Best Japanese Words – The Japanese language is quite unlike any other in the world. Whilst many people would stop and admire the sound of the language itself, it’s the beauty of the meaning behind some of their words and expressions that truly sets it apart.
The awareness of fleeting beauty; a walk through a silent forest; rays of sunlight that filters through the trees; happy feelings associated with nostalgia.
When you read any of the above, they conjure up an emotion within you. These seemingly universal emotions are often difficult to describe in one word in English, or any other language for the matter. However, these expressions are deeply rooted in the Japanese culture and thus are actual words used in the Japanese language.
Our 10 Best Japanese Words
We’ve chosen ten of the most beautiful and meaningful Japanese expressions for you to learn below.
- Shinrinyoku (森林浴)
- Ikigai (生きがい)
- Natsukashi (懐かしい)
- Kanbina (甘美な)
- Wabi-Sabi (侘寂)
- Kogarashi (木枯らし)
- Komorebi (木漏れ日)
- Unkai (雲海)
- Kintsugi (金継ぎ)
- Shouganai (しょうがない)
Not only do they express some poignant meanings, but they all roll off the tongue in pleasing manners!
1. Shinrinyoku (森林浴)
The literal translation of this word is ‘forest bath’. In Japan, it is an act of self-care to actually take a walk through a forest (there are many in Japan!) when you’re feeling slightly off-centre, need a break to clear your head, or just want a relaxing experience.
It is believed to have many restorative and therapeutic benefits that are almost like food for the soul. Want lower blood pressure? Release some stress hormones? Get a little cardio out of your day? Experiencing a shinrinyoku might be exactly what you need!
By the way, if you want to hike in Japan, make sure you read this guide: Hiking in Japan.
2. Ikigai (生きがい)
Simply put, your ikigai is your reason for being.
Ever thought about why you get up every morning? Or the reason behind why you do the things you do?
In the Japanese culture, they describe these reasons for being as your ikigai. To find your ikigai is to find the balance between the spiritual with the practical. Start off with figuring out what you’re passionate about, and then find the ‘how’ in which you can express and pursue that passion.
3. Natsukashi (懐かしい)
The English counterpart for natsukashi would be nostalgia. However, this is where the similarities end. In the Western world, experiencing nostalgia brings about waves of sadness and longing for the past that was.
Natsukashi, however, is the emotion brought about when thinking about the past with positive feelings only.
Something is natsukashi if you’re reliving happy memories of your past and not feeling that burden of yearning.
4. Kanbina (甘美な)
Kanbina describes a word that is pleasant to hear. What a perfect word for this list!
This word or expression is often used in the context when someone speaks a word that is music to the ears or rolls off the tongue pleasantly.
It is also used between romantic couples when complimenting each other, or in more poetic or fantastical sentences when describing a feeling or emotion.
5. Wabi-Sabi (侘寂)
Wabi-sabi is a word used in Japan to describe beauty that is imperfect. It is rooted in Buddhist teachings that remind us that life is fleeting and it is not perfect.
For example, when you see a teapot that shows uneven colouring, it can still be as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than an evenly coloured one.
Wabi-sabi is a philosophy that is deeply ingrained in the Japanese view of aesthetics. Appreciating imperfections may not be as normal a thing to do based on Western standards of beauty, but in Japan, valuing imperfections within the beauty of an object as a whole is natural.
6. Kogarashi (木枯らし)
Have you ever experienced that particular first wind during the final days of autumn that you know indicates the coming of winter?
Kogarashi describes that exact wind. Its literal translation is ‘leaf shaking/wilting wind’, and many Japanese use it as a reference to prepare for the upcoming cold months.
For those who do not enjoy winter months, the beauty of this word may be lost.
However, kogarashi perfectly encapsulates that feeling you get when that cold, brisk wind washes over you in that one instant and you just know.
Many cold countries around the world experience this cold snap but no other word describes it as perfectly as kogarashi.
7. Komorebi (木漏れ日)
The feeling of sunlight filtering through the trees onto your face when you’re hiking deep in the mountains is something that English words can’t really describe…but the Japanese have a word for it, and that is komorebi.
It may be because more than 60% of the Japan is forests and mountains, but such a word can only exist in a country that deeply values their connection with nature.
8. Unkai (雲海)
On that note, the Japanese also have a word to describe the picturesque sea of clouds that meets the eyes after a long hike to the peak of a mountain: unkai.
One of the reasons why many Japanese people love hiking is because of the rewarding view at the end. When the mountain is high enough (and let’s be honest, most in Japan are!) and the hike takes you above the clouds, the view of the clouds spreading far into the horizon is quite a sight to behold.
The Japanese alps are the perfect place to experience this!
9. Kintsugi (also known as kintsukuroi) (金継ぎ)
In Japan, Kintsugi is the practice of mending broken pottery with gold or silver to fill in the cracks and make the object whole again. This is a prime example of wabi-sabi; finding the beauty in the imperfections.
Japanese people believe that rather than disposing or rejecting a broken item, finding a way to piece it back together makes it more beautiful than it originally was. When participating in kintsugi, the broken pottery that has been pieced together now also has a unique history.
10. Shouganai (しょうがない)
When we say ‘it can’t be helped’, we are often painfully resigning ourselves to situations that are out of our control, and it is usually a mentally draining experience. However, when using the expression shouganai, the Japanese are more so objectively accepting a bad situation for what it is.
People using this word realise that there is no point in complaining because that won’t help or change the situation. They realise that life is much bigger than what is happening right then and there, and so they accept the fact of the matter for what it is and move on.
This expression is a suggestion as to why and how Japanese people remain so resilient amongst all the natural disasters that they face year on year.
Bonus Japanese Expression: Kuidaore (食い倒れ)
Kuidaore is something that many, many people around the world have experienced before. It is a wholesome word to describe the situation where *drumroll* … one eats themselves bankrupt!
Don’t take this too literally though! It just means that one person can have such an extravagant love of food that they will happily spend all their money on it. Foodies are victims of this phenomenon that can’t be escaped if you’re the type to dream about your next meal before finishing what’s in front of you.
Fun fact: Kuidaore has become unofficially associated with the Dotonbori district of Osaka. This famous foodie hotspot boasts food stall after food stall, restaurant after restaurant, market after market. It is the ultimate heaven for a Japanese food lover!
We hope you feel refreshed after learning all these beautiful expressions of the Japanese language. The meanings can be described in English but no words can ever really replace these unique words, which makes them quite fascinating!
Add these words to your vocabulary.
Use them in everyday sentences.
When you’re experiencing a poignant or tranquil moment, think back to these words and see if any can perfectly encapsulate the moment.
I hope you enjoyed our 10 best Japanese words. If you have any suggestions on other beautiful and meaningful Japanese expressions, we’d love to hear it in the comments!
And if you want to learn more Japanese, feel free to check out this blog post too: 20 Japanese Phrases You Should Know Before To Travel To Japan.