In my dictionary, 理系{りけい}, 理科{りか}, and 科学{かがく} are defined simply as "science".

What, if anything, differentiates them?

Especially in terms of the feeling or nuance when used in everyday conversation.

  • ?? Strange...I thought someone had posted more detailed answer before me... and there were many comments too... They are all gone while I was down with the flu... – user1016 Feb 22 '12 at 0:19
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    @Chocolate: The other person who answered opted to delete their own post. I don't think there was anything wrong with their answer, however the comments were not so much about the issue of the words in the question, but on how the answer was made (The answerer had first answered with a somewhat incomplete "draft" answer first, and then came back with a more complete answer later). I can't say if that discussion was a factor in why the answer was deleted, but in any case, it was the answerer's decision to remove it, so that's where it went. – Questioner Feb 22 '12 at 2:52

Excuse me for posting an answer without referring to any sources...

We usually use 理科 to refer to a school subject (which usually includes these 4 fields: physics, biology, earth science and chemistry). We usually use the word 理科 in upper grades at elementary school, and in senior high we have [理科第1分野]{りかだいいちぶんや} (=chemistry and physics) and [理科第2分野]{りかだいにぶんや} (=earth science and biology). In senior high we usually choose 2 to 4 from these 4 fields and don't use the word 理科 anymore. I think we sometimes call these 4 subjects '[理科系科目]{りかけいかもく}...maybe it's like 'the group of scientific subjects'/'one of the scientific subjects'.

And as Paul-san said, we often say 'She is 理系/あの子は理系だよ。', 'I am 文系[ぶんけい]/私、文系なの。' when we talk about which field of 理系 and 文系 someone majors/majored in at college, and also 'あそこの大学は文系だ/That university is 文系', 'ここの[学部]{がくぶ}・[学科]{かっか}は理系です/This faculty/department (at college) is 理系' etc. to talk about what kind of courses a college/faculty/department has.

As for 科学… sorry Dave-san, I still don't know what to write about it here...

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