What’s the meaning of “Sasuga”(さすが)?

Hello there! Are you seeking for the most comprehensive Japanese lessons? Here is the perfect place for you! This time, let’s learn together what is the meaning of the Japanese phrase “Sasuga” that you might hear most of the time when you watch Anime and makes you wonder and curious about what is the meaning of “Sasuga” in English. Even in daily conversation, this phrase is often used as well. Generally, Sasuga is well-known as a complement phrase, however, there is another way how to use it. Therefore, let’s learn it completely this time so that we would avoid misunderstanding and we can keep it in our mind as well as capable of accurately using and understanding it in the actual conversation.  

So, Let’s learn together about Sasuga!

Original Kanji (Japanese Character) of Sasuga

One fact for you that actually, “Sasuga” is also used as a 「苗字・Myouji・Surename」or the word that Japanese used to refer to one’s family name (as opposed to one’s given name) in their everyday life. Although often written in hiragana, originally the Kanji of Sasuga is 「流石」. It comprises by 2 characters of Kanji, 流(nagare・ryu that means flow)and 石(ishi・seki that means stone). it is said that “Ryuseki” and “Nagareishi” are sometimes read as well as in addition to the “Sasuga”. Moreover, please note that 「流石」is the 「当て字」ateji or the phonetic equivalent, the special Chinese character used as a phonetic symbol rather than for its meaning. At this part, you might feel confused and wondering why the flowing stone or (ryuseki or nagereru seki) would be said or read as Sasuga? Please do not skip this part, open up your eye, prepare your note, and let’s read the next part of the brief history regarding this phrase. Therefore, Let’s learn together about Sasuga!

The Brief History of Sasuga

Originally, It is said that there was something that happen behind this phonetic word, Sasuga. A long time ago, an ancient Chinese politician had a slip of tongue, and this word derived from his miss-statement right after that. That has happened in the Jin Dynasty. There was a person named Sun Chu told an acquaintance the word『枕石漱流(ちんせきそうりゅう)”Chinseki Soryu” that has the meaning “use a stone as a pillow, wash your mouth with the flow of the river, and live freely in nature.” Then, this acquaintance tried to say it, unfortunately, he had mistakenly said it as『枕流漱石(ちんりゅうそうせき)』”Chinryu Souseki” (wrong not IN ORDER) where the meaning changed to be “The Pillow style of Soseki or in another word becoming a message of using a stone to wash mouth and use the flow of the river as a pillow”.

Right after hearing that mistake, Sun Chu laughed, but he hated that and said that『石でうがいをするのは歯を磨くため。川の流れを枕にするのは耳を洗うため』which means the acquaintance uses the stone to brush the teeth. (the acquaintance) Uses the flow of the river as the pillow to wash the ears as the evasions and way to warn the acquintance. Then, for the first time hearing that response of Sun Chu, an acquaintance said, “It’s wonderful or Sasuga da!” This word coming by taking the two letters of 『枕流漱石(ちんりゅうそうせき)』or “Pillow style of Soseki” then came to be written and well-known as 『流石・さすが・Sasuga』.

The meaning of Sasuga

In this part, we are going to learn the 3 meanings and how to use each of them in specific situations.

First Meaning and Situation

First, the meaning of “Sasuga”, When someone gives this phrase to you is “After all, this is exactly suitable for you. They praise what you are performing and what you have accomplished.” If your friends said it to you, then it expresses that they are impressed with the feeling of praise regarding the behavior or the accomplishment that you had, and they are convinced again that the result has happened as they have been expected. This phrase is well-used to affirm and emphasize what was previously thought with the nuance of “as expected and it is not following the expectations”.

For example, 「こんな難しい院試問題をすぐに解けるなんて、流石だ。」It’s wonderful! You can solve such a difficult graduate exam question immediately.

