12 Beautiful and Untranslatable Japanese Words 0

“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.”

‒ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Do you agree with this quote? I know I do. Many languages have beautiful and unique words which cannot be translated. These words often represent concepts which are so unique to that culture, there is simply no equivalent in any other language.

We’ve collected 12 of our favourite Japanese words with no English equivalent.

The interesting thing about these words is that they reveal a lot about the Japanese character. Many of these words reflect Buddhist concepts which are unknown to many Westerners, but are central ideas in Japanese society.

By learning these unique Japanese words, you are one step closer to understanding the Japanese soul.

Shinrinyoku 森林浴

Shinrinyoko: the Japanese word for 'forest bath', aka taking a walk in the forest for its restorative benefits. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Shinrinyoku literally translates as ‘forest bath’. It refers to taking a walk in the forest for its restorative and therapeutic benefits. Can’t you feel yourself relaxing as you soak up all the lovely green light? Scientists have actually found that walking in the forest has many health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and stress hormones. It seems the Japanese are one step ahead with their shinrinyoku practise!

Komorebi 木漏れ日

Komorebi: the Japanese word for sunlight filtered through trees. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

The sunlight filtered through leaves on trees. This is a beautiful word to describe a beautiful moment. You can enjoy some komorebi while taking your shinrinyoku!

Kuidaore 食い倒れ

Kuidaore: the Japanese word for eating yourself into bankruptcy. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Kuidaore means something like ‘to eat yourself bankrupt’. The word implies a kind of extravagant love of good food and drink – so much love that you will happily spend all your money on it! It comes from the words 食い (kui – eating) and 倒れる (daoreru – to go bankrupt, be ruined). Kuidaore has come to be associated with the Dōtonbori district in Osaka, famed for its many restaurants and nightlife spots. You have been warned!

Tsundoku 積ん読

Tsundoku: the Japanese word for letting books pile up, unread. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Here’s one for the book lovers. Tsundoku is the practise of acquiring books and letting them pile up, unread. Anyone who just loves books but doesn’t have time to read them as fast as they buy them will understand this one. It uses the words 積む (tsumu – to pile up) and 読 (doku – to read). It’s also a clever pun, because tsunde oku means ‘pile up and leave’.

Wabi-sabi  侘寂

Wabi-sabi: the Japanese word for imperfect beauty. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Wabi-sabi means imperfect or incomplete beauty. This is a central concept in Japanese aesthetics, which comes from Buddhist teachings on the transient nature of life. A pot with a uneven edges is more beautiful than a perfectly smooth one, because it reminds us that life is not perfect. A Japanese craftsman will intentionally add in a small flaw after completing his perfect work in honour of this concept.

Kintsugi 金継ぎ

Kintsugi: the Japanese word for mending broken pottery with gold or silver laquer. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.

Kintsugi (金継ぎ), also known as kintsukuroi (金繕い), is the practise of mending broken pottery with gold or silver to fill the cracks. This is a perfect example of wabi-sabi. Rather than rejecting a broken item, you can find a way to make it even more beautiful. This practise accepts the break as part of the object’s unique history.

Mono no aware 物の哀れ

Mono no aware: the Japanese word for the sadness of transient things. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Mono no aware can be translated as ‘the sadness of things’. It comes from the words 物 (mono – thing) and 哀れ (aware – poignancy or pathos). The ‘sadness’ in question comes from an awareness of the transience of things, as taught by Zen Buddhism. When we view something exceptionally beautiful, we might feel sad because we know it won’t stay so beautiful forever – but appreciation only heightens the pleasure we take in the beautiful thing in that moment. The best example of mono no aware in Japanese culture is hanami, the ritual of appreciating the cherry blossoms each year. Cherry blossom are very special to the Japanese, but the flowers bloom for only two weeks in the springtime. We appreciate the flowers even more because we know they will fall soon.

Irusu 居留守

Irusu: the Japanese word for pretending to be out when somebody knocks on your door. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Irusu is when somebody you don’t want to speak to rings your doorbell, and you pretend nobody’s at home. I think people do this the world over, even if other languages don’t have such a concise word for it!

Nekojita 猫舌

Nekojita: the Japanese word for somebody who is sensitive to hot food and drinks. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Here’s a cute one! A nekojita is a person who is sensitive to hot foods and drinks. It literally translates as cat tongue! It’s made from the two words 猫 (neko – cat) and‎ 舌 (shita – tongue). Do cats really hate hot things? I don’t know, but this Japanese word implies that they do!

Karoshi 過労死

Karoshi: the Japanese word for death by overworking. For more untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Karoshi means death from overworking. Tragically, the fact that there is a word for this in Japanese also tells you something about Japanese culture. Karoshi is usually associated with Japanese salarymen who work in a corporate culture of extreme long hours. The Japanese Ministry of Labour official defines karoshi as when somebody works over 100 hours of overtime in the month before their death. The phenomenon reached an all time high last year.

Shoganai しょうがない

Shoganai: the Japanese word for it can’t be helped. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

If you live in Japan, this one will be very useful for you! Shoganai means ‘it can’t be helped’. It’s a fatalistic resignation to a situation that is out of your control. It is often used to mean that there is no point complaining about a situation, because you will not have the power to change it. Some people suggest that the concept of shoganai is why Japanese people remain so stoic in the face of natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquakes.

Natsukashii 懐かしい

Natsukashii: the Japanese word for something that brings back happy memories. For more beautiful and untranslatable Japanese words, visit teamjapanese.com

Natsukashii is often translated as ‘nostalgic’. However, whereas nostalgic is a sad emotion in English, natsukashii is usually associated with positive feelings. Something is natsukashii if it allows you to relive happy memories of the past.

 

Do you know any untranslatable words? Share them with us in the comments!

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