Words that are unique to a specific language and that are difficult to translate into other languages have always intrigued me.
A language contains many clues about the culture of the people who speak it. So it’s always interesting to examine words that exist only in Japanese, and to attempt to understand something about the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.
So, let’s learn a few new words:
“The light coming through the foliage”
Nature has a special place in Japan, as I’ve already written here. 70% of this country’s area is forested mountains, and so we can understand how a word like komorebi exists. Whenever you walk under the trees and see light shining through the foliage, you now have a name for it.
“Sea of clouds”
When we climb a high enough mountain, the clouds spread before us like a wavy, woolly sea. That’s the meaning of the picturesque word unkai, which is also closely related to Japan’s nature. It’s a word you can use if you’re exposed to the spectacular sight of a “sea of clouds” when you hike in the Japanese Alps.
“Bathing in the forest”
This word describes something broader than its literal translation. The idea is to go for a walk in nature in order to disengage, cleanse oneself, and avail oneself of the calming atmosphere that prevails in nature as a kind of therapy. I’m sure that some of you can relate to this kind of feeling after you’ve been walking in nature.
“To pile up many books [often without reading them]”
Although the word began as slang during the Meiji era, today it’s a legitimate word in every respect. I’m sure you’ve got friends who keep buying books but will never get around to reading them. Maybe you do too. Confession: I’m also a bit like that. Fortunately for me, my Japanese apartment is small enough to restrict my hoarding instinct to the space I have.
“To pretend not to be at home”.
Admit it – at some point in your life you’ve done it. You asked someone else to answer the landline for you (when such a thing existed) and say you’re not at home. Perhaps you ignored a knock on the door. Everything of that type that you’ve done is called irusu in Japanese. Nice that they’ve found a word for it, isn’t it? 😉
“A word that is pleasing to the ear”
They say this when a beautiful word is said. It can also be said of a name that sounds pretty.
The most similar translation is: Music to my ears.
Actually this is a very poetic word that could also describe a pleasant feeling in other realms, like a pleasant touch or a general feeling.
“The cold wind that indicates that winter is coming”
Around that time of the year, somewhere in November, it arrives. This cold, freezing wind, which informs us that it’s about to get very cold. It turns out there’s a name for it – kogarashi. This also belongs to the words that exist only in Japanese.
Know what it’s like to feel stuffed after a meal, and yet still have space for something sweet? It’s your “separate stomach”, the betsubara. If you don’t know what I’m talking about – What planet are you from?!
9. Kuchi sabishii
“My mouth is lonely”
A nice way to say “I’m eating while not hungry”. It could be when I’m stressed, sad, or just out of boredom. So the next time this happens to you – kuchi sabishii.
“Me in front of society”
Okay, that’s a very free translation…
I actually tried not to get into complex social and cultural concepts in this post, but I couldn’t resist the temptation.
In Japan there are two opposing concepts: tatemae and honne.
Honne is what I really feel inside, the real me.
Tatemae is what I’m supposed to do, what society expects me to do.
For example, if you’ve ever been at a family meal and tasted something that’s merely okay, but you say to your aunt who made it: “Wow! This is delicious!!!” That’s tatemae speaking through you.
Once again, this is a slightly more complicated notion when it comes to Japanese culture. But for today, we’ll be content to leave it at that. 🙂
Which of the words can you relate to?
Write me in the comments!