Ikigai definition print

Beautiful Japanese Words That Everyone Should Know

My 12 year old daughter’s obsession with everything Japanese has recently led me to want to learn more about Japan and its culture. On my journery of discovery I was delighted to find these beautiful Japanese words, words that don’t really have an equivalent in any other language. Japanese is a incredibly difficult language to learn, just ask my daughter! But even if you have no intention of ever trying to learn Japanese, just take a few minutes to read about these words as they reveal an insight into the wonderful Japanese culture, and its underlying Buddhist concepts.


Have you ever got to the end of your main course and felt full to burst, but said you still have a bit of room left for dessert? Betsubara is the Japanese word for the second stomach you have that’s reserved especially for desserts. And if the Japanese have a word for it then it must surely exist?!

Furusato definition print
Furusato definition print


Furusato means “hometown.” Although it’s not necessarily where we were born, but a place where our hearts long to be.


Itadakimasu is said before every meal in Japan, and can be translated as “I humbly receive.” Think of it as the Japanese equivalent of saying Grace, but its meaning runs far deeper. The word has its origins in Buddhism, which shows respect for all living things and believes that everything has a spirit. By saying “Itadakimasu” before you eat you are thanking everything that went into the meal, the animals, plants, farmers, etc.


I’m sure you’ve all experienced the beautiful moment as you’re walking through the forest or woods and you notice the sunlight filtering through the leaves on the trees? Well, the Japanese have a word for that, “Komorebi.”


Mono no aware simply means “The pathos of things.” Again, it is another Japanese word with its roots in Buddhism. It’s an understanding that everything in existence is temporary and must be appreciated while it’s here. The best example of this is the cherry blossoms (sakura) that flower every year in Spring. It’s a sad fact that the flowers only bloom for two weeks, but we must therefore appreciate them even more because we know they won’t last long.


Natsukashii is the Japanese word for when something evokes a happy memory from the past.


Shinrin-yoku translates as “Forest bathing,” which is a therapy that was developed in Japan during the 1980s. The Japanese were quick to embrace the concept and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of “bathing” in the magical green light of the forest. You may even experience some komorebi as you walk through the forest!


Shougani simply means “It cannot be helped.” Used in situations where something has happened that is outwith your control, and there’s nothing you can do about it.


I practise Tsundoku! It’s the act of buying books and not reading them, just letting them pile up on shelves. Anyone else guilty of this?!


Ukiyo means “The floating world,” and is the Japanese term used to describe the urban lifestyle and culture, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of Edo period in Japan (1600–1867). In modern usage it means living in the moment, detached from the every day difficulties of life.


For me, this is the most meaningful Japanese word that I’ve learned. Ikigai means “A reason for being.” It’s the thing that gets you up out of bed in a morning, whether it’s your children, your job, or just your lust for life. It’s having a sense of purpose in life, along with a feeling of wellbeing.


In Japanese Yugen means having a deep awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious for words. Along with wabi-sabi, it’s part of a set of ancient Japanese ideals which are influenced by Buddhism. These ideals form the root of Japanese aesthetics, and are seen as an integral part of daily life.


This is one Japanese word you may have heard of, although not necessarily know what it means. It’s a fundamental part of Japanese aesthetics, along with Yugen, and has its base in Buddhism. Wabi-sabi means to find beauty in imperfection, and to accept that nothing lasts, and everything has a natural cycle of growth and decay.

So, there we have my choice of beautiful Japanese words. If there are any I’ve missed off, or if you’d like to share which are your favourites, please comment below.

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