Kokoro - Understanding the heart, mind and spirit in Japanese


Do you know what it means kokoro [心]? It is a very simple word in the Japanese language that literally means heart. What few know is that this ideogram [心] and the word heart in Japanese, is much deeper than you think. In this article, we will try to understand all the meanings and uses of the word kokoro.

The kokoro ideogram [心] does not just mean heart, it also means mind and spirit. It also serves as an enigma and meaning, in addition to serving as radical of many other Japanese ideograms. There is also a variant of the heart kanji which is [忄].

Kokoro - entendendo o coração em japonês

The deep meaning of kokoro

The character that emerged from the Chinese [心] portrayed in China the very organ of the heart. The ideogram gained this series of meanings (mind, soul, spirit) because the Chinese thought the psychological functions, feelings and intentions came from the heart. For this reason, kokoro refers to all human activities that affect the outside world through intention, emotion and intellect.

For the Japanese, heart, mind, spirit and soul are indivisible elements of each other. The big problem with trying to translate the word kokoro into Portuguese is that we make divisions that simply don't exist in Japanese. Try to put in your mind that these meanings are only one in the Japanese language.


Kokoro is often discussed in several areas by writers, artists, fighters, mystics, scientists, programmers, financiers and in all other academic fields in Japan. A kendo sensei stated that it is an obligation for every kendo fighter to know the meaning and the essence of kokoro, which is also linked to mental, emotional and physical strength.

Of course, there are other Japanese words to refer to mind, spirit and soul. Only kokoro can be used and express these meanings according to the situation. Someone who says that your kokoro is dirty, wanted to say that your mind is polluted, or that you are a selfish person. When your heart dances, you are excited, when your heart changes, you are changing your thoughts, that is the idea of kokoro.

Kokoro - entendendo o coração em japonês

The heart, mind and spirit of kokoro [心]

The Chinese reading of the ideogram [心] is usually shin and it can be present in several other words related to heart, mind and spirit. There is yet another Japanese word that has the same 3 meanings (mind, spirit, heart) which is the known ki [気] that of the idea of an energetic word.

We use the ki [気] to ask how the person is doing, if he is feeling well, to talk about feelings and even things related to physical and spiritual energy. The ideogram ki [気] is mostly used in words that involve nature, disposition, humor, intentions, motivation and environment.

Meanwhile, the kokoro ideogram [心] is present in words like mentality, psychology, state of mind, mental state, heart disease, anxiety and many others. In addition to countless ideograms that use the heart stem and have meanings that slightly resemble kokoro.


Below we will see some alternative words and synonyms that can mean mind, soul and spirit:

Soul and spirittamashi
Soul, spirit霊魂reikon
Soul; spirit; ghostKing
Spirit; nymph; energy; force; semenknow
Holy Spirit聖霊I will
Brain; mindin another
Head; mindatama

Do the Japanese follow the heart or the mind?

As kokoro it can refer to emotions as well as logic and reason, it is difficult to understand western expressions as it follows your heart. Such a comprehensive word shows how the Japanese think and differentiate their feelings from their mind.

It all makes sense, since the literal heart has nothing to do with our feelings and desires, the Japanese manage to maintain the balance of these things, they do not differentiate the heart from the mind, allowing them to be rational and sentimental at the same time.

The word kokoro helps the Japanese to understand both the heart and the mind, spirit, soul, psyche and conscience. There is even a Japanese expression that explores this doubt among his thoughts. They usually ask themselves:

  • 心の準備はできていますか?
  • Kokoro no jubi wa dekiteimasu ka?
  • Is your heart ready?
  • Are you mentally ready?

Kokoro – entendendo o coração, mente e espírito em japonês

Words that use kokoro radical [心]

In case you still don't know what a radical is, to sum it up is simply a piece of a Japanese ideogram. The most complex ideograms usually have several other ideograms within it. If you want to know more, read our radicals article. Notice below how the ideograms with radical of [心] have similar readings:

Note: Be careful not to think that these kanji mean all this, sometimes it is just a representation of other complete words that use this ideogram.

Definition, Inevitable, right, invariablyhitsu
Love passionkoi
intention, will, kindness, goalkokorozashi
wick, cord, staple, leadshin
Penetrate, diveshin; shi
Shame; dishonor; disgrace; embarrassmenthaji
Think; to believe; consider; remembershi; omo.u
Kokoro - entendendo o coração em japonês

Other ways to say heart in Japanese

The word kokoro is usually more figurative. There are other ways of referring to the literal heart as well as the figurative heart, as well as the mind, spirit and soul. Let's leave a list of related words below:

Heart (organ, anatomical)心臓shinzou
Mind; spirit; soul; heart精神seishin
Heart center; middle of the heart中心chuushin
English heartハートhaato
Core; heart (of matter)核心kakushin
Spirit; heart; disposition意気iki
More intimate feelings, disposition, heart心根kokorone
Chest, breasts, heartrun
Psychology (lit: study of the logic of the heart)心理学shinrigaku

Note the word chest in Japanese, it is often used to refer to feelings in the heart. Same when we say that it hurt the chest referring to the heart. As much as we have different languages and cultures, some things never change. I hope you enjoyed the article, if you liked it share and leave your comments.