In English, we have two distinct concepts "Anthropomorphization" and "Personification".

The former, meaning to impart some human traits onto an object or animal is often seen in Japan/Japanese media:

enter image description here

On the other hand, "Personification", which is to go "bottom-up" and make an object or animal into a complete person is also often seen in Japanese media, and after consulting my Japanese friend they taught me the word for it is 擬人化{ぎじんか}, which is basically this:

enter image description here

While the two concepts in English are distinctly different, I could find no Japanese language version of "Anthropomorphization" as either a noun, verb, or concept.

Considering how prevalent the former is in Japan, why isn't there a word for it and why does our concept of "anthropomorphize" always imply "Personification" in Japanese?

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    How is the the safari/chrome/firefox example not making things into people?
    – Flaw
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 8:04
  • Please see my first example if you didn't fully understand the question. Also a Google Image search of "Anthropomorphize" and "擬人化" respectively should make the difference obvious. Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 8:09
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    Ok, maybe a better example is any Disney film. The characters are animals but with human traits (they talk, they walk upright, they wear clothes, etc.). However, the Japanese concept of anthropomorphization is opposite to this: specifically, a human with all physical resemblance of a human possessing traits of a non-human thing. I hope that makes sense. Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 9:12
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    @starmandeluxe The Disney example is a really good one, now I understand what you mean. (Googling for ディズニー+擬人化 gave me further insight)
    – Yosh
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 10:29
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    The Disney example is only for clarification. It doesn't support my point very well because I am referring to the Japanese custom of putting human traits like faces on things, not American media. Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 13:03

3 Answers 3


擬人化 is used to mean "personification" as in the second image of the OP.

  • (Expressing a something by showing it as if it were human)

擬人観 is used to mean "anthropomorphism" as in the first image of the OP.

  • (Imposing human characteristics on something)

Culturally speaking though, the concept of "anthropomorphism"(擬人観) is referred to far more often by native English speakers than by native Japanese speakers, so this word is not as familiar to native Japanese speakers as it would be to a native English speaker.

Sources: 大辞林, 大辞泉, Wikipedia, Google Image Search

  • I am aware of 擬人観 but it seems like a little known or barely used word. I am looking for a more commonly known concept. If it's not a concept familiar to Japanese, I'm wondering why (the last part of my question) Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 9:21
  • I've updated my answer to address your question better. What do you think?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 9:28
  • @sazarando Thanks, but that doesn't really satisfy me with regards to solving this mystery of "why" (the last part of my question). Also, you will probably have noticed that 擬人観 often specifically refers to 神 (such as the wikipedia article and this definition) Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 9:33
  • @starmandeluxe I think the answer to "why there is no common way to refer to anthropomorphism" in Japanese is simply that the concept is not commonly referred to specifically in Japanese culture. If it were, then people would be more familiar with it. Or are you looking for some historical reason?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 9:41
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    @starmandeluxe I think the answer is perhaps simply that Japanese speakers don't talk about that concept using a specific word like English speakers do. In English, one might say "Wouldn't it be funny if we made our new mascot some kind of anthropomorphic fruit", and expect to be understood by everybody. But in Japanese it would be unnatural to use 擬人化 or 擬人観 because these words are not as commonly used in other circumstances. Something likem【人間みたいな果物にしたら面白くない?】would be much more readily understood in Japanese.
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 9:50

Both of your examples appear to be typical 擬人化 to me. "There is no word for the former" is probably not correct. Simply, the Japanese word 擬人化 safely covers both the former and the latter.

I don't know any formal pair of words to distinguish the two in Japanese. If there are such words, that must be ones recognized only by professional researchers. 擬人観 is a word I learned today.

"萌え擬人化" and "娘化" (for girls) can specifically refer to those ブラウザ娘, 艦娘, and so on, but of course it's only a subtype of "object-like humans".

And you said "making people into things" referring to those ブラウザ娘, but that does not correctly reflect how Japanese people perceive those girls. 擬人化/娘化 literally means "objects turned into humans/girls", and most Japanese otaku regard these "browser girls" essentially as "browsers" that happen to be in the human form, not girls in browser-like costumes. Therefore, to the eyes of average Japanese people, there is no essential difference between what's drawn in the two pictures. It's just the matter of the degree of transformation.


I read everything in the link OP provided. Well, it appears to me that you linked to an article that says quite the opposite of your explanation. That article clearly says that creating a complete person-like character is anthropomorphism, not personification :D

Anyway, my conclusion is "擬人化/擬人観 is a broad term and covers both personification and anthropomorphism." According to the article you linked (←important!), a typical "personification" is a metaphorical expression like "山が語りかけてくる", "地球が泣いている", "時間に追いかけられている", etc. These are typical, traditional, formal, textbook examples of 擬人化. This kind of 擬人化 as a rhetoric device is something you absolutely learn at school, but something you may easily forget after graduating middle school.

On the other hand, anthropomorphism is "making a character which actually behaves, thinks and talks like a human being". That is also safely 擬人化 in Japanese. Creating "moe" 擬人化 characters from virtually everything (including mushrooms!) has been a big trend among otaku in Japan, and you will find an overwhelming number of such characters on the net. Moreover, this specific trend somehow got famous under the name of the 擬人化(キャラ) for some reason. Even English Wikipedia has an entry with this name. So I'm not surprised if a person who just tried Google image search believed that 擬人化 only refers to this kind of "moe" anthropomorphism.

But that's not true. Japanese 擬人化 is a broad term and safely covers characters like Winnie-the-Pooh, ふなっしー, ハローキティー, アンパンマン, etc. Creating characters like ふなっしー tend to be referred to using other terms (namely ゆるキャラ化, マスコット化 or キャラクター化), because, remember, 擬人化 is normally a difficult, academic-sounding word! But that does not mean they are not 擬人化 by definition.

As for the difference between 擬人観 and 擬人化 in Japanese, I now believe the difference is simply what their last kanji suggest (観 ≒ "perspective/view