What is the difference between the words sora (空) and ten (天) – sky?

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In Japanese there is the word sora (空) that can literally be translated as heaven or emptiness, and there is also the word ten (天) that can be translated as heaven, but what is the difference between the 2? In this article, try to understand the differences and meanings of each of these words.

If you are an English student you may think that the difference is the same as the word sky and heaven, where one is the literal sky and the other the spiritual sky. But in Japanese? It's the same thing? We can say yes and no.

What does SORA significa mean?

The kanji sora or kuu (空) has several meanings besides sky, it can also mean emptiness, vacuum, air, etc. With this kanji we form words like:

  • 空気 - kouki - Air, atmosphere
  • 空港 - kuukou - Airport
  • 空間 - kuukan - Space, airspace
  • 空軍 - kuugun - Air Force, Aviation

We realize that the word sora takes more to the side of space, of emptiness. The sky is a big empty space, and that makes a lot of sense.

What does TEN 天 mean?

The ten or love (天) can be used to write several words regarding the spiritual, paradise or symbolic sky, see some examples below:

  • 天国 - tengoku - This word literally means paradise, kingdom of heaven;
  • 天使 - tenshi - means angel

But kanji 天 is also used to write words like:

  • 天皇 - tennou - Emperor
  • 天気 - tenki - weather
  • 天文 - tenmon - Astronomy

We can see that kanji 天 is used to refer to grand and sovereign things like heaven, weather or emperor. It is even related to the ideogram dai 大, which means big.

So the differences between these 2 kanji is that sora It is the idea of space, empty as long as it is the idea of greatness, immensity, power, etc.

So it is not easy to affirm a significant difference between these two words. Not to mention that there are many other words using other ideograms with the same meanings as heaven, angels, etc. You will only know the right time to use each word when you know the whole context or are more familiar with the language.

The Japanese language is a very complex and simple language at the same time, some things can really confuse our minds, but it has interesting and significant origins and differences.

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