Get ready to dive into the fascinating and sometimes dark world of the Japanese language as we explore the different ways to say “death”. In this article, we will discuss the various words and expressions used to describe death and their cultural implications.
With a rich tapestry of words and expressions, Japanese offers a myriad of ways to describe and discuss death, from poetic and symbolic terms to more direct and factual descriptions. Ready to increase your Japanese vocabulary?
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The meaning of Shi [死] – Death in Japanese
The most basic and straightforward word for “death” in Japanese is 死 (し, Shi). This simple yet powerful word carries significant weight and is used in a variety of situations, from everyday conversations to formal contexts.
“Shi” also appears in various expressions and word combinations, such as 死亡 (しぼう, Shibō) for “death” or “death” and 死んでしまう (しんでしまう, Shinde shimau) for “to die” or “to pass away ”.
The kanji 死 is a combination of the characters 歹 (がつへん, gatsuhen), meaning "death", and 匕 (ひ, hi), a pictogram representing a person bowing. Together they convey the concept of death as a passage or transformation.
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[逝去] Seikyo – Venerable Death
The word 逝去 (せいきょ, Seikyo) is another way of saying “death” in Japanese, but with a more respectful and reverent connotation. “Seikyo” is often used when referring to the death of important or respected people, such as leaders and public figures, highlighting the admiration and respect society has for them.
“Seikyo” is composed of the kanji 逝 (せい, Sei), which means “depart” or “go away”, and 去 (きょ, Kyo), which means “departure” or “death”. Together they convey the idea that death is a respectful and honorable departure from the world of the living.
[枯れる] Kareru – Death in the Wild
Another interesting word related to death in Japanese is 枯れる (かれる, Kareru), which means “to die” or “wither away” in the context of plants and trees. “Kareru” is often used in poetry and literature to describe the passage of time and the transformation of life and nature.
The kanji 枯 (かれ, Kare) is composed of the characters 木 (き, Ki), which means "tree" or "wood", and 歹 (がつへん, gatsuhen), which, as mentioned earlier, means "death". Together they illustrate death in nature, as when a tree loses its life and withers. This poetic and symbolic image evokes the passage of time and the impermanence of life.
[亡くなる] Nakunaru – The Mysterious Death
The word 亡くなる (なくなる, Nakunaru) is another way of expressing “death” in Japanese, often used in more informal contexts and in everyday conversation. “Nakunaru” is a softer and more indirect way of referring to death, often used to avoid the more direct and heavier word “Shi”.
The kanji 亡 (な, Na) means “disappear” or “lose”. Combined with なる (く, naru), which indicates a change of state, “Nakunaru” conveys the idea that someone or something has disappeared, or gone, rather than directly referring to death.
[殺す] Korosu – The action of killing
The word 殺す (ころす, Korosu) is a Japanese verb meaning "kill" or "murder". Unlike the other words mentioned earlier, “Korosu” not only refers to the concept of death, but also implies an intentional and direct action resulting in one's death. “Korosu” is often used in contexts such as crime, conflict, and fictional stories.
The kanji 殺 (ころ, Koro) is made up of two characters: 歹 (がつへん, gatsuhen), which stands for "death", and 朱 (しゅ, Shu), which means "red" or "red ink". Together they symbolize the idea of violent or bloody death, related to the deliberate action of taking someone's life.
“Korosu” also appears in various expressions and word combinations, such as 自殺 (じさつ, Jisatsu) for “suicide” and 殺人 (さつじん, Satsujin) for “homicide”. These variations highlight different aspects and contexts related to the action of killing and death itself.
With the inclusion of “Korosu”, we now have an even more complete picture of the many ways death is approached in the Japanese language, from general concepts to specific and intentional actions. This illustrates the complexity of the language and its ability to express a wide range of emotions, situations and meanings related to this universal theme.
[寿命] – Jumyō – Natural Death
寿命 (じゅみょう, Jumyō) is a Japanese word that refers to a person's lifespan or natural lifespan. While it does not directly mean "death", it does imply the end of life as a result of natural causes such as age or non-violent illness.
[突然死] – Totsuzenshi – Sudden Death in Japanese
突然死 (とつぜんし, Totsuzenshi) is a Japanese word meaning "sudden death". This word describes death that occurs unexpectedly and without warning, usually due to natural causes such as a heart attack or stroke.
Other words related to death in Japanese
Finally, we will leave you a list of words related to death or killing in the Japanese language:
- 葬儀 (そうぎ, Sōgi) – Funeral
- 葬式 (そうしき, Sōshiki) – funeral ceremony
- 墓 (はか, Haka) – Tomb
- 墓地 (ぼち, Bochi) – Cemetery
- 遺体 (いたい, Itai) – Corpse (alternative to 死体)
- 遺灰 (いかい, Ikai) – Ashes (after cremation)
- 遺族 (いぞく, Izoku) – bereaved family
- 弔う (とむらう, Tomurau) – Lament, express condolences
- 喪 (も, Mo) – Grief
- 葬列 (そうれつ, Sōretsu) – Funeral procession
- 霊柩車 (れいきゅうしゃ, Reikyūsha) – Funeral car
- 火葬 (かそう, Kasō) – Cremation
- 冥土 (めいど, Meido) – world of the dead, underworld
- 生死 (せいし, Seishi) – Life and death
- 死神 (しにがみ, Shinigami) – God of Death, Reaper
- 亡骸 (ながらえ, Nagarae) – mortal remains
- 菩提 (ぼだい, Bodai) – Spiritual enlightenment, liberation from the cycle of life and death (Buddhist concept)
- 鎮魂 (ちんこん, Chinkon) – Rest of souls, eternal rest
- 遺言 (いげん, Igen) – testament, last words
- 墓参り (はかまいり, Hakamairi) – visit someone's grave
- 悼む (いたむ, Itamu) – Mourning, feeling the loss of someone
- 輪廻 (りんね, Rinne) – Cycle of rebirth and death, reincarnation (Buddhist concept)
- 死を迎える (しをむかえる, Shi o mukaeru) – Meet death, die
- 遺品 (いひん, Ihin) – Belongings of the deceased, keepsakes