What does ‘iimawashi’ (言い回し) mean, and how is it different from ‘tōmawashi’ (遠回し)


The two words, ‘iimawashi’ (言い回し) and ‘tmawashi’ (遠回し)

Hello again, everybody! Do you know the two expressions ‘iimawashi’ and ‘tōmawashi’? You might just know ‘tōmawashi’, but not ‘iimawashi’, which you may have heard for the first time. Let’s look at ‘tōmawashi’ first.

The meaning of ‘tmawashi’

‘Tōmawashi’ is used both as a noun ‘tōmawashi’ and an adjectival verb ‘tōmawashi da/na/ni’. Its meaning is ‘not saying directly but in a roundabout way, or beating about/around the bush’. Another expression, ‘motte mawatta’ (literally: going round while having something), has a similar, but stronger, meaning and means, ‘not saying directly but in an excessively roundabout way’.

Examples of ‘tmawashi’

  • ‘tōmawashi ni chūi suru’ (to advice/caution in a roundabout way)
  • ‘tōmawashi ni tashinameru’ (to reprove/reprimand indirectly)

The meaning of ‘mawashi’

The word ‘iimawashi’, on the other hand, means ‘a mode/manner of expression’.

Examples of ‘iimawashi’

  • ‘shareta iimawashi da’ (It is a witty/smart expression.)
  • ‘tōmawashi na iimawashi wo suru’ (to speak in a roundabout manner of expression)
    (N.B. Both ‘tōmawash’ and ‘iimawashi’ can be used thus together!)
  • ‘motte mawatta iimawashi wo suru na!’ (Don’t talkin such a roundabout manner of expression)
    (N.B. Like ② both ‘motte mawatta’ and ‘iimawashi’ can also be used thus together!)
  • ‘ki no kiita iimawashi wo suru’ (to speak in a well-chosen/smart mode of expression)

Some comment and explanation

It may be the case that many learners know the word ‘tōmawashi’. Indeed, you may say that this word  symbolizes the manner of communication among many Japanese people, who are often more reticent than, say, Westerners, about expressing their opinions directly. 

Some of the foreign learners who understand the word ‘tōmawashi’ very well may think that ‘iimawashi’ is similar in meaning to ‘tōmawashi’ because they sound similar.

Actually, I knew some Chinese students at Waseda University in Tokyo who were proficient in spoken Japanese often misunderstood and thought that ‘iimawashi’ meant the same as ‘tōmawashi’.


The two words, ‘iimawashi’ and ‘tōmawashi’, are not the same at all: ‘iimawashi’ means ‘a mode/manner of expression’, and ‘tōmawashi’ means ‘not saying directly but in a roundabout way, or beating about/around the bush’.


If you have any questions, do get in touch using the space for comments.

I shall also correct your sentences which incorporate these two words.

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