I've checked in a couple of dictionaries already, and they describe bot 森林 and 森 as "forest." Are there any major differences in meaning between these words?

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  • Chocolate and naruto, if someone asks a question about definition differences between two similar words, without understanding the similarity between their question and other questions asking about other words, isn't it hard to avoid duplicating questions? I mean, I don't think there are any tags Jake could have searched for to lead him to those duplicates you mention, nor any way for their answers to help him. Although I understand one word is Yamato and one Sino-Japanese, are you telling me that there are NOT slightly different meanings? Commented May 13, 2018 at 4:51
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    @ericfromabeno I know this is a meaningful and good question (I upvoted this before voting to close), but this can be safely resolved as a duplicate, too. There are literally thousands of similar kango-wago pairs, and there are already dozens of similar questions here. In this case, I don't think there is a meaningful semantic difference (like in 沸騰 vs 沸く).
    – naruto
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 5:30
  • so the added nuance that I believed it had, of sometimes specifically being used to refer to wooded areas used by man, does not exist in choosing to use 森林 over simply 森? Commented May 13, 2018 at 5:37
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    @ericfromabeno Closing a question as a duplicate isn't a penalty, and it's okay if the OP can't avoid it. The idea behind duplicates is that we can tell the OP "We've already got an answer to your question, and this is where you can find it". Then if future people find this page on Google search, the site can direct them to the answer as well.
    – user1478
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 6:00

1 Answer 1


it's a matter of synonyms, mostly, but there is one contextual difference. Both can be translated as "forest", in general, but 森林 can also be translated a "the woods" or "woodlands" or "timberland" with the added connotation that such an area, besides being a forest, is also considered a source of wood. Whether 森林 specifically refers to a managed woodland, I'm not exactly clear on.

  • if you can tell me what's wrong with this, I'm listening. Commented May 13, 2018 at 4:15
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    Is the "added connotation" your opinion or does it have a source it can be attributed to?
    – Flaw
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 5:47
  • it's an extrapolation. If both words can be forest, but only 森林 is translatable to "woodlands" "woods" and "timberlands" then by the fact that those English words specifically refer to forested lands that are used for their resources, it goes to follow that so does 森林. If A = B, and C = B, then A = C. Language being fluid, and two languages not always being 100% relate-able to eachother, the meanings might not be exactly the same, but why would any dictionary bother to give 森林 those extra meanings if there were not something similar going on in the usage of that word? Commented May 13, 2018 at 8:08
  • having searched for something to justify my answer, I find several uses of 森林 to mean forest, but none so far that can only be translated as woodland or timberland. And a couple of times when 森林 is specifically used to refer to completely natural forest, so I have to conclude that the word does not actually specifically connote "forests used as a source of wood". My logic seemed sound, but it isn't backed up by the facts. Here's a sample website that shows me to be wrong: shinrin-ringyou.com/forest_japan/jinkou_tennen.php Commented May 13, 2018 at 8:22
  • After further research and discussion with my Japanese school teacher friends, there are some differences between 林, 森, and 森林. It turns out hayashi 林 is more appropriate to use when referring both to small wooded areas and specifically wooded areas grown for use by man. 森 is most appropriately used for large dense woods/forest, and 森林 is most appropriate to use when you wish to refer to the forest, with the added connotation that you are talking about everything therein. The forest as a biome, including the animals and other plants that are part of it. I am debating whether to edit my answer Commented May 14, 2018 at 7:46

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