20 Meaningful Japanese Words to Deepen Your Outlook

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It is no surprise that Japanese is a language containing a lexicon of words with deep, profound meanings.

So much so, that we may find we don’t even have the words to express such ideas quite the same in English! 

Many Japanese words are written in kanji characters. Kanji are logographic characters which originally come from Chinese writings.

Rather than each ‘letter’ representing a sound (like the English alphabet), each represents a meaning. Therefore, you can really do a deep dive into interpreting Japanese words with deep meanings!

Some of the meaningful Japanese words and phrases on the list have come from ancient Japan. Their meanings may have changed over the years, but the fact that they are still used today is proof of their significance!

Meaningful Japanese Words




Text reads "meaningful Japanese words" and "yuuigi: meaningful." Background shows a traditional Japanese pagoda among autumn foliage with mountains in the distance. Discover more at teamjapanese.com.

The first meaningful word on our list is… ‘meaningful’! Quite a useful word to know when discussing a bunch of yuuiga na terms!

It is a na (な) adjective used to describe something as significant or valuable, ie yuuigi na kotoba (有意義な言葉 / ゆういぎなことば) = meaningful words.




A vibrant graphic showing a sunrise with beams of light illuminating the mountains in the background. Prominent Japanese characters spell "kiseki" with "miracle" underneath. At the top, the text reads "meaningful Japanese words.

Kiseki (奇跡 / きせき) is a noun that means ‘miracle’ or ‘wonder’.

To break down the kanji, 奇 means ‘unusual’, while 跡 means ‘sign’ or ‘trace’. It is used to describe a (positive) extraordinary happening.

You may recognize this word, as it is a popular term for names of songs, anime, manga etc.




Red torii gates with Japanese characters line a pathway. The text on the image reads "meaningful Japanese words, nintai, perseverance." The website teamjapanese.com is displayed at the bottom.

Nintai (忍耐 / にんたい) means ‘perserverance’ or ‘patience’ in Japanese. When paired with the verb ‘to do’ –suru (する) it becomes a verb meaning ‘to endure’. 

Nintai is a virtuous quality that is very sought after in Japanese culture! This ‘perseverance’ is seen as essential for succeeding in our goals.




a view of mt Fuji at night with the figure of a woman in kimono in the foreground. Text overlay reads meaningful Japanese words, makoto, sincerity.

You may recognise makoto (誠 / まこと) as a popular name in Japan! It is a unisex name although it is more commonly associated with males. 

It is a name with deep and beautiful meaning behind it — ‘sincerity’ or ‘honesty’.

The term makoto can be expressed as a noun or as an adverb. If you say ‘he is sincere’ you would say: kare wa makoto ga aru (彼は誠がある / かれはまことがある) literally translated as ‘he has sincerity’.

On the other hand, it can be used as an adverb to say ‘I sincerely apologise’: Makotoni moushiwake arimasen (誠に申し訳ありません / まことにもうしわけありません).




An ocean view at sunset with rocks in the foreground. The image contains meaningful Japanese words, “感謝,” and English translations, "kansha" and "gratitude." A torii gate is visible in the distance.

Kansha (感謝 / かんしゃ) means ‘gratitude’ in Japanese and is a very important concept for the Japanese people. 

It holds a very deep sense of thankfulness along with humbleness, and is used to show utmost appreciation for even the smallest of gestures. 

The word kansha comes from Buddhist philosophy and expresses the idea that always being grateful for life (be it good times or bad), will help us to be more at peace with ourselves. 

It is clear from attitudes and language expressed in everyday japanese life that kansha is very valued. An example of this is the use of special phrases itadakimasu and gochisousama deshita before and after eating every meal!

Check out one of our previous posts to see just how many ways there are to say ‘thank you’ in Japanese! 



Fleeting life

A traditional Japanese bell framed by cherry blossom trees with text overlay: "meaningful Japanese words," "浮世," "ukiyo," and "fleeting life." Text is by teamjapanese.com.

You may have heard of ukiyo e (浮世絵 / うきよえ), a genre of Japanese woodblock print developed in the Edo period (1603-1868). The most famous artwork of the time arguably being ‘The Great Wave’ by artist Hokusai.

The word ukiyo actually stems from Buddhist ideology and literally translates as ‘floating world’. However, it is a homonym!

This means that although two words may sound the same, they differ in spelling and therefore in meaning. If written as 憂世 it translates as ‘sorrowful world’.

This Buddhist belief of ukiyo represents the ever suffering cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. 

During the Edo period, the term came into new meaning and was used to describe pleasure seeking lifestyles in urban cultures.




