I thought I might add a word to my Japanese vocabulary that means as close to "to wander" as possible in English.

In the English Wiktionary three Japanese words are mentioned but only one has an entry:

  • 彷徨う / さ迷う - both read as さまよう
  • ぶらつく
  • うろつく

Are there some subtle differences between these words? Is one better as a general translation of the English word? If there are multiple senses or connotations I'm most interested in one with positive associations of exploring aimlessly without a plan, mostly on foot.

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    dictionary.goo.ne.jp/leaf/thsrs/11669/m0u This page details all of it. I'm sure someone can find it useful for an answer.
    – ssb
    Apr 15, 2014 at 8:38
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    I've also seen 放浪【ほうろう】 and 巡る【めぐる】 used for wandering as well.
    – Kaji
    Apr 15, 2014 at 16:20
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    @ssb Thanks. Though I am a bit curious why 出歩く is included here. While it might be going out walking, I didn't think it implied there was no specific destination or direction, which I would read into wander or roam.
    – user3169
    Apr 15, 2014 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


The main differences are in the formality/informality of these words, not really in their meanings. They all mean "to roam about (aimlessly)" and I will mention the small difference in nuance later on.

「ぶらつく」 and 「うろつく」 are more informal than 「さまよう」. The existence of the onomatopoeias 「ぶらぶら」 and 「うろうろ」 should tell you something about the colloquiality of the two verbs. Casually, you can say:

「[今日]{きょう}は[新宿]{しんじゅく}をブラブラした。」= "I wandered around Shinjuku today."

「TNはいつも[女子寮]{じょしりょう}のまわりをウロウロしているらしい。」 = "They say that TN is always hanging around the girls' dormitory."

You could replace the 「Onomatopoeia + する」 forms in the above sentences with 「ぶらつく」 and 「うろつく」, but you would sound VERY weird if you used 「さまよう」 because it sounds too poetic and/or self-important. In prose or poetry, 「さまよう」 is an excellent word to use but not in an everyday kind of conversation.

Finally, I will talk about the nuances. 「さまよう」 is usually used when wandering around a larger place like a city or even a country. You cannot さまよう around a house except in a poem or something.

「うろつく」, on the contrary, can only be used when hanging around a limited area like a block or even inside a house.

「ぶらつく」 sort of comes in the middle. You can ぶらつく around your neighborhood or even a city, but not around a house or a country.

  • Great answer thank you! In my case I'm wandering around Asia and currently Japan. When I tried to look up the terms in dictionaries there were negative connotations like "loiter" mentioned in some of them as well as just different ones like "hang around". Apr 15, 2014 at 17:49

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