Guest writer: Urusai_Uni#0007
When I first started learning Japanese as a kid, it never occurred to me that there might be words that English didn’t have; i.e. words with no direct translation. In high school, I did several poetry contests and in one poem I came across the word “komorebi”, and that’s when I really realized how different languages prioritized different things! Here’s a list of my top 10 Japanese words with no direct translation.
Before reading this article, here’s a few things to remember! These are my personal top 10 and is by far not the only “untranslatable” words in Japanese! These are just the ones I found the most interesting.
All images, unless otherwise stated, are courtesy of Urusai_Uni#0007
Let’s start this list with the word that really got me interested in this topic!
Komorebi is the light that filters between the leaves of trees. Go for a walk in the woods on a sunny day and you’ll be sure to see komorebi!
Shoganai basically means “it can’t be helped”. It’s used in day to day speech but is also a bit of a philosophy in Japan. Basically, if it’s something you can’t control, it’s better to move on instead of dwelling on it.
Have you ever noticed the sudden change in temperature when autumn finally comes? Kogarashi is that first bone-chilling wind when you know it’s not summer anymore and that winter is on it’s way.
Another word to describe the seasons changing, kouyou refers to the changing of the leaves to their fall colors. Much like sakura viewing in the spring, kouyou viewing is common in the fall to take in the beautiful change of scenery!
Here’s one that’s a bit sillier (and maybe a bit too accurate for some of us!). Kuchi means mouth and sabishii means lonely, but this particular word refers to when you eat out of boredom.
Tsundoku is a word many book lovers can relate to! It’s when you buy books but don’t read them, letting them pile up.
Kawa means river and akari means illumination or glow, so it’s fitting that kawaakari refers to lights on a river, specifically at dusk or in the dark.
Literally translating to “Forest Bath”, shinrinyoku is taking a walk through the woods and taking in the atmosphere for the health benefits.
This one’s a cute one I think! Nekojita, or “cat’s tongue” is someone who is sensitive to hot and cold food temperatures!
10. Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu
More of a phrase, this translates very roughly to “please take care of me”. It’s often said when meeting someone new, such as at work or a new student! It can also be used as a “please and thank you” all-in-one, such as when asking someone to do something for you.
While maybe a bit less useful than other words, part of learning a language is having fun! I hope you had as much fun reading as I did making this! If you want to learn some more Japanese words and phrases (which are a bit more useful for day to day life), check out Top 10 Japanese Phrases! See this article to know more about the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets!