The three words 闇[やみ], 暗闇[くらやみ] and 暗黒[あんこく] all translate to "darkness" in english according to the dictionary but I stuggle to see how they differ from one another. Are there any nuances between those 3 words in their meaning or usage? Feel free to provide examples. Thank you!


1 Answer 1


闇 has a nuance of darkness in a particularly negative or helplessly lost tinge of emotion, the sense of being enveloped by it (eg. 一寸先は闇: one step ahead no one can see). 暗闇 compounds that meaning through repetition but is also used to indicate and emphasize "total darkness" in a physical sense. 暗黒 is slightly more neutral, just the absence of light but in totality, but the 黒 part evokes a more physical meaning, having said which it also is figuratively used to express something akin to unenlightened (eg., 暗黒時代: the Dark Ages).


To expand on my answer, the way I've described these terms is mostly the "feel" of the words; they are very close synonyms, and looking at a dictionary they say basically the same thing. The constituent kanji which make up the word however, emote slightly different feelings just as in English an Anglo-Saxon-based word feels different than a Latin-based one, for example "job" versus "profession."

This Anglo-Saxon/Latin difference is roughly the same as 訓読{くんよ}み versus 音読{おんよ}み, and 闇 is kun'yomi, whereas 暗黒 is on'yomi. Since kun'yomi words are at times connected with Buddhism, they are at times imparted with a slightly mystical feeling, as I feel is the case with 闇.

For completeness, here are the dictionary entries for 暗闇 and 暗黒 (the 闇 entry is longer, I'll translate it as well if there is a demand for it):


  1. total absence of light; darkness. or, a place with that condition.

  2. a place that does not draw attention. a place that people do not know about. ex: "bury the matter away from prying eyes"

  3. unable to know how to proceed as planned, to lose hope in one's future. ex: "as this illness prods along the path ahead is unforeseeable"


  1. the condition of total darkness. the condition in which no light can reach. kurayami. or, the appearance/situation of such. ex: "the black universe"

  2. the breaking down of societal constructs. humanity and culture being utterly torn down, bringing widespread corruption and instability. or, the appearance/situation of such. ex: "the dark ages" "zone of darkness"

  3. a state of hopelessness. or, the appearance/situation of such. ex: "like a ray of light being shone onto the dark path ahead"

  4. the unknown. whatever it is, it is known to exist, but its identity and properties have not yet been ascertained. ex: "undiscovered continent" "unknown material"

  • Since Buddhism was transmitted from China along with kanji, Buddhist terms are on-yomi. Kun-yomi words are generally unrelated to Buddhism, but if they are associated with Japanese mythology, they can have a mystical ring.
    – naruto
    Jan 31 at 0:51
  • I realize that on'yomi, along with Buddhism, came to Japan from China. But, when you look at the history of Japan, there is a second starting point for both the development of the language, as well as the cultivation of religions including Buddhism where they both branch out independently from Chinese influence, and (in my opinion) the language is indeed intertwined with and mutually informing religions from there on. It's obviously much more complicated than this, but I was only trying to give a (perhaps overly-simplified and overly-generalized) sense of the words.
    – BrandAmber
    Jan 31 at 3:34
  • I am in no way trying to discredit you, and yes, most technical terms related to Buddhism are indeed on'yomi, but do take a look at the eighth definition here dictionary.goo.ne.jp/word/%E9%97%87 to see what I am attempting to convey.
    – BrandAmber
    Jan 31 at 3:56
  • Most terms that Japanese people associate with Buddhism are read in on'yomi. Of course there may be some exceptions due to historical reasons, but at least in the case of 闇, it's never recognized as a Buddhist term by the general public. Saying "kun'yomi words are at many times connected with—or originating from—Buddhism" sounds clearly misleading to me.
    – naruto
    Jan 31 at 4:31
  • Alright, point taken, I will edit out the "originating from" until I can find backing outside sources, but there is undeniably a connection between language and religion, as is the case in basically every culture.
    – BrandAmber
    Jan 31 at 5:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .