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I have found that there are a number of words in Japanese that correspond to "heaven" in English. By heaven I mean the concept of a paradisiacal afterlife. The two most frequent in my limited and flawed personal experience are

天国 (as well as just 天) and 極楽 which I often find is useful to translate as "paradise"

Offhand, and in my own (again flawed) way of thinking, I see 天国 see as a bit more austere, while 極楽 maybe has a more sensual feel. I associate 天国 more with native Japanese myths and religion (shintoism) while 極楽 has more of a buddhist feel (and thus not purely Japanese) as it is from the Pure Land school of Buddhism.

I am wondering if there are any other terms for heaven in wide use, and also about the different feel and nuance each word possesses. I am also interested in which word Japanese Christians use for Christian heaven, and indeed if practitioners of specific faiths discriminate in their vocabulary for heaven.

  • Surprinsingly, wikipedia does not seem to have a Japanese "paradise" page linked from other languages! – Axioplase Oct 25 '11 at 5:16
  • There is also 桃源郷【とうげんきょう】 which means kind of a "Shangri-La", but I don't know if this implies afterlife or just an earthly utopia. – istrasci Oct 25 '11 at 5:16
  • do you have any more info on this? my friend replied to the same query with this cryptic message: 桃が咲く天国 "I'm not sure but I remember that Tougenkyou is a paradise where peach trees and blossoms are blooming and you see beautiful falls in tougen village." – yadokari Oct 26 '11 at 14:12
  • 桃源郷 is a Chinese legend but the phrase is well known in Japan too (I don't know how well-known the actual legend is...). See here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Peach_Blossom_Spring – Matt Nov 1 '11 at 8:54
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I cannot post comments so I link it here:

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/天国

This tells you what religion uses what term.

Also note the figurative term 楽園{らくえん} and パラダイス

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    From the article it looks like 天国 is primarily considered a Christian term. – Muhd Nov 3 '11 at 2:51
  • I give my vote to this answer. Even though there're many words for heaven in Japanese, 楽園 and 天国 are the most used words. The usage depends on a context. – Askar Sep 28 '15 at 12:01
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Examples are...

天国(Tengoku), which is the Heaven of Christianity and Islam,

(Ten), which Confucianists often use for something metaphysical about something up there somewhere,

浄土(Jodo), which is the Buddhists' Heaven.

or

黄泉,黄泉の国(Yomi, Yomino-Kuni), which is the dead world of Japanese old mythology

and I was able to find at least 10 and more.

I think the reason why there are so many is due to the widespread of Confucianism as well as the Shintoism and Buddhism all blended but not Christianity in the Western sense.

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I would argue that the Buddhism element is not purely Japanese. Shinto and Buddhism are both assimilated into the Japanese understanding of religion.

My Japanese friend says that there isn't any difference between 天国 and 極楽 in her understanding. However, she says that the latter is less used, and would be said by an elder man who is just receiving a massage, as an expression of pleasure. Whereas 天国 is more like the actual place you imagine your dead pet went to.

(But if you asked a pious Japanese Buddhist or Christian the answer might be different.)

In the Japanese translation of the Gospel of John I read the word used for heaven was just 天(てん).

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