9 Beautiful Japanese Words and Phrases

Japanese is an exceptionally gorgeous language because its words and phrases organically encompass cultural experiences and social values.

Many Japanese words and sayings depend on their underlying significance; whether that is an appreciation for nature or the beauty of life itself. With an emphasis on aesthetic, translations from Japanese to English can be very challenging. Though these Japanese words and phrases may not have English equivalents, great translators can help uncover and explain their meaning so non-speakers can appreciate them nonetheless.

 

Wabi-Sabi – 侘寂

The concept of this word has changed throughout recent centuries. It was originally associated with an existential melancholy and the acceptance of life’s transience and imperfection. In modern culture, ‘wabi-sabi’ has been replaced as something that is a mere fact of existence. Life is beautiful not because it is perfect, but because it is not. This acceptance typically opens the door to the appreciation of simplicity and a deeper beauty within our lives.

Shouganai – しょうがな

Often interpreted as ‘it is what it is’ or ‘it can’t be helped,’ this common phrase refers to the recognition that we do not have control over every situation. The philosophy behind this word implies that it possesses both beauty and burden. Many claim that ‘shouganai’ is maintaining dignity despite facing the inevitable challenges in life.

Natsukashii – 懐かしい

An adjective often translated as ‘nostalgia,’ it actually means more than just that. This word is used frequently when something evokes the past, a happy or fond remembrance of anything that takes you back to a specific moment. ‘Natsukashii’ is attributed to hearing your favorite childhood song or tasting your favorite aunt’s pie. As Japanese culture has a strong affection for history, this feeling is something that is sought out by many.

Komorebi – 木漏れ日

‘Sunshine filtering through leaves’ is as close as we can get to a direct translation of this word. Its poetic meaning is something that we can all envision; certain shadows on the ground or sunlight through the cracks of our curtains capture the same effect as ‘komorebi.’  The powerful aesthetic component makes it extremely difficult to translate.

Koi No Yokan – 恋の予感

‘Koi no yokan’ refers to the sense that we have just met a person with whom we will inevitably fall in love. This phrase is often erroneously compared to ‘hitomebore,’ which means love at first sight. Instead, Japanese speakers think of ‘Koi no yokan’ as a premonition of love, solely based upon the feeling that you get after you have met someone and imagine forever with them.

Yūgen – 幽玄

Though the exact translation can depend on context, the best way to explain this word is an awareness of the universe that provokes emotions too profound and compelling for words. The mystical connection to the world that we feel with ‘yūgen’ is humbling, reminding us that we are existing on a planet in a universe that in retrospect we know almost nothing about.

Ichi-go Ichi-e – 一期一会

‘In this moment, never again’ would be a rough translation of this phrase, but it does not do it justice. This saying is all about treasuring the moments that you share with others because those exact moments can never happen again. The phrase pushes us to recognize that all moments in life, good or bad, can never be recreated or experienced again.

Shinrinyoku – 森林浴

Another word synonymous with nature, this term refers to ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing.’ The idea behind it is that if you spend time in nature, there are healing and calming benefits to it that can benefit both your physical and mental health. It isn’t hiking or jogging while surrounded by nature, but simply being in it and connecting with nature through our senses.

Mono no aware – の哀れ

Coined by an eighteenth-century literary scholar Motoori Norinaga, this phrase captures a pathos that comes from realizing the transience of life, almost similar to ‘wabi-sabi.’ Though this feeling of life as fleeting isn’t something to be welcomed or celebrated, the phrases reminds us that we are lucky to experience the beauty and the melancholy of life at all. The appreciation we have of life is only heightened by its impermanence. ‘Mono no aware’ aids in helping us cope with the overwhelming feeling of mortality.

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