (2) as in fruit and vegetables, meaning usually something sweet. I assume people do not expect eggplants when ordering seasonal fruits assortments in a restaurants in summer.

Regarding (1), there are words 果実{かじつ} and 実{み} in Japanese. And as Wikipedia says ナスは、ナス科ナス属の植物。また、その果実のこと, certainly ナス is treated as 果実. And トマトの実 is valid as well (but きゅうりの実 is not very commonly heard).

On the other hand, 果物 generally means fruit(2) above, for which there's no clear definition.


Totally irrelevant, but aubergines that can be most commonly found in Kanto area (at least) are usually much smaller than those found in Western supermarkets. Maybe almost half in size.

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