The Japanese language is filled with all sorts of words and phrases and concepts that we have no term for in the English language. While we know exactly what that feeling or that situation is, we can’t give it a single English word to accurately describe, and so we end up having to explain exactly what we mean. The Japanese, however, have created their own way of describing these things, and that’s what makes their language so unique.
To explore the beauty of the Japanese language, here are some words that they’ve created to describe various things we can all relate to.
Koi no Yokan
You may know this as the name of one of Deftones’ albums, but it’s actually a Japanese word with a profound meaning. It translates to “the feeling that you can’t help but fall in love with someone you just met.” A rough translation would be “love at first sight,” wherein you just know you’ll fall in love with this person no matter what you do.
This pottery term refers to the art of repairing pottery using gold or silver. The precious is placed on the cracks, which means no two pots will have the exact same pattern of gold or silver. With the process of kintsukikuroi, a pot that was once broken is now more beautiful. Think of it as a way of saying that those who have gone through hardship can come out more beautiful.
This term is connected to the idea of destiny, and thus encourages us to accept the things that we can’t control. It literally means “it can’t be helped.” The Japanese culture is centered around responsibility and diligence, which is why they do what they can to make sure everything is perfect, or at least favorable. However, there are times when they won’t be able to change the outcome of something, and that’s when the word shouganai is relevant.
Mono no Aware
This phrase refers to the bittersweet feeling you get when you know that something beautiful will fade away soon. There are some things with a beauty so ethereal and transcendent that we can’t help but feel sad once these things disappear. However, we learn to appreciate it more because we know that it’s fleeting. This is most relevant to a blooming flower, the vigor of youth, or perfectly shaped clouds.
Much like mono no aware, wabi-sabi is finding beauty in the imperfections of life, while also accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay. Nothing in life is absolutely perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop to appreciate the momentary beauty of the things around us. The Japanese are well aware of the cycle of growth and decay, as evidenced by the many words they have relating to this cycle.
Yoroshiku, onegai shimasu
This literally translates to “favorably, please.” It’s a phrase that’s usually used to express a genuine hope for good things to come. It’s often said to people whom you just met and are working under, such as upperclassmen, a new manager, or a host. Think of it like saying “September, please be good to me.” But instead of addressing a month, you’re addressing a person.
This is the term you might use for people who love to take pseudo-candid selfies on Instagram. Boketto is the act of staring vacantly into the distance. Oftentimes, the person who does boketto is deep in though as they’re daydreaming. So the next time you see a friend staring off into the distance, tell them about this word.
Ikigai is a person’s reason for being. It’s the reason someone gets up in the morning. Ikigai can be a lot of things – your job, your family, your friends, or even your pet. When you have ikigai, it gives you a sense of purpose in life and makes you more motivate to strive and do your very best.
The Japanese language is filled with words that are related to nature. Komerobi is no exception, as it translates to “the sunlight that filters through the leaves of a tree.” There is no direct English translation for this, which is sad because everyone can appreciate the sunlight beneath a canopy of leaves.
Here’s another nature-related word. Shinrinyoku literally means forest bathing. But it’s not about bathing in the river in the middle of a forest. Instead, it refers to immersing yourself in nature to relax and to improve your health. With the hustle and bustle of the city, the mind can become crowded and chaotic. That’s why many Japanese people wish to get away from it all with shinrinyoku. It’s like a cleansing experience that allows you to reset your mind and prepare yourself for another week of hard work.
The next time you see komerebi or experience koi no yokan, at least now you have the right Japanese phrase to use. What words in your language are impossible to translate into English? Share them with us below!