Beautiful Words in Japanese

Hello and welcome to our list on beautiful Japanese words.

Japanese culture is widely admired around the world for their art and technology, and has connotations of intellect, consideration, grace, and effort. It’s easy to see why Japanese culture is held in such high esteem and these positive associations really come through when looking at lists of what people consider to be the most beautiful Japanese words – we find that words for hard work, appreciation, growth, and motivation are listed repeatedly as favourites. If you’ve gone through any of our other language posts, you may find it interesting that Romance languages like Spanish, French and Italian are all thought of as passionate, romantic languages, while Japanese has more of a reputation for calm poeticism. It’s also evident to see how civic and socially-minded Japanese culture is when going through these beautiful Japanese words.

People love Japanese culture so much that we have terms for lifestyles that are heavily influenced by Japan – “weeaboo”, “otaku”, and “japanophile”. Even though the first two terms are (particularly the first) negative in nature, people will still readily identify themselves as such, and take pride in the label. Due to this love of Japanese culture and vernacular, it’s becoming increasingly common for Japanese words to be used in Western culture (although a lot of them are used incorrectly) – words like “baka”, “ohayo”, “oishii”, “sugoi”, and what is probably the most widely used, “kawaii”.Now that we know a bit about the cultural and social background of the language, let’s have a look at the language system itself. Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by an estimate of 125 million speakers. It uses three different character systems – hiragana, katakana, and kanji, which is derived from Chinese characters. A large part of Japanese vocabulary is also borrowed from Chinese vernacular.

In some ways, it’s a more difficult language for native English speakers to learn as its written form uses pictograph-based characters rather than the familiar Roman alphabet that we’re used to. In other ways, it’s an easier language to pick up as it’s non-gendered, tends to be monotone in pronunciation (unlike Mandarin or Cantonese), each syllable is generally given an equal amount of time and emphasis, and the grammar rules are simple and consistent.

List of Beautiful Words in Japanese

  • kintsukuroi (n.) the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold and understanding that the work is more beautiful for having been broken.
  • wabi-sabi (n.) a philosophy based on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.
  • komorebi (n.) sunlight that is filtered through leaves and trees.
  • ukiyo-e (n.) a genre of Japanese art focused on showing subjects from everyday life.
  • shinrinyoku (n.) walking through a forest and soaking up all of the green light as you go. literally translates to “forest bath”.
  • kogarashi (n.) refers to the wind at the start of winter that blows the last leaves off the trees. literally translates to “leaf-wilting wind”.
  • itadakimasu (adv.) an expression of grateful and appreciative acceptance when receiving something physical, usually in reference to food and said before a meal. literally translates to “I humbly receive”.
  • yokai (n.) supernatural creatures from folktales and myths
  • sora (n.) sky
  • okami (n.) wolf
  • hanabi (n.) firework
  • shibui (adj.) the muted attractiveness of minimalism and restraint
  • yugen (n.) the sense of beauty and awe borne from an awareness of the unseen
  • omotenashi (n.) a heightened sense of thoughtfulness and consideration in anticipating others’ needs
  • nemawashi (n.) understanding that people are different and grow in different ways and using this understanding to prep and organise life accordingly.
  • gaman (n.) an extreme level of perseverance that stretches beyond one’s comfort level
  • mottainai (v.) avoiding wastefulness in any and all things and activities
  • furusato (n.) the home that you long for; not necessarily the place you grew up in or a place that yet exists.
  • tsundoku (v.) the practice of collecting so many books and texts that they result in unread piles
  • setsunai (n.) a subtle and complex sadness that manifests as a creeping heartache
  • ikigai (n.) your reason for waking up each day
  • kawaakari (n.) the gleam of reflected light from a river’s surface. literally translates to “river light”.
  • majime (n.) a reliable person, able to finish and accomplish things without fuss.
  • hon’ne (n.) a person’s honest feelings, beliefs and desires, usually used to refer to the difference between a person’s identity and the identity of their social group. literally translates to “true sound”.
  • kaizen (v.) to improve, grow, or change in beneficial ways.
  • jinsei (n.) life
  • kasai (n.) fire
  • tomodachi (n.) friend
  • daijobu (n.) an expression of being fine or okay
  • konayuki (n.) powder snow
  • yume (n.) dream
  • mirai (n.) future
  • genjitsu (n.) reality
  • sekai (n.) world
  • akatsuki (n.) dawn
  • hikari (n.) light
  • ame (n.) rain
  • heiwa (n.) peace
  • kinyobi (n.) Friday; literally translates to “gold day”.
  • soine (v.) to lie down or sleep next to someone so that they feel less alone.
If reading these Japanese words has made you curious to learn more about the language, you can find plenty of comprehensive info at Tofugu (honestly the best Japanese learning resource I’ve found), which is specifically designed to help you learn about Japanese culture and to learn the language, unlike standard language websites like Babbel, FluentU, Duolingo and BBC, which have a broader focus and include other languages. If you’re just looking for vocabulary and word lists and aren’t too fussed about pinning down the lexical specifics of grammar, notation, and pronunciation, then interest sites like Quora, Buzzfeed, Pinterest and Tumblr are always helpful. If you’re looking for Japanese words to listen to, then there’s JapanesePod 101, which has both a podcast and a Youtube channel.

I picked out these beautiful Japanese words from many different sources, which can be divided into two main camps; language-based (Tofugu, FluentU, Babbel, BBC, Duolingo, Memrise) and non language-based (Reddit, Quora, Pinterest, Tumblr, Buzzfeed). I tend to find that the language-based websites have more of a focus on useful, everyday words, pronunciation, grammar and real-world use, while non language-based sites are more interested in how lovely a word sounds, looks, or how interesting the meaning is – so if you’re searching for word lists, it’s helpful to draw from both camps. If you know of any Japanese learning resources or collections of Japanese word lists, feel free to share them here.

While I do look around for words and inspiration, I am careful to always write the meanings myself. If you see a meaning that is similar (or the same!) as something you’ve seen elsewhere, please point it out and show me your source – any similarities are unintentional and I will work hard to change our wording efficiently.

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that while I try very hard to be as accurate and careful as I can, I may still misspell, mis-translate, and just generally stuff up. If you see something that needs an update or a correction, please let me know through the comments or by flinging me an e-mail. All are welcome and I’ll be on to any corrections quick as I can.

In addition to corrections, if there are any words you’d like added to this list (or other languages or word lists you’d like to see on this site in general) let me know!

Until then, have fun, make good decisions, be careful with scary websites. See you!