A serene garden with lush greenery and a pond. Text overlay reads "お持て成し," "omotenashi," and "hospitality." Website link "teamjapanese.com" is at the bottom, highlighting meaningful Japanese words.

Omotenashi (お持て成し, generally written おもてなし) is the Japanese term for ‘hospitality’. However, it is a particularly deep and sincere form of hospitality, whereby one wholeheartedly looks after their guest without expecting anything in return.

The phrase omotenashi was really pushed in the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Japanese people wanted to warmly welcome the world with open arms as many spectators were expected to visit Japan during this time.

Although many cultures can express hospitality, omotenashi is another level of politeness culture that you can only truly understand by experiencing it first hand in Japan!



Peace of mind

A path through a dense bamboo forest with people walking. Text overlay includes meaningful Japanese words and their English translations, such as "yasuragi," meaning "peace of mind.

Yasuragi (安らぎ / やすらぎ) is a noun meaning ‘peace of mind’ and expresses the inner peace we can find through mindfulness and being in touch with ourselves.  

When you reach yasuragi, your heart is at ease and you have found harmony with yourself. I mean, who wouldn’t want that ?!



Epitome of feminine beauty

A woman in a traditional Japanese kimono holds a parasol outdoors. The text reads: "Meaningful Japanese words yamatonadeshiko, epitome of feminine beauty.

Yamatonadeshiko (大和撫子 / やまとなでしこ) is an ancient Japanese proverb used to describe the ideal Japanese woman.

At the time, it would have referred to a woman with light skin, long dark hair and most probably dressed in an opulent kimono who is poised and virtuous.

The term comes from the word yamatodamashii (大和魂 / やまとだましい) which encapsulates the ‘spirit of Japan’, particularly the soul of old, traditional Japan.



Intelligent and beautiful (woman)

A woman in traditional Japanese attire stands under a red parasol. The text reads "meaningful Japanese words: saishokukenbi - intelligent and beautiful woman," reminding us of the depth and beauty found in meaningful Japanese words.

Saishokukenbi (才色兼備 / さいしょくけんび) is yet another phrase used to describe a beautiful woman! The slight difference being that a saishokukenbi is not only physically beautiful, but also intelligent. 




Text overlaying an image of Tokyo cityscape at dusk: "Meaningful Japanese words. 黄昏 tasogare twilight". The background features illuminated buildings and a tall tower silhouetted against the twilight sky.

Tasogare (黄昏 / たそがれ) means ‘twilight’ in Japanese. Twilight is that time of darkness in the air which occurs either just before sunrise or just after sunset.

It holds other meanings depending on the context. It can of course relate to one’s ’twilight years’ in life, and can even be used to describe a ‘melancholic nostalgia’.




Close-up of cherry blossoms with the Japanese word "tenshinranman" and its meaning "innocence" written over the image. The text "meaningful Japanese words" is prominently displayed, along with "teamjapanese.com.

Tenshinranman (天真爛漫 / てんしんらんまん) is an adjective meaning ‘naive’ or ‘innocent’. Think of a young child running around in a field with a smile on their face and without a care in the world!

Tenshintanman is a Japanese word with deep meaning that represents the kind of pure simplicity that is one of the true beauties of life!

Meaningful Japanese Phrases 



Actions speak louder than words

A woman in traditional Japanese attire stands in front of a wooden building. Text reads: "fugenjikkou - actions speak louder than words," one of the many meaningful Japanese phrases.

Fugenjikkou (不言実行 / ふげんじっこう) is the Japanese way of saying ‘actions speak louder than words’.

Fugen means ‘silence’ while jikkou means ‘to carry out’ or ‘implement’ so literally translated it sounds like ‘silent action’. 



Characteristic of a particular season

A woman in traditional Japanese clothing holds a red parasol in front of vibrant autumn foliage. Text overlay reads: "Meaningful Japanese phrases - fuubutsushi - characteristic of a season." Discover more meaningful Japanese words that capture the essence of different moments.

Though the phenomenon of fuubutsushi (風物詩 / ふうぶつし) is not unfamiliar to an English speaker,  we don’t really have a word that encapsulates the feeling.

Literally speaking, the kanji would translate to mean ‘a poet’s reminder of a season’. It describes something which is a characteristic of one of the Japanese four seasons

It is that sort of nostalgic feeling you get when something reminds you of a certain time of year. For example, the smell of pine may remind you of winter, while the taste of pumpkin pie may remind you of autumn

Amefutte jikaamaru 


After the rain, earth hardens

A traditional Japanese garden with a house in the background. The phrase "amefutte jikaamaru" and its English translation "after the rain, earth hardens" are displayed over the image, highlighting meaningful Japanese words that convey resilience.

