With regard to translating "イモ", having the listener imagine the image and flavour of the vegetable is infinitely more useful than merely a convenient translation. I have seen "イモ" translated as "potato" several times. But, I am suspicious.

I am from the Southeastern USA region, and most of us consider a "potato" to be the one, and only one, classic "baking potato" (usually grown in Idaho). There are also "sweet potatoes" and "yams", but we draw no distinction. "Sweet potatoes" and "yams" are both called "sweet potatoes".

If someone asks me "what is an イモ?", I am not comfortable with just saying "Ah. It's a potato." I've never seen or eaten an イモ. Using terms that a native English speaker would use in daily conversation, what is a very short way to get the image of an イモ into the mind of someone who knows nothing about Japan?

note: I did google images, but I believe some of the "イモ" images are mislabeled. So, I'm confused. Who has eaten a real イモ and can explain what it is in terms that native English speakers use in daily conversation?

  • 4
    +1, I actually think this is a really good question because of how often words for foods don't correspond between Japanese and English quite as cleanly as dictionaries suggest. – snailplane Dec 31 '14 at 6:33

Even though I've been guilty of it plenty of times, it turns out that sweet potatoes and yams are different things. (I'm from the midwest -- my wife is from California).

But in answer to your question, a regular potato (member of the nightshade family) is a じゃがいも.

yam is ながいも

sweet potato is さつまいも.

There's a character for いも, 芋. If someone just said いも to me (as a non-native speaker), I would assume a regular potato.

Also in internet slang いも was used for e-mobile which is now Y!-mobile. I don't know if anyone still calls it 芋.

  • Are your claims first-hand? Have you actualy eaten a サツマイモ、 and thought in English "wow! this tastes just like a sweet potato?". – user312440 Dec 31 '14 at 3:49
  • @user312440 I've eaten all of the above in Japan, but umm.. who eats sweet potato or yam (or their Japanese equivalents) raw? The tastes match in the dishes we make. – virmaior Dec 31 '14 at 4:34
  • cool. good enough of an opinion for me. i'm convinced. thanks! – user312440 Dec 31 '14 at 4:42

芋 aka some small, roundish, starchy root vegetable -- a tuber.

  • [甘薯]{かんしょ} aka [薩摩芋]{さつまいも} 
  • [馬鈴薯]{ばれいしょ} aka じゃが芋
  • [里芋]{さといも} which, as far as I know is what 芋 actually originally meant
  • [長芋]{ながいも}
  • [菊芋]{きくいも}
  • こんにゃく芋
  • Do people say かんしょ? I've never seen or heard that for さつまいも – virmaior Jan 1 '15 at 15:25
  • I've never heard it said, but you'll find it on ingredient lists. – Brandon Jan 1 '15 at 16:12
  • お店で「甘薯」って書いて売ってるの見ます(京都では)。口では店の人も「サツマイモ」って言うけど。店では「馬鈴薯」「メークイン」って書いて売ってるのに、口頭では店の人も客も結構「ジャガイモ」って言うのと似てるかも。 – user1016 Jan 2 '15 at 9:00

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