20 Useful Words to Say Colors in Japanese!

20 Useful Words to Say Colors in Japanese

Learning to say colors in Japanese is important for students of the language, as they are fundamental in describing the world. Yet how we describe colors is closely related to how we perceive them, and that, along with idiomatic uses, says a lot about our culture. Maybe, in learning useful Japanese words for colors, you’ll gain new insight into Japanese culture. I’m not going to discuss any grammar here, just words and connotations.



 

20 Useful Words to Say Colors in Japanese!

 

1. Iro (色) –

means color. It’s modified in a variety of ways, including: iroai (hue); iro toridori (colorful); azayakana iro (vivid color); iroaseta (faded color); usui iro (light color); and koi iro (dark color).

 

2. Sex

But the word iro (or shiki) has sexual connotations too, including: iroppoi (sexy); iroke (sex appeal); and shikiyoku (lust). And iro otoko and iro onna once described promiscuous men and women respectively. Today, though, loan words from English have supplanted many of these archaic idioms.

 

3. Shiro (白) –

means white. It is the color innocence and purity, but the phrase shirajirashii (pure white) has a negative connotation akin to shameless or brazen. Lovers of Sumo will know that shiroboshi indicates victory.

 

4. Howaito (ホワイト) –

Also means white. Katakana is often used for imported ideas and concepts, as in howaito choko (white chocolate).

 

5. Kuro (黒) –

means black, as in kurogoma (black sesame) or kuroneko (black cat). Being the ‘opposite’ of white, it has a connotation with guilt or wicked intent (hara guroi), whilst in Sumo, kuroboshi means defeat.

 

6. Shirokuro (白黒 ) –

means black & white, despite the different word order, and is used in a similar way, such as shirokuro shashin (b+w photo). Other phrases are concerned with making things clear or setting the record straight.

 

7. Kōhaku (紅白) –

Red & white, usually in stripes, is considered good luck and features prominently in festive decor and foods.

 

8. Aka (赤) –

means red. Useful words include akachan (baby) and aka no tanin (complete stranger), while akaji (unprofitable) and akahaji (embarrassment) are similar to English ‘in the red’ and ‘red-faced.’

 

9. Midori (緑) –

means green. It’s also a common girls’ name.

 

10. Ao (青) –

means blue. It carries a similar sense of adolescence or inexperience that green does in English. However, ao yasai (green vegetables), ao mushi (green caterpillar), aodake (green bamboo) aonori (seaweed powder) and many other things, such as the go/walk signal at traffic lights, are described as green in Japanese! This is a holdover from ancient Japanese, where all colors were categorized as either white, black, red or blue. Other Blue Hues – kon (紺) is dark (navy) blue and mizuiro (水色 – lit. water color) is a very light blue.

 

 

11. Ki (黄) –

means yellow. The phrase, kuchibashi ga kiiroi (lit. yellow beak) means something like greenhorn, indicating inexperience, while kiiroi koe describes the shrill voice of a woman or small child.

 

12. Kin (金)

gold, as in kin medaru (gold medal) and kinpatsu (blond hair).

 

13. Gin (銀)

silver. Often refers to something bright white, as in ginsekai (snowy world), ginshari (white rice) and ginga (Milky Way – lit. silver river).

 

14. Chairo (茶色)

brown; the color of humor, as in chakasu (make fun of) and chaban (farce).

 

15. Chairo (茶色)

Other Reddish Hues – tend to be inspired by nature in Japanese and include: murasaki (紫) – purple; momoiro (桃色) – peach; and bara iro (薔薇色) – rose.

 

16. Pinku (ピンク)

Pinku is used in some contexts to describe synthetic pink color, as well as for pornographic films (pinku no eiga) that would be termed ‘blue movies’ in British English.

 

17. Komugi iro (小麦色)

Komugi iro is straw colored (lit. the color of wheat).

 

18. Kitsune iro (きつね色)

Kitsune iro is a natural golden color (lit. like fox fur).

 

19. Haiiro (灰色)

Haiiro is grey. It has a connotation with unhappiness or corruption, so the katakana gurē (グレー) is more often preferred.

 

20. Orenji (オレンジ)

Orenji is the usual way of referring to orange (fruit and color) these days, rather than the Japanese daidai (橙).

 

Conclusion

Phew! I didn’t know I lived in such a colorful world until I sat down to make that list, and I’m sure I must have missed quite a lot of expressions. But I hope you will find this interesting, whether you’re a student of Japanese or not.

 

20 Useful Words to Say Colors in Japanese!

1. Iro (色) –
2. Sex
3. Shiro (白) –
4. Howaito (ホワイト) –
5. Kuro (黒) –
6. Shirokuro (白黒 ) –
7. Kōhaku (紅白) –
8. Aka (赤) –
9. Midori (緑) –
10. Ao (青) –
11. Ki (黄) –
12. Kin (金)
13. Gin (銀)
14. Chairo (茶色)
15. Chairo (茶色)
16. Pinku (ピンク)
17. Komugi iro (小麦色)
18. Kitsune iro (きつね色)
19. Haiiro (灰色)
20. Orenji (オレンジ)