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Untranslatable Japanese Words with Beautiful Meanings

January 25 , 2022

Untranslatable Japanese Words with Beautiful Meanings

by Target Language Translation Services

- January 25 2022

translation of untranslatable Japanese words

Many languages have beautiful and unique words which cannot be translated. These words often represent concepts which are so unique to that culture, there is simply no equivalent in any other language. The Japanese culture is known for its appreciation of nature and for finding beauty in simplicity. It is no wonder then that their language reflects the zen-like beauty their culture emanates.

Japanese words with no English equivalent

We’ve collected some Japanese words with no English equivalent. and the interesting thing about these words is that they reveal a lot about the Japanese character. Attempts to translate these beautiful Japanese words into English result in poetic descriptions that warm the soul.

木枯らし Cold, Wintry Wind

Pronunciation: Kogarashi

“Kogarashi” is a chilly, cold, wintry wind. It lets you know of the arrival of winter. You know, the kind that sends the shivers down your spine and gives you goosebumps.

無礼講 Putting everything aside to be yourself


Interestingly, this word sounds like “break”. And indeed, it is a break. This word represents a situation where you can speak freely, act freely and most importantly, enjoy yourself without worrying about your social status, relation to others, pressure or authority.

This happens at Japanese company drink-outings where the workers and their bosses get drunk and honest with each other.

木漏れ日 Sunlight filtering through the trees



When sunlight filters through the tree leaves and produces rays. You know that 木 stands for tree, 漏れ/もれ means leakage and the 日 kanji stands for the sun. So, tree leakage (of the) sun.

しょうがない It can’t be helped


This is a very common and a very Japanese expression. When is it used? People use it as “I can’t do anything about it. I give up.” So, it’s used when things are out of your control (and sometimes when you just don’t want to try hard.)

As much as is this an interesting Japanese phrase, it’s also disliked by others due to the overall “I won’t even try” spirit it carries.

懐かしい Nostalgia/Nostalgic


Literally, this word means “nostalgic” and is an adjective. But, this carries a lot more meaning and emotion to the Japanese. People don’t normally blurt out “oh, how nostalgic” in English, because no-one likes nostalgia. It’s seen as negative. For the Japanese, it’s something that brings back memories and warms the heart.

物の哀れ Bitter-sweetness of fading beauty

Mono no aware

物/Mono means “thing”. And, “aware” looks like the English word, but it doesn’t have the same meaning or pronunciation. It means pity, sorrow or grief. So this refers to the “bittersweetness of fading beauty” – the acknowledged but appreciated, sad transience of things. Kind of like the last day of summer or the cherry blossoms – which don’t last long.

居留守 Pretending You’re Not Home


This word is used to describe you when you flake out on the person at your doorstep. They ring the doorbell. *Ding-dong.* And you, suddenly grow very, very quiet, turn off the lights and hope they go away.

This word is a noun and literally means “pretending to be out”.

幽玄 An awareness of the universe


Literally it means “subtle grace” or “mysterious profundity”. This word has different meanings depending on context. But most of the time, it refers to a profound awareness of the nature of the universe – the oneness of all things – to the point where it affects you emotionally.

風物詩 Things which remind of a season


So, anything – feelings, scents, images – that bring memories, thoughts or anticipation of a particular season. Kind of like when you smell that crisp/burning-like scent in the air, long before snow starts falling, and you know winter is coming. The Japanese love their seasons so there are different foods, different fruit (that are grown) products and decorations for different seasons.

和 Harmony


This word means peace or harmony. It implies the importance to of avoiding conflict – so as to maintain the (Wa) harmony. And it refers to Japan and the Japanese way itself.

改善 Continuous improvement


Literally, it means change for better. Whether one time or continuously – this is not implied or intended. It’s not until later that it become continuous improvement by the Japanese business world. Toyota kicked it off.

So, now, it’s just a word (used by businesses) to describe the process of “always improving” and getting better.

鏡花水月 Flower in the mirror; moon on water

Kyouka suigetsu

Both, a flower in the mirror and a moon’s reflection on water can’t be touched. So this Japanese phrase refers to something that’s visible but can’t be touched. Something you can feel (for example, beauty or an emotion) but can’t describe in words.

高嶺の花 Flower on a high peak

Takane no hana

Literally, this means 高嶺/high peak and 花/flower. What it truly means is a “goal that’s unattainable”. Something beyond your reach, like a flower!

