Despite Gustav Flaubert’s insistence that “human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to”, there is a great beauty to be found in language. English has served me very well for many years but it has its flaws and its omissions and sometimes it takes another language entirely to adequately express what you want to say.
With this in mind, read on for 7 Perfect Japanese Words with no English equivalent.
This verb is used in literal, practical terms to refer to a method of repairing broken pottery but as a noun it is used metaphorically to mean a thing that is more beautiful for having been broken and repaired. Like a heart?
Fuubutsushi is a bit like seasonal nostalgia. It’s all of the little things that remind you of a particular season – mulled wine at Christmas, BBQ in Summer, freshly-cut grass in Spring, pumpkin soup at Halloween – and make you long for that season to come around again.
Given the almighty ancient forests that pepper the tiny British Isles, it’s surprising that the English have no comparative word to describe the specific phenomenon of sunlight filtered through leaves. We’ll have to make do with the Japanese.
The ‘bi’ sound is integral here to avoid mixing this word up with a particular spicy green paste. Wabi-Sabi is an intense word that has two related meanings. It is an acceptance of the natural progression of life towards death and an acknowledgement of beauty in the mortal world of imperfection.
Hakani is also used to refer to something ‘temporary or short-lived’ but is often used in poetry to refer specifically to matters of the heart. A melancholic phrase, hakani koi means affection that is not returned but is nonetheless beautiful for its transience.
Omotenashi can be used to simply mean ‘hospitality’ but the real meaning of the word in use is much subtler. Omotenashi is the whole-hearted spirit of hospitality, of genuinely pleasing your guests in the best way you can.
What takes three words in English is just one in Japanese. ‘You are my ikigai’ must adorn every Valentine’s Day card in the country.