What is more, when others solve a problem that we are having trouble with immediately, people would say “Sasuga! “ “It is Sasuga (Impressive)!, Isn’t it?” as their response. Also, it is used when people have heard that this person is good or skillful at the field we are having trouble in it, but people use “Sasuga” to express “it’s amazing that these people can do it.” In this first part, “Sasuga” is often used as a “praise” in the sense that it was as good as the reputation that we heard, and it was even more impressive than the reputation that we have heard previously.

Second Meaning and Situation

The meaning of “Sasuga” is “nevertheless, there are things that are different from that, and the feelings of opposition remain.”

This phrase for the second part has the same meaning as “having said that”, “absolutely,…” and “for sure.” However, It admits something, unfortunately on the other hand, it shows feelings that go against it at the same time.

Sasuga in this case, is used to show the opposite of what you think, such as “I really enjoyed it, however, I was extremely tired” and “It was delicious for sure however I ate too much”.

For example, 「こちらのお寿司は本当に美味しいけれど、さすがにそんなにたくさん食べれないよ」The sushi here is delicious for sure, however, I can’t eat it so much.”

This expresses the feeling that “I admit that the sushi sold in that restaurant is delicious, but I am full and I cannot eat it a lot.”

Third Meaning and Situation

The third meaning of “Sasuga” is “It means that something that has the ability that admitted is no longer exist according to its evaluation. That said just like that…”

This time, it means “well-established and that much already..”, and is used when the result has not reached the expectation even though the ability is well recognized all time.

It is mainly used later with a negative word in the form of 「流石の◯◯も…..ない」”Sasuga no …… nai” that means even ……. cannot ……

For example, “even a master who has achieved great results in the past in a certain sport or competition cannot play an active role at the moment when they are old” can be expressed as 「流石のレジェンドでも年齢に勝つことはできない!」Sasuga no regendo demo nenrei ni katsu koto ha dekinai! “even a legend cannot beat his age”.

Can we use it for everyone, even our boss or teacher?

The answer is No! We cannot use it to praise everyone, especially our superiors. 

Why It is because “Sasuga” is the Japanese special phrase that is used not only to express the positive meaning but also with a negative meaning or opposite feelings against it. For example, when our teacher teaches or shows us something, even if we say “it’s a Sasuga or wonderful” with gratitude even you are bowing, it can be received in the meaning as “of course for you it is not a big deal that you can make it as we have expected”. In these cases, it is much better not to say “Sasuga” but please remember to say “Thank you” or “I will study or practice hard” to express gratitude and respect. 

Moreover, If we want to compliment a superior person than us, Please DO NOT USE “Sasuga desu”, Unfortunately, Please USE the following expression in Japanese.

「感服しました・感動しました・感激しました・感銘を受けました・脱帽しました・敬服します」that mean I was impressed, I took off my hat and I admire you. Please use these words to show your expression and admiration correctly to your superior so that we can avoid mistakes and even misunderstandings that would be big trouble in the future!!

Sasuga meaning in English

We can summarize the meaning of Sasuga in English as the following;

  1. 「さすが!Sasuga!」means That’s awesome! That’s Great!, I am very proud of you! And more for complementing the other persons.
  2. 「さすがに・Sasugani」means as you would think, as I have just thought about.. for I expressing I thought by myself actually but my feelings go against it or cannot do it.
  3. 「さすがの・Sasugano」means even.. 


In conclusion, we can summarize as the following:「流石 or Sasuga」is must be read as “Sasuga” not nagareishi or ryuseki which means “as one has expected”

  • “Sasuga” has other meanings such as I or you just thought about or even so which express certain emotions or feelings in it.
  • “Sasuga” is used to express “admiration and respond against the behavior of the other person”
  • “Sasuga” it could not be expressed to show our praise or admiration for our superiors. Using another impression would be highly recommended. 

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Representative Director of Reboot Japan Co., Ltd., which operates EDOPEN JAPAN. Founded the company in 2018, which provides Japanese language education and assistance for studying in Japan. Started the company after living with international students at a Japanese language school. He enjoys learning about new people and cultures and has lived in Australia and Malaysia. Graduated from the Faculty of Economics, Sophia University.