Feet are 足, and legs are also 足.

Is there a word or method with which I can easily talk about one and not the other? And if not, why is there no word for feet in the Japanese language?

Caveat: I know that one can just use フィート but that feels so very not Japanese...

  • 1
    oh yea btw in chinese we have this problem too, we have the 小腿 for calf, 大腿 for thigh, 脚板 for the underneath of your feet, and 脚 as a catchall anywhere. in fact i've no idea how to refer to "foot" in chinese until i've read Tsuyoshi's answer
    – Pacerier
    Aug 31 '11 at 22:06
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    @sawa: OP said フィート, not フート. Although I've never heard anyone use フィート in reference to bodily apendages; only for the 12" measurement of length.
    – istrasci
    Jan 27 '12 at 15:21
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    @istrasci As Istrasci comments, even フィート is never used to mean the limb 'feet'. It only means the length 'feet'.
    – user458
    Jan 27 '12 at 20:38
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    @istrasci I am adding a new comment with more content that also includes what I wrote in my original comment so that your comments above make sense again: フート is never used. It is totally wrong. No native Japanese will pronounce such word. There is no such Japanese word. フット is never used to mean the limb feet. It is only used in expressions such as フットボール "football", ビッグフット "Big Foot (the unidentified creature)", etc. フィート is also never used to mean the limb feet. It means the length feet. In short, all these katakana words (existing or non-existing ones) are totally irrelevant.
    – user458
    Jan 31 '12 at 6:08
  • 2
    Indonesian also doesn't distinguish between legs and feet.
    – user100464
    Jan 16 '18 at 23:12

Is there a word or method with which I can easily talk about one and not the other?

A short answer is that there is no simple way. If you have to talk specifically about foot but not leg, you have to explain it such as 足{あし}の足首{あしくび}から先{さき}の部分{ぶぶん} (the part of leg which is below ankle). Similarly, you have to exclude foot, you have to explain it such as 足{あし}の足首{あしくび}より上{うえ}の部分{ぶぶん} (the part of leg which is above ankle).

There are two kanji for あし: 足 and 脚. Sometimes they mean different parts of human body, in which case 足 means foot and 脚 means leg (including thigh but usually not including hip). But this is not always the case, and in particular 足 can also mean the same part as 脚. My personal impression is that using 脚 for foot is rare.

As technical terms in medicine, always means foot, and 下肢{かし} means lower limb (which is a little broader than “leg”). The precise meaning of “leg,” which is the free part of lower limb (the part of lower limb that we can move by will), is called 自由下肢{じゆうかし}. But 下肢 is a formal word and not usually used in a daily conversation, and 自由下肢 is completely a technical term and at least I did not know the term 自由下肢 at all until I looked it up just now.

  • 6
    +1 for bringing up the difference between 足 and 脚.
    – Amanda S
    Jun 4 '11 at 8:06

At first glance we might think Japanese inaccurate because we can't indicate leg as different from foot. In practice i find Japanese native speakers go one level of detail deeper and refer more specifically to ankle 足首, thigh 腿, toe tips 爪先, knees 膝, heel かかと and calf 脹脛.

As a martial arts instructor I have to talk about legs, feet and ankles a lot, often in Japanese. I've also heard endless hours of my Japanese teachers talking about them. Not being able to say leg, needless to say, has never come up grin

Did you have a specific usage in mind (eg. hey nice feet!)

  • +1 for being a martial arts instructor! and as for the last para, what about "my feet is buried in the sand" (and not leg)
    – Pacerier
    Aug 31 '11 at 21:48
  • @Pacerier 足首まで砂に埋もれている would work.
    – dainichi
    Jan 28 '12 at 13:20

I think the problem here is that languages in general don't always equate 1:1 with other languages. For instance there is also no difference in Japanese between pigeons and doves or squirrels and chipmunks. The problem is that we know English in which there are two distinct words to tell the difference, so that's how we percieve the situation. Japanese on the other hand have always had just one word, so don't even think of the need to differentiate between the two.

To answer you question though, I don't think there is a way to differentiate.

  • 3
    There are usually well-worn circumlocutions in such cases though. For instance, Romance languages tend not to have separate words for "finger" and "toe" but in Spanish everybody says "dedo de pie" (toe of foot = foot's toe). Jun 4 '11 at 1:46
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    There are examples in reverse, too, such as the fact that English has no differentiation between 兄 and 弟. Jun 4 '11 at 1:48
  • And then sometimes a language perceives an absence and borrows a foreign word to supplement their existing word as with Japanese "ラット" (ratto) even though "鼠" (nezumi) already covered both mice and rats. Jun 4 '11 at 2:03
  • @hippietrail: isn't debunezumi rat? Jun 4 '11 at 15:00
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    Just a small correction, it's dobunezumi (ドブネズミ, 溝鼠), not debunezumi. ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/… At first when I read what you wrote, I wondered, "is 'fat-mouse' the Japanese word for rat?", so I looked it up.
    – Questioner
    Jun 14 '11 at 13:45

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