The impetus for my question is Vinland Saga, S2E23. Somewhat avoiding spoilers, T has belonged to vicious savage vikings all his life. But T, after years of murder, uniquely begins to pursue and espouse peace. After T confronts a great man C, C says of T: "美しい男だ". This is translated as "You're a beautiful man".

Vinland Saga example

There is obviously no physical/literal aspect to this comment by C. In English, it's clear that "beautiful" is referring to T's spirit, rather than his physical appearance, and that's what I would have believed from the Japanese as well.

But looking it up on jisho.org, it says that "utsukushii" can also mean "pure (heart, friendship, etc.)​". I always thought utsukushii was purely associated with "beauty", and nothing else. But jisho.org implies it's strongly associated with purity and other such "clean" values/virtues.

So my question is: is 美しい simply as nuanced as the word "beautiful" is? Or does could 美しい explicitly imply certain values/ideas in particular (that the English word "beauty" doesn't imply as directly)? And as a follow-up: is C implying that T is "pure" in a derogatory manner (e.g. medetai = naive), or in a reverent manner?


1 Answer 1


The short answer would be "There is no deeper meaning than 'beautiful'". Whenever you feel 'beautiful' works as a translation of 美しい, you can use it. If I understand correctly, "beautiful friendship" and "beautiful spirit" are natural phrases in English, so you can safely use them as the translation of 美しい友情 and 美しい心, respectively.

However, every language has its own set of collocation rules, so there can be rare cases where 'beautiful' cannot be idiomatically translated as 美しい, and vice versa. For example, Japanese people don't usually say 今日は美しい日だ in the same way English speakers say "It's a beautiful day". But such edge cases do not necessarily mean 'beautiful' and 美しい are different concepts. Currently, I can't think of a situation where it would be definitely better to translate 美しい as 'pure' rather than as 'beautiful', but there might be such a case.

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