The particular smell of a breeze in late autumn.
A deep love for books that dips into the philosophical.
Daydreams and nostalgia.
Words have the power to evoke all those feelings.
And in Japanese, there are words for all the fleeting feelings we described above—and more.
If you’re learning Japanese, you probably don’t need to be told that it’s a beautiful language. You already know.
Instead, we’d like to introduce you to a collection of beautiful Japanese words that we love, and you’re sure to enjoy too.
But first, what exactly makes a word “beautiful”?
What Makes a Japanese Word Beautiful?
What makes one word more beautiful than another? Here are a few factors that turn a Japanese word from a tool for communication into a work of art:
- The way it rolls off the tongue.
English has its own set of words that are just pleasant to say. Nefarious. Equinox. Supine. Something about certain words can make one feel tingly right down to the bone.
Some Japanese words have a similar effect, even if you’re not a native speaker.
- Aesthetically pleasing kana.
Japanese kanji, hiragana and katakana are incredibly beautiful alphabets to read and write. But some kana for particular words are especially beautiful—almost like an elegant drawing.
- A unique and beautiful meaning not commonly found in the English language.
English can sometimes be a pretty limiting language. For example, our word for “love” is pretty much just “love.” In Hebrew, though, there are many other words for different types of love, such as lustful love, love of God, platonic love, etc.
Similarly, Japanese has words for things that you’ll never find in the English language, which is pretty fascinating and beautiful in itself!
10 Beautiful Japanese Words to Add to Your Vocabulary List
Add these beautiful words to your vocabulary, use them in everyday conversation or simply keep them close to your heart as a reminder of the beauty of the Japanese language.
Better yet, add them to a literal vocabulary list on FluentU.
And while you’re there, be sure to pick up more beautiful and useful words with FluentU’s many authentic videos that include music videos, movie trailers, news, inspiring talks and so much more.
The immersive, entertaining content makes grammar and vocabulary much more memorable.
Definition: A word that sounds sweet and pleasant to the ear.
Ironically, our first beautiful Japanese word on this list can be used to describe beautiful Japanese words.
This expression is often used when someone says a word that’s audibly beautiful, but sometimes couples will use it when one of them compliments the other.
Person 1: 私の名前は日光です。(わたし の なまえ は にっこう です。)
Person 1: My name is Sunshine.
Person 2: 甘美な名前だ！(かんび な なまえ だ！)
Person 2: How pleasant to the ear!
Definition: The act of buying too many books and never reading them.
Many of us are guilty of this bad habit, but unfortunately, there’s no word for it in the English language.
While the meaning of this Japanese word is pretty unique, its sound is also beautiful: It rolls off the tongue and is just very pleasant to say out loud. Try it!
彼女はよく本を買うが、積ん読だ。(かのじょ は よく ほん を かう が、つんどく だ。)
She always buys books but rarely ends up reading them.
Definition: A cold fragrant wind that arrives shortly before wintertime.
In most places around the world, autumn is chilly. However, towards the end of October or even early November in Japan, there’s a cold, brisk and bitter wind that signals the beginning of colder weather.
If you’re outside at just the right moment to feel it, you’ll know that winter is on the way. This Japanese word beautifully represents the end of a season. Although this kind of wind occurs in many parts of the United States, there’s no word for it in English.
外では木枯らしが吹いている。(そと で は こがらし が ふいている。)
A cold wintry wind is happening outside.
Definition: A mother who always relentlessly forces to her child towards academic achievement.
Maybe this isn’t the most beautiful word in the Japanese language, but it’s certainly a unique—and culturally relevant—term.
Depending on who you talk to, 教育ママ could be a very endearing and comedic term or a downright disastrous one.
In English, this word roughly translates to “educational mother.” This is typically an overbearing, obsessively supportive mother in Japan. An expression that’s close in meaning is “helicopter parent,” though the connotation is a bit different.
These moms are often stereotyped as air-headed but endearing women who tend to embarrass their kids by always bringing them to school, attending teacher conferences religiously, poking into parties to serve snacks, etc.
This term can also be an insult, as some of these mothers aren’t very well-meaning but rather are attempting to achieve financial and academic success vicariously through their children. Through the last decade, sometimes the 教育ママ are blamed for social phobias in young people.
彼女は教育ママです。かわいそうな子供達。(かのじょ は きょういく ままです。 かわいそうな こどもたち。)
She’s an educational mother. Poor kids.
Definition: “I will always protect you.”
This term is typically said by a romantic partner to their beloved.
You wouldn’t throw this out to just anybody. Reserve it for a tender moment between yourself and someone you’ve been dating for a while.
大好きだよ、君を守りたい。(だいすき だ よ、きみを まもりたい。)
I really like you, I will always protect you.
Definition: A wise and beautiful phrase that means “It just can’t be helped.”
When life gets rough and we blame ourselves for how things have ended up, remember this very smart and very true phrase often used by Japanese people.
The phrase describes the unpredictability of life and lack of control human beings really have in the grand scheme of things. People die, we lose friends, breakups happen, jobs are lost, economies crumble.
Remember that sometimes, things just can’t be helped.
Person 1: 最近、彼は失業したんだよ。(さいきん、かれ は しつぎょう したんだ よ。)
Person 1: He lost his job recently.
Person 2: しょうがないよ。
Person 2: It can’t be helped.
Definition: To daydream longingly.
When someone’s staring out a window, paying no attention to the world, lost in their own thoughts—that’s ぼけっと.
It can be an endearing term or an annoying one, especially when a student isn’t paying attention to their teacher.
Quit your daydreaming!
Definition: This essentially means “nostalgia,” but particularly nostalgia that occurs when something triggers memories from a specific season.
The term roughly translates to “seasonal tradition.” If the smell or sight of something reminds you of a particular season, it’s a 風物詩 moment.
花火大会は日本の夏の風物詩です。(はなび たいかい は にっぽん の なつ の ふうぶつし です。)
Fireworks festivals are a Japanese seasonal tradition.
Definition: The smell of rain before it begins to fall.
It’s worth noting that this is actually a borrowed word from English. “Petrichor” is the English word for the smell of rain and this Japanese word is a katakana borrowed from it.
Still, in either language, it’s a beautiful and pleasant thing you’ve probably experienced (unless you’re one of the 10% who can’t smell it—in which case, we’re so sorry!).
Person 1: いい香り だ。(いい かおり だ。)
Person 1: What a lovely aroma.
Person 2: それはペトリコールだよ。(それは ぺとりこーる だよ。)
Person 2: That’s the smell of the rain.
Definition: Ineffable, impossible. It can also mean “too grand or powerful to describe in words.”
This term is usually used for something that’s totally impossible and unfeasible.
It can also be used to describe the grandness and indescribable nature of space, Earth, the heavens or anything that human beings can’t really grasp.
彼が警官になるのは不可能だ。(かれ が けいかん に なる の は ふ かのう だ。)
It is ineffable for him to become a policeman.
Are you entranced by these beautiful Japanese words? Remember, the more words you know, the closer to fluent you’ll become!
Emily Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. She writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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