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From a quick google search, they both refer to friend.

Are they completely identical or is there any difference between [友達]{とも・だち} and [友人]{ゆう・じん}?

  • there was an interesting discussion about this question in the jisho forum. A lot of the answers seem to conflict with each other though... – Olumide Aug 20 '14 at 14:55
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    友人 is more formal. Nothing to back this up, but my sense is that it also can be a more distant relationship. – user3526 Aug 20 '14 at 17:14
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It's just that 友人 is more formal than 友達. I don't feel there is any difference in what they refer to.

For example, saying 「友人が会社を経営していまして。。。」 in a job interview would sound natural, but saying「友達が会社を経営していまして。。。」 sounds a bit childish. Conversely, 「ずっと友人でいような!」is weird but 「ずっと友達でいような!」 is natural.

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友人 is more formal than 友達.

I think this formality results in the side effect of it suggesting a closer friendship, because one would usually not refer to someone as a friend in Japanese in a serious conversation if they were not close, in my opinion.

So no, they are not identical — there are situations where one makes more sense to use than the other — but as far as understanding goes, I don't think it really matter if you ignore that specific nuance.

  • I've added the phrase "in Japanese" into your first paragraph, I hope that doesn't misunderstand the sense of what you were trying to say. – virmaior Aug 21 '14 at 0:35

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