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Is "着物" the most commonly used, easily understood, and unambiguous Japanese translation for the English word "kimono"? If not, what alternatives would be more suitable?

One reason I'm unsure is that some English words derived from Japanese would not have themselves as their best translation in Japanese. For example, the English word "sake" would be best translated as "日本酒", rather than "酒".

Another reason I'm unsure is that "着物" has an etymology of "wearing thing" (equivalent to 食べ物 and 飲み物 having an etymology of "eating thing" and "drinking thing"). Can it mean "clothing" in general, for example even T-shirts? Jisho.org translates the word as meaning either clothing in general, or kimono (or other Japanese style clothing).

I have heard of the word "和服". Does that mean "Japanese style clothing"? Would it include things other than kimonos such as yukatas?

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「the English word "kimono"」って、日本語の「着物」とどう違うのかが分かりません。What kind of things does "the English word kimono" normally refer to? From non-Japanese people's point of view? –  Choko Dec 29 '13 at 5:53
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@ちょこれーと I used 'the English word "kimono"' to indicate that I was talking about the English word, rather than a Japanese word spelt using romaji. As for what it means? Some English-speakers include yukatas in their definition of "kimono", while others don't. –  Andrew Grimm Dec 29 '13 at 21:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The word [着物]{きもの} presently has two different meanings.

One is "clothes" and it refers to ANY kind of clothes. This is the original meaning of the word. However, we only had Japanese-styled clothing when the word was born. きもの, as one could tell from its sound, is an originaly Japanese word and not one borrowed from Chinese, which means that the word existed before we actually knew there were other cultures.

The other meaning is "traditional Japanese-style clothing" as opposed to [洋服]{ようふく}, Western-style clothing. More and more people have been using the word 着物 only for this "new" meaning.

When I was a kid, my grand-parents called all of the clothes, including tee-shirts and jeans, in our house "着物", and I assure you that over 95% of the clothes we had were 洋服.

My parents only once in a while use the word 着物 the way my grand-parents did, and I myself basically never do so. We use [服]{ふく}or [衣類]{いるい} as a generic word for clothes.

So, 着物 is a good translation for "kimono" most of the time if not always because, as I said above, most of us now would only think of what you call "kimono" when hearing/seeing the word 着物.

[和服]{わふく} is a good word to use as well. Technically, 和服 covers a wider range of clothing than 着物 does but unless you are speaking to an expert, I would say that the two words are basically interchangeable. To answer your question, yes, 和服 includes yukata. underwears and overcoats which 着物 technically does not.

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I would consider using katakana キモノ in this case to emphasize that the word was used in an English context with the associated overtones.

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What are the associated overtones? –  snailboat Jan 17 at 0:23

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