For the two words, watermelon and melon:

  • watermelon → 西瓜(すいか)
  • melon → メロン

Watermelon uses hiragana, whereas melon uses katakana.

Why is this set up this way? Is there a special rule that dictates the use of katakana in the original word or something?

  • 10
    Can you really not think of a reason? In Japanese watermelon is just not water+melon. In German or French potatoes can be called "Erdapfel" or "pomme de terre", lit. earth apple. Your question is like asking "Why does potato not contain the word apple?"
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 6:03
  • 3
    The confusing bit of this question is the last sentence. What is the general rule that you believe this is an exception to?
    – jkerian
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 14:43
  • 1
    I've only taken Japanese for a year, so I barely know anything. My friend asked me what "melon" in japanese was, and since I immediately thought of suika for watermelon, I assumed some part of "suika" would mean melon. I was suprised tough to see that "meron" was the word melon in japanese. Does this mean the word "melon" came to the japanese after the word "watermelon" then?
    – yuritsuki
    Commented Jan 16, 2013 at 16:52
  • 5
    A colleague once related to me that one of her first year Japanese students, junior or high school students I think, tried to look up the word asshole. It was not in the dictionary, so they looked up ass (ロバ, hence donkey) and hole (穴 ana). Then the class started teasing each other by saying 「あなたはロバ穴です」. Needless to say, language does not work like this...
    – Dono
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 1:28
  • 2
    @Dono yes, it is important to remember that words do not evolve nor are constructed the same way in all languages. The fact that 西瓜 (watermelon) happened to have the kanji for melon in it is just a coincidence. Hypothetically it could have been called "striped fruit" and not have the kanji for melon in it at all.
    – David
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 5:10

2 Answers 2


西瓜(すいか)is a Japanese word, borrowed from the Chinese. It is not known exactly when watermelons arrived in Japan, though it was most likely after the Muromachi period (1333-1573 CE). Words which are native to Japan, borrowed from China, or borrowed a long time ago tend to be written in Kanji and Hiragana. Incidentally, 「西」means west and 「瓜」means melon or gourd.

メロン on the other hand is an imported word from the English melon. This word refers to Muskmelons which were imported in the late Meiji (1868-1912 CE) or early Taisho (1912-1926 CE) periods. Words which are not Japanese or Chinese in origin are often written in Katakana.

Normally, melons which were passed to the east of the Middle East contain the kanji 瓜(うり)and melons passed to west of the Middle East contain the word メロン.


Im pretty sure 西瓜(suika) also borrowed the pronunciation of 西瓜(xi-gua (shi-gua)) from China。

I'm also pretty sure Watermelons originated in Egypt, and traveled east to China, therefore having people in China call it 西瓜 which literally means west melon. So when Japan borrowed Chinese characters for kanji, watermelon already existed.

If a different type of melon was imported into Japan after they borrowed Chinese characters it will most likely be written in katakana. For example cantaloupe(a type of muskmelon) is known as マスクメロン (masukumeron)

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