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In Japanese, I found two common translations of the English word "north star/polaris".

  1. 北辰
  2. 北極星

Could someone tell me the difference between the two?

I saw that 北辰 is used for the design on the Hokkaido flag, so maybe 北辰 is more "romantic" and 北極星 is more "scientific"?

Thank you!

ETA: "North star/pole star" in English means "a visible star that is approximately aligned with the Earth's axis of rotation" (from Wikipedia). "Polaris" is the name of the star that is currently the north star/pole star now. (Thanks virmaior)

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Just a comment in the truest sense. Can you explain the differences between using north star and Polaris in your question? I'm a native speaker of English and wouldn't know the nuances very well between the two word choices. (I guess I'm wondering at how well this question can be answered). –  virmaior Jul 29 at 2:26
2  
I believe "Polaris" is the name of the actual star that is currently the north star. However, apparently in about 13,000 years, Vega will become the new north star. I'm glad you asked, because I didn't think that out when I asked the question. If I can think of a good way to edit that into the question, I will do so. (Reference: starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/questions/…) –  Imaginary Parakeet Jul 29 at 2:38

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

[北極星]{ほっきょくせい} is the word you hear and see to refer to the North Star basically 100% of the time in present-day Japan. That is the word you learn in school as a kid and use the rest of your life.

[北辰]{ほくしん} is seen mostly in company names and such. I could not speak for other Japanese-speakers but I could say that the word 北辰 is basically non-existent in my life for referring to the North Star.

Thus, 北極星 is both far more "scientific" and "romantic". To me, there is not even comparison.

I would love to hear different opinions from my fellow Japanese-speakers here.

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Thank you for your thorough answer! 「北辰旗」 is used in reference to Hokkaido's flag (which has a star motif), so that made me curious about the everyday usage differences between 北辰 and 北極星. I imagine the most common word for Polaris (currently the North Star) is simply ポラリス. –  Imaginary Parakeet Jul 29 at 7:58
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北辰って知りませんでした・・・漢字も読めなくて「ほくたつかな?」って思いました –  Choko Jul 29 at 14:12
    
同じくWikipedia見るまで「北辰」は知りませんでした。 I didn't know ポラリス either, and my first thought was that ポラリス is the synonym for "pole star". So when you want to use ポラリス to non-professionals, I think you have to describe the difference between ポラリス and (北)極星 first, like you did to @virmaior. –  naruto Jul 30 at 1:01
    
北辰ってかなり珍しいんですね。 Thank you for your insights. –  Imaginary Parakeet Jul 30 at 2:00

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