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Dictionary (at least Jisho and WWWJDIC) defines them as:

  • 気象{きしょう} = weather, climate
  • 天気{てんき} = weather, the elements
  • 天候{てんこう} = weather

They all have quite similar definitions, so I don't quite understand the difference. I would appreciate if someone could shed some light into this (in English preferably), i.e. when to use each of these words.

Then there is the word 気候{きこう}, which I think means climate, and cannot be used to describe the weather on a specific day. Is that correct?

Thank you in advance!

  • I don't think the previous duplicate answer japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/1569/… explained it well enough. I'm ready to provide more understandable information about their differences. – broccoli forest Dec 17 '14 at 4:42
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    I'm going to reopen this for now because the linked question doesn't address 気象. I think that if we get a good answer here, we can close the other question as a duplicate, because an answer about all three words should also address the other question. – snailcar Dec 17 '14 at 12:09
  • The answers are already comprehensive as is, but for the sake of completion, 類語例解辞典 has an entry that explains the difference between 天気・気候・天候・気象 – 3 to 5 business days Dec 19 '14 at 0:04
  • Also, Jisho and WWWJDic both use the JMDict database - it's worth noting that Jisho uses outdated data whereas beta Jisho is up-to-date. – 3 to 5 business days Dec 19 '14 at 0:15
  • I know the article in the thesaurus and existing answers are based on it or similar explanations. But I think that one is too superficial for learners who want to grasp where to use these words or not. – broccoli forest Dec 20 '14 at 5:14
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天気 (1-3 days): You'll hear 天気 used the most, as in 天気予報 weather forecast or 天気はいいですか Is the weather good today? You should almost always translate 天気 as "weather" in English.

天候 (2-10 days): 天候 refers to the overall state of the atmosphere between a few days to about 10 days. Its use isn't that common, however, in casual conversation it shows up in the phrases 悪天候 "bad weather", referring the the weather in the past week or two, or 天候に恵まれる "we've been blessed by the weather."

気候 (climate) can be translated into English as weather or climate, depending on the context, however, it's used to refer to timescales on the order of a year. For example, カイロの気候はいいですか is the weather/climate in Cairo good? In this case, you mean climate, but in English it's rare to ask "How's the climate where your from?". Rather, "How's the weather where your from?" already implies you mean weather on a large scale, season to season.

気象 (meteorological phenomena): For example, 気象学者=meteorologist but 天気予報官=weatherman. 気象 refers to weather/climate, as well, but in a bit more quantitative context regarding changes in pressure and temperature, not simply "hot" or "cold". An English equivalent would be, "I'm studying meteorology" vs. "I'm studying weather." Studying meteorology means you're studying weather, but if you merely said, "I'm studying the weather" it doesn't necessarily carry with it the quantitative scientific connotation associated with the word meteorology.

  • Thank you for the answer. How about 天候, is it similar in meaning to 気候? – RadonBust Dec 17 '14 at 14:43
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天気

This is the most common word for weather, and expresses a naive concept of the entire perceptive state of sky (and air) in some place at some moment. It includes sunshine, cloudage, precipitation, wind, humidity and temperature, but not likely air pressure. By at some moment I mean, this word is expected to state an overall impression at a certain time-point, or in a short timespan, which has no complex changes of state needed to mention.

You can assume a unit of 天気 to be a piece of information that a single column of a table in the newspaper's forecasting section can describe.


On actual usage of the word 「天気」

○ 良い天気          天気が良いです。
○ 晴れの天気        天気は晴れです。
? 晴れている天気    天気(は/が)晴れています。
× 寒い天気          天気(は/が)寒いです。
○ 死ぬほど寒い天気  天気(は/が)死ぬほど寒いです。
△ 涼しい天気        天気(は/が)涼しいです。

If you'd like to use the word 天気 itself in a sentence, you should take care that most expressions people like to use with 天気 are subjective evaluations (row #1) or metaphors. Only this sort of expressions can used with 天気 without limitation.

When you need a word that means a part of 天気 (be sunny, rainy, windy etc.) to explain 天気, don't use it adjectively (#3) but appositively (#2). 天気 usually rejects such "a round circle" type attributions. Though, in many cases, it's enough to mention them without 天気: 晴れています "It's sunny."

Don't say 暑い天気 and 寒い天気, because the two words already contain "feel hot/cold in environment" senses (#4). You can however put your comments to make them subjective statements: 寒すぎる or 死ぬほど寒い (#5).

Other objective words also generally don't get along with 天気, for example, 涼しい天気 is only valid when it means "comfortably cool".


天候

It also refers to the state of atmosphere observed in a place, but this one mainly describes successive shift or tendency in a period of time. In a short term whose time lapse can be ignored, it becomes interchangeable with 天気.

Since this word is an unnativized Sino-Japanese compound carries formal mood, we don't use it much in casual conversation. If I say "the weather turns bad" with 天気, I prefer 天気が悪くなる, but with 天候, 天候が悪化する. I expect from この一週間の天気 the weathers of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday..., but from この一週間の天候 a description of how weather changes, getting warmer or colder, whether typhoons come or not, and so on.

Other usage is basically the same as that of 天気.

気象

This could be translated as meteorological phenomenon or "meteorologies", but not very common to be used as noun (as in 異常気象 "abnormal meteorology"). The main usage of it is as adjective, meteorological (as in 気象衛星 "meteorological satellite"). This word refers to each physical phenomenon detached or not observable from a single viewpoint.

As you can see, satellites only monitor 気象 and not 天気 or 天候 (unless you say that the solar wind or the magnetosphere oscillation is 地球の天気). You can't mention El Niño and La Niña as 天気 or 天候, either.

気候

Basically identical to climate, that is a unique environmental feature of a location never changes overnight.

You want to live in Florida because 気候が良い, to go for a trip to Florida not Louisiana because 天候が良い, and to choose to go to FL not LA tomorrow because 天気が良い.

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