In English cultures there is a thin line (that usually isn't crossed) between symbolism (usually used in visual arts) and lingual connotation which is usually used in creative writing, and colour is a large medium for both. Lets take blue for example. In a painting I would use blue to represent eternity, a sort of ongoing feeling; like that of the sky or ocean. In a story or a poem I would use blue to signify depression or solemness. I have looked for something like the Japanese equivalent but I have only found Japanese colour symbolism.

Colours are used often to represent ideas and social attitudes, like gold commonly being the iconic colour of Buddhism in older Japanese art, and blue sometimes representing daily life (because indigo dye was very common). However, what I want to know is if colour didn't just serve symbolic use in visual art, but in writing as well. Does Japanese have different lingual connotations for the colours that are separate from the connotation used in symbolism? If possible could you give an example and any helpful resources?

Edit: I'm asking if there is any symbolic use of colours in Japanese language, separate from the symbolic use of and meaning derived from colour symbolism in imagery, like in the example with blue written above.

  • 4
    "... and any other colours I left out": You are asking for a complete analysis of colours in Japanese. This sounds more like a PhD thesis to me. To get a meaningful answer on this site, you'll have to be more specific about what you don't understand. e.g. "Does 赤 carry the meaning of aggression and passion, like it does in English?" or "Is there any example of a colour in Japanese that carries symbolism, which the same colour doesn't carry in English?"
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 4:29
  • @user1205935 Thanks for pointing that out
    – crayondraw
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 5:59
  • 1
    You say that you "have only found Japanese colour symbolism". Could you explain what you found and what you consider to be particularly Japanese about this symbolism?
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 6:10
  • Alright, thanks for the edit. Now it is a question ;)
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 6:23
  • 3
    I don't understand how anyone can answer this question satisfactorily.
    – user18597
    Commented Feb 10, 2013 at 11:28

1 Answer 1


Okay, I still don't really understand what you are asking, but I guess the only way to find out is to try a few examples to see if any one matches your criteria.

  • 赤 is often used to mean bareness and nakedness: 赤子(baby) 赤裸々(blunt) 赤貧 (very poor). Not sure about the origin, but can't think of any obvious visual origin to this meaning.

  • 白 is used to represent innocence as in 「あいつはシロだ」. Originally a police jargon but I think it's now common enough. More commonly written as シロ instead of 白. The meaning has obvious visual origin of white being pure. (クロ has the opposite meaning.)

  • For 白, there is also 頭の中が真っ白になる, expressing that one's mind goes blank.
    – Dono
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 4:40
  • あか meanings are from あかるい. I think it's the same origin, and then got bent to mean "red".
    – user18597
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 4:41
  • @Dono I'm well aware that there are all sorts of meanings originated from the actual visual color (especially white). I didn't bother listing them as I wasn't sure what Koasamitsu really wants to know. Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 4:56
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    @KohsukeKawaguchi - this is well-known. I don't have academic sources but see e.g. gogen-allguide.com/a/aka.html
    – user18597
    Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 5:52
  • 1
    赤 and 明るい have the common origin; see Daijisen and Daijirin. I do not know whether the original meaning is 明るい or not. Commented Feb 11, 2013 at 12:04

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