Words Matter


I love living in Japan. Food is great, the people are nice and the culture is rich and interesting. It enfolds one in a comfortable closeness that takes getting use to but which yields rich rewards for anyone willing to invest themselves into it. 

Language is an intricate thread woven into the fabric of culture and I find myself suffering through what seems an impossible task of becoming conversationally competent. Japanese language is in many ways much more specific and precise than English. In others it is, to my mind, shockingly vague. For example, there is no future tense. Context determines whether or not you are referring to future. I could say, コーヒーを飲みます。(I drink coffee) To make it future I need to refer to a future time and say, あしたは コーヒーを飲みます。(Tomorrow I drink coffee) The verb tense doesn’t change. 

Recently I read an article by a woman named Marie Sugio on her blog named. She wrote about eleven words that have no English equivalent; they just don’t exist in English. The thoughts expressed are well-known emotions but we have never put specific words to them like the Japanese people have.

The first example is: いただきます Itadakimasu

It means “I will have this.” It is used before eating any food to express appreciation and respect for life, nature, the person who prepared the food, the person who served the food, and everything else that is related to eating. No one eats with out first saying Itadakimasu and often it is said with hands put together in front of your chest as if in a praying position. Typically no one actually thinks about giving thanks to everyone and everything in the chain of events leading to the meal; it is a cultural habit. 


tired motherおつかれさま Otsukaresama 

​This is another interesting word we don’t have in English. It is a word acknowledging someone’s fatigue and thanking them for the hard work that made them so tired. Coworkers say this to one another at the end of the day. Sometimes people fall asleep at their desk at work. It is a good sign that they are working so hard and such long hours that they are exhausted . . . . おつかれさま!






木漏れ日 Komorebi

beautiful gardenThis is a word describing the sunlight as it is filtered through the trees. We all know and love this beautiful effect but in Japan the people have dedicated this word to describe it.

森林浴 Shinrinyoku

This word translates to "forest bathing" or maybe "forest therapy." It speaks of going deep into the forest where everything is quiet and peaceful and to sit there relaxing in, bathing in, this quiet beauty.





cold mountain in winter



木枯らし Kogarashi

This word speaks of a cold wintry wind at the arrival of winter; the wind that bites your cheeks.









night sky


幽玄 Yuugen

Hidden beauty, mysterious profundity . . . an awareness of the subtle and profound. Perhaps an awareness of life or of the universe. 








broken bowl

金継ぎ kintsugi

To repair pottery with gold. This joins the pieces of the original piece in a way that accentuates or intentionally highlights the brokenness of the piece. In this way there is an acknowledgment that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken and repaired.