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WWWJDIC says that both 迷宮 and 迷路 mean "maze / labyrinth".

Google Images suggests that they are about the same thing: link1, link2

However, what may be the differences in nuance and usage between 迷宮 and 迷路?

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I wonder if you can compare the morphemes 宮 and 路 to map out the meanings. 宮 is palace, hence 迷宮 "labyrinth" = complex maze that is a building → maze in general, unsolved case. 路 is road → way, hence 迷路 maze in general → getting lost, labyrinth → translation word for labyrinth of the inner ear. Something like that, anyway... –  snailboat Feb 28 '13 at 4:09
    
@snailplane <off-topic> Assuming we define a morpheme as "the smallest semantic unit in a language", I would argue that both 宮 and 路 are made up of morphemes and thus they themselves are strictly not morphemes </off-topic> –  Pacerier Feb 28 '13 at 5:11
    
Since you said <off-topic />, I responded in chat. –  snailboat Feb 28 '13 at 5:40

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The "correct" translation for 迷宮 is indeed "labyrinth" in the sense of the structure from ancient times, and it's basically from here that you get the real "differences" outside of medical terminology, etc. If you look on wikipedia there is a whole section devoted to the qualities that make a 迷宮 different from a 迷路. It might be an overly technical distinction, but here is the relevant part:

迷宮は以下の点で迷路とは区別される。

通路は交差しない。

一本道であり、道の選択肢はない。

通路は振り子状に方向転換をする。

迷宮内には余さず通路が通され、迷宮を抜けようとすればその内部空間をすべて通ることになる。

中心のそばを繰り返し通る。

中心から脱出する際、行きと同じ道を再び通らなければならない1

So in a 迷宮, if I may briefly translate:

  • Paths do not cross
  • There is only one long, winding road (i.e. no choosing different paths)
  • The path moves back and forth like a pendulum (look at the picture in the article to see what this means)
  • The path fills the entire area
  • It winds around the center
  • If you escape from the center, you have to leave the same way you came

This explanation deals with 迷宮 as a strict translation of the term "labyrinth," while 迷路 is generally a maze. You can see a 迷宮 as a special case of a 迷路 that follows the above rules. Like English, however, we don't really use labyrinth with such strict rules, and the same is true in Japanese. For example if you go through a dungeon in an RPG that happens to be called 迷宮 it likely won't follow these rules. In fact a good alternate translation for 迷宮 may very well be "dungeon" in the video game sense, since I have a feeling that outside of describing "actual" labyrinths it gets most of its usage from games. The key to note is that a 迷宮 is primarily a structure with a spooky atmosphere designed to be complicated and keep people out (or in?) while a 迷路, like snailplane mentions, is just a maze, a tricky path or a game you played on paper as a kid. There are different connotations to 迷路 and 迷宮 like this in Japanese just as there are connotations between labyrinth and maze in English.

For the record, this is what wikipedia technically describes as a 迷宮

迷宮 or labyrinth? You decide

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Yes about the games. If you Google for The Legend of Zelda, ゼルダの伝説 and either 迷路 or 迷宮, you will see many results for both words. –  istrasci Feb 28 '13 at 15:21

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