I'm interested in the translation of colors. As an initial point of reference, I'd like to ask about the color of stoplights in the USA and Japan.

In Japan, the color for "go" is said to be "青い". In the USA, it is said to be "green". The translation of "青い" in Japanese / English dictionaries is "blue". But, to begin with, every English native speaker cannot help but perceive "blue" slightly differently. On top of that, every Japanese native speaker cannot help but perceive "青い" slightly differently. In my opinion, the translation of color really might be difficult. But, I'm not sure. The color of stoplights will be my initial frame of reference.

Can a person who understands what English native speakers generally agree is "green" and "blue" look at a Japanese stoplight and tell me if it is, in their opinion and ignoring the fact that Japanese native speakers call it "青い”, really "blue"? Or, is it really "green"?


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    Did you know the color of the sun for japanese people is red? And the moon is yellow. – oldergod Jun 24 '15 at 2:22
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    @oldergod So, I take it you mean that Japanese say the sun is "赤い" and the moon is "黄色". Or else, you are saying they use "gairaigo" to express the color of the sun and moon. – Wrythe Jun 24 '15 at 2:27
  • I think it's more a question of perception than translation. – oldergod Jun 24 '15 at 2:35
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    To clarify, 'green lights' are always 青信号 for historical reasons. That's probably something you have to memorize. Many native Japanese children commonly ask "Why is 青信号 called 青信号 even when it's actually green?" – naruto Jun 24 '15 at 2:39
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    To avoid confusion, it is better to use RGB values instead. – Friendly Ghost Jun 24 '15 at 7:32

Traditionally, 青 was actually more of a blue-green color. This is true of Chinese, too, where 青色 still means cyan more than blue. Things like 青龍 are definitely more green than blue. This is why some current usage of the word is slightly borderline.

This doesn't hold as strongly anymore (and was unlikely to have been the case considering how recently traffic lights became common in the world), but worth noting that traffic lights in many countries are slightly green-blue so as not to be a hinderance to people with red-green colorblindness (which one can see would be an issue if the color for "stop" was the same as for "go").

I agree with naruto for the most part though, that the actual reason is mostly historical. The same argument holds in English for why robins have "red breasts" when they're clearly orange.

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