Hello, this is TORA.

Most Japanese people have likely been hearing the saying, “Mottainai,” ever since they could remember.
For example, your parents probably told you, when you were a child, that “it is wasteful to leave food on the plate.”

“Don’t leave food on the plate, because it’s wasteful!”
“That’s waste of money!”
“The cost of ○○ is not worth it!”
“It was such a loss to have not made it in time.”
“Mottainai” can be found anywhere.
I was often told that “Mottainai monster will come to get you!”.

Here, a unique Japanese saying, “Mottainai,” will be discussed.


Origin of “Mottainai”

“Mottainai” is a negation of a Buddhist term, “Mottai,”and represents a regretful lament for things losing their original form.

Mottai” is written “勿体” in ancient Chinese characters, and it was created in Japan based on “物体 (also pronounced, Mottai).”
With an added “Nai (negation),” the original meaning of the word is being inconvenient and impossible for not being the way things are supposed to be.

From this, “Mottainai” used to mean “regrettable” seems to refer back to the original meaning of the word, “the absence of things that are supposed to be there.”
However, since it contains reference to wastefully treating “sacred things” or “important things,” as in “Mottainai monster will come to get you,” it probably is an evolution of the word “勿体.”

To explain this to a foreigner…

It is a Japanese word used to discourage the condition of “not utilizing things to their full potential and wasting them,” or actions resulting in such condition.

To say this in English…

It would probably be something like, “being wasteful” or “unsuitable.”

That’s a waste それは浪費だ(もったいない)
what a waste of money お金の無駄だ(お金がもったいない)
This meat is too good for the dog この肉は犬には良すぎる(犬に与えるのはもったいない)

“MOTTAINAI” around the world.

Wangari Maathai is a Kenyan female political activist, known for her tree planting work in Africa, and was the first person to receive Nobel Prize as an environmental activist.
Upon learning the Japanese word “Mottainai,” she praised it as “a reflection of Japanese heart and way of life, based on valuing things and spiritual richness.”

She thought, “by rethinking this word, we can change the lifestyle of mass production and consumption,” and advocated the spread of “Mottainai to the world.”

Mottainai is an ancient Buddhist term from Japan that means to have respect for the resources around you, to not waste resources, and to use them with a sense of gratitude. “Mottainai” is a Japanese word derived from Buddhist terminology. It means to respect the resources around you, and use them with a sense of gratitude and without being wasteful. Mottainai campaign ― The Green Belt Movement “Mottainai” is a Japanese word that can proudly be applied to environmental matters as well.

It would be great if Japanese people can accurately explain this word to those unfamiliar with it, and lead them to a logical way of thinking.


Leaving food and drinks unfinished is wasteful, excessive use of electricity is wasteful of resources, and throwing away things that are still usable is wasteful.

“Mottainai” comes in a variety of forms. Again, since “Mottainai” comes from Buddhist terminology, the goal is to spread the idea to the rest of the world by cherishing the heart of Japanese people, which has been instilled over time, and the meaning of this word, in order to be able to feel “Mottainai” to waste any form of life, in addition the wasteful use of material things and money.

That’s all for today.

Otsukaresama deshita.