Amefutte jikatamaru (雨降って地固まる / あめふってじかたまる) is a an extremely meaningful phrase, especially in Japan, where they have overcome great adversities in the past.

The first half of the phrase ame ga furu refers to ‘rainfall’ while ji katamaru means ‘the ground/earth hardens’. Therefore, it would translate as ‘after rain, the earth hardens’ and aims to send the message that adversity builds character.

It is similar in meaning to the expression ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ in English.

It is hard to have a positive outlook in the face of tragedy, but it is this endurance that keeps society going and makes communities stronger! Despite the hardships Japan has been through, they have been able to build themselves back up.

Sumeba miyako 


Home is where you make it

A wooden wall with vertical slats, a modern wall light, and the meaningful Japanese words "sumeba miyako" in both Japanese characters and English text, meaning "home is where you make it.

Sumeba miyako (住めば都 / すめばみやこ) is a proverb which pretty much claims: ‘you can live anywhere’!

Sumeba is the potential form of the verb sumu meaning ‘to live’. Miyako means ‘capital city’. Put together it forms the expression ‘if you live there, it’s now the capital city’. 

This phrase can be a great encouragement for someone who is living away from home and may be feeling out of place. Just remember ‘home is where you make it’, and with this taken into consideration you may be able to feel more comfortable!

Ichigo ichie 


Once in a lifetime encounter

A text on an image reads: “meaningful Japanese phrases,” “一期一会 ichigo ichie,” and “Once in a lifetime encounter” against a background of lush greenery and traditional Japanese architecture, highlighting the beauty of meaningful Japanese words.

Ichigo ichie (一期一会 / いちごいちえ) is a well known deep Japanese proverb meaning ‘once in a lifetime encounter/meeting’ in Japanese. 

It stresses the importance of making the most of every moment, as time is fleeting and we don’t get any do-overs.

We are living in fast times here in the digital age, so it’s vital for our mental health that we take the time to practice mindfulness, cherish every moment and live in it.

Kokoro kubari 



A torii gate standing in calm water under a cloudy sky, with text "meaningful Japanese phrases," "心配り kokoro kubari," and "thoughtfulness." Discover the beauty of meaningful Japanese words that capture the essence of harmony and mindfulness.

Kokoro kubari (心配り / こころくばり) is the act of ‘exerting care’ or in other words, being thoughtful!

Kokoro is the Japanese word for ‘heart’ and kubaru is a verb meaning ‘to distribute’ or ‘to hand out’. So when you are showing care or attention to someone, you are handing your heart to them! Cute right?  

Kuuki wo yomu 


Read the air 

A bright blue sky with blooming cherry blossoms. Japanese text reads "空気を読む" (kuuki wo yomu), a meaningful Japanese phrase meaning "read the air," with the English translation beneath it.

Kuuki wo yomu (空気を読む / くうきをよむ) is a super important phrase in Japanese! It literally translates as ‘read the air’, though it holds a similar meaning to ‘read the room’ in English.

It is a skill that is valued all over the world, but especially in a place like Japan, as it is not so common to be very out and open with one’s thoughts and feelings in Japanese culture.

It is therefore essential to be able to read between the lines and understand the vibe of the situation.

A good example of ‘reading the air’ is if you ask someone a question they may not want to answer, they would probably reply with sore wa chotto… (それはちょっと) and trail off without finishing the sentence. Translated into English would be something like ‘oh, that’s a bit…’ If you hear this, you should ‘read the room’ and understand that the person is uncomfortable to discuss that topic any further. 



Make up for heart

Colorful Japanese folding fans with floral designs layered together. Text reads "meaningful Japanese phrases," "kokorogeshou," and "make up for the heart." Website "teamjapanese.com" is at the bottom, showcasing meaningful Japanese words.

Kokorogeshou (心化粧 / こころげしょう) is one of my favourite meaningful expressions in Japanese! 

We already know that kokoro means ‘heart’. Keshou (pronounced as geshou in this compound word) is the Japanese word for ‘makeup’.

In the same way we may use makeup to make ourselves come across as physically more presentable, ‘heart makeup’ is when we make our personalities come across as more inviting and pleasant. 

It’s quite hard to describe in English, but it’s not necessarily a fake front put up to pretend to be nice, but more like a striving to let your good side shine and show your best self.

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Hannah Stafford

Hannah is a half Irish/half Japanese girl living in Ireland. Her love for Japan and the Japanese language led her to studying languages and translation in university where she specialised in Japanese. She spent a year studying abroad at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. In her free time, Hannah enjoys using her sewing machine to upcycle clothes and create new pieces!

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