an image of colorful cupkaes

Colors in Japanese – What They Are and How to Say Them

If you want to bring some life and vigor into your everyday speech, knowing Japanese color words can help you do that. 

Read on to learn how to name primary, secondary and basic colors as well as colors based on objects and foreign words. You’ll also learn how to use these words in Japanese. 


Red — Aka — (あか)

赤 is a noun (“the color red”), the adjective for red on the other hand is 赤い — akai — (あかい).

赤 is the most common word for “red,” encompassing a wide range of hues and shades, while — kurenai — (くれない) is a deep, ruddy red, like the leaves that fall in the autumn or dark pink pickled ginger, or 紅ショウガ — beni shouga— (べにしょうが).

More Vocabulary:

Autumn leaves, red and brown leaves – Kouyou – 紅葉 (こうよう) 

Maroon — Maruun — マルーン (まるーん)

Shrimp or prawn   Ebi – 海老 (えび) this color refers to ruddy, dark prawns, as opposed to bright pink shrimp.

Blue — Ao — (あお)

Another way of saying blue is 青い — aoi — (あおい). 

Blue and green have an interesting history. Basically, 緑 originally referred to a type of plant shoot, not a color. It was only after WWII that educational materials began labeling “green” as 緑 and “blue” as 青い. Before then, 青い was used exclusively to mean anything on the blue-green spectrum.

The simplest distinction now is that non-living objects* that are entirely green (green books, green clothes, lime green cars) are 緑, and anything else that is slightly blue, or alive (or organic), is 青い.

E.g., “green apples” are 青林檎 — aoringo — (あおりんご) and “green peas” are 青豆 — aomame — (あおまめ).

*Japanese traffic lights are 青信号 — aoshingou — (あおしんごう), not 緑信号 — midorishingou — (みどりしんごう).

More Vocabulary:

Sky blue — Sorairo — 空色 (そらいろ)

Navy blue — Kon —  (こん)

Bluish white, pale Aojiroi – 青白い (あおじろい)

Yellow — Kiiro — 黄色 (きいろ)

Other ways of saying yellow include 黄色い — kiiroi — (きいろい)、 黄色な — kīrona — (きいろな). 

More Vocabulary:

To turn yellow with age (like paper or teeth) – Kibamu – 黄ばむ (きばむ) 

Pale yellow, light yellow – Tanoushoku – 淡黄色 (たんおうしょく)

Greenish yellow – Ryokuoushoku – 緑黄色 (りょくおうしょく)

Chartreuse, pea green, yellow-green – Kimidori – 黄緑 (きみどり)

Egg yolks – Ranou – 卵黄 (らんおう)

Amber — Kohakuiro — 琥珀色  (こはくいろ)

Purple — Murasaki — (むらさき)

Another way of saying purple is パープル — pāpuru — (ぱーぷる). 

More Vocabulary:

Lavender — Rabendaa — ラベンダー (らべんだー)

Ultraviolet rays – Shigaisen – 紫外線 (しがいせん)

Hydrangea – Ajisai – 紫陽花 (あじさい) 

Mauve – Fujiiro – 藤色 (ふじいろ) 

Green — Midori — (みどり)

緑 is a noun that you can use as an adjective by inserting the particle の (of) after the color. E.g., 緑の本 — midorinohon — (みどりの ほん — the green book).

More Vocabulary:

Japanese green tea – Ryokucha – 緑茶 (りょくちゃ)

Orange — Orenjiiro — オレンジ色  (おれんじいろ)

For example, both the color and the fruit “orange” are オレンジ — orenji — (おれんじ), obviously taken from English. 

White — Shiro — (しろ)

More Vocabulary:

Blank paper, white paper — Hakushi — 白紙 (はくし) 

White board, dry erase board — Hakuban — 白板 (はくばん)

Swan — Hakuchou — 白鳥 (はくちょう)

Egg whites — Ranpaku — 卵白 (らんぱく)

Ivory — Zougeiro — 象牙色  (ぞうげいろ)

Black — Kuro — (くろ)

More Vocabulary:

Pitch black, deep black — Makkuro 真っ黒 (まっくろ)

Dark, blackish— Kuroppoi — 黒っぽい (くろっぽい)

Blackboard, chalkboard — Kokuban — 黒板 (こくばん)

Black tea— Koucha — 紅茶 (こうちゃ)

Pink — Pinku — ピンク

More Vocabulary:

Pink — Momoiro — 桃色 (ももいろ)

Cherry blossom — Sakurairo — 桜色 (さくらいろ)

sakura (さくら) means “cherry blossom,” so this is the type of gentle pink you’d see in the early spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Gray — Hai — 灰色 (はいいろ)

Some words, like 灰色  (gray — haiiro — はいいろ) and 桃色 (pink — momoiro — ももいろ) come from the objects they describe: hai (はい) means “ash,” so 灰色 is the color of gray ash, and momo (もも) is “peach,” and because Japanese peaches are pinkish-white, this color means the pale red pink.

More Vocabulary: 

Gray hair — Hakuhatsu — 白髪 (はくはつ) 

Brown — Cha — 茶色 (ちゃいろ)

cha —(ちゃ) means “tea,” and because most tea in Japan is brownish (even green tea is sometimes brown), “brown” is “tea color,” or 茶色 chairo.

These words are used for most things that are brown, with a few other options depending on the hue of brown to which you’re referring, but one exception that may throw you off is with skin color.

In Japan, “brown skin” is actually called “black skin,” meaning people with dark skin or tans are often referred to as “black.”

If you want to go get a suntan, you would say “I want to make my skin black.” ( 肌を黒くしたい。 / はだをくろくしたい。 )

fuji — (ふじ) means “wisteria,” like the lavender-budded trees that form the wisteria tunnel in Fukuoka Prefecture.

Gold — Kin — (きん)

More Vocabulary:

Golden — Kiniro — 金色 (きんいろ)

Silver — Gin (ぎん)

More Vocabulary:

Silver — Giniro — 銀色 (ぎんいろ)

Multicolored — Tashoku 多色の (たしょくの)

More Vocabulary:

Varicolored — Irotoridori — 色とりどりの (いろとりどりの)

Colorful — Karafuru カラフルな (からふるな)

How to Use Japanese Color Words

Japanese color words can be い-adjectives, な-adjectives, の-adjectives (nouns turned into adjectives) or nouns. For example, “red” can either describe an object (“a red apple”) or act on its own as a noun (“red is my favorite color”).

Therefore, you can use the colors in the same way you would use any other noun or adjective.


赤い花です。 ( あかいはなです。 )
It is a red flower.

花が赤いです。 ( はながあかいです。 )
The flower is red.

好きな色はです。 ( すきないろは あかです。 )
My preferred color is red.

が好きです。 ( あかがすきです。 )
I like red.

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