森林浴 Forest Bathing


So, 森林/shinrin means forest and 浴/yoku stands for bathing. And this refers to being immersed in a forest or talking a walk through the woods. It’s something to do to relax, reduce your stress and improve your health.

And studies confirm that this indeed lowers blood pressure and cortisol.

金継ぎ Repair with Gold


Also known as kintsukuroi. This is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver and making something broken beautiful – usually pottery. This is an example of wabisabi where something imperfect is still beautiful!

So with kintsugi, the big point is… you can take something imperfect or broken, and make it even more beautiful than ever.

奇妙 Strange, odd, or mysterious


This is a word that can describe things that are strange or odd. For example, if you suddenly received an anonymous letter, you could use “kimyou”. It can also be used to describe creepy locations like forests, cemeteries, or houses.

浮世 Floating World


Now, this isn’t a recent term and you won’t hear it much. It’s rooted in Japan’s history. It literally does mean “浮 – float” and “世 – world/society”. Although it can also be interpreted as “transient world” or “fleeting life”. Basically, this word was used to describe Japanese life-style in Edo-period Japan, where normal people escaped the pressures of the samurai state to entertainment/pleasure districts (whether theater, tea-houses, etc.).

You won’t hear it much in everyday life.

風花 Flurry of Snow in a Clear Sky


If you go by the kanji, the first one stands for wind and the other one is for flowers. Except, this word is used to describe snow flurries in the wind. Why the flower comparison though? Well, because it’s kind of like petals in the wind.

行逢りば 兄弟 Once we meet, we become brother/sister

Ichariba chode

This is the spirit of hospitality and friendliness to strangers.

And more importantly, you go from strangers to brothers or sisters. That kind of hospitality!

一期一会 Treasure every encounter, for it will never recur

ichi-go ichi-e

This is actually a Japanese proverb; a Zen Buddhist one.

Literally, it means – one time, one meeting. Usually, it’s translated as “one chance in a lifetime”. But the best translation is: Treasure every encounter, for it will never recur. So, that meeting you had with a friend or someone… that exact moment and everything that happened will never, ever happen again in this life. It was one of a kind and hence it’s worth treasuring.

恋の予感 Premonition of Love

Koi no Yokan

This is sort of like love at first sight but not really. There’s more. It’s not a sappy, head-over-heels, heart-pounding, butterflies-in-stomach “love”. It’s a sense you get when first meeting a person – that it’s inevitable that you are going to be in love in the future. Even if you feel no love right now.

恋 – koi – love

予感 – yokan – premonition

侘寂 Beauty in imperfection; the accepting of life and death


Wabisabi describes a way of looking at the world. It’s about accepting the transcience and imperfection of things. And thus, for the time we have left, seeing beauty in the things around us. For example, take a rough, cracked, asymmetrical, simple piece of pottery – seeing beauty in that is wabisabi.

This would be a hard concept to accept for people that like new, shiny and perfect things.

川明かり Glow of a river in darkness


It can be the reflection of the moonlight on the river. Or, it can be the gleam of light on the river during dusk. Here, 川/kawa means river and 明かり/akari means light.

積ん読 Buying/Piling Up Books without Reading


You know how you add too many shows and movies to your Netflix queue without watching? Or buy too many vegetables that you never eat? The Japanese have a word for this, except with books. Any book lover knows this. They have books they want to read. They want some other books. And with the overwhelm, they don’t get around to any and let them pile up.

Tsundoku is a combination of the verb 積む (tsumu – to pile up), and 読 (doku – reading.)

This is one of the beautiful Japanese words that I can relate with.

食い倒れ Eating Yourself Into Bankruptcy


Let’s break the phrase apart. Kui (食い) means to eat and 倒れ (daore) is a bad debt or collapse. It also comes from the verb  倒れる (daoreru) which means to go bankrupt. How is the word used? It applies to foodies and people that love going out to eat.

Translation of Untranslatable Japanese Words

The Japanese language is filled with words that are very descriptive in their simplicity. A single word can have more depth and impact that is difficult to capture in other languages. When there is no English equivalent, translators will explore the nuances of a word’s meaning and endeavour to convey a word’s true meaning.

This article is reprinted from Avo Translations and LinguaJunkie.

If there is a copyright, please inform us in time, we will delete it right the first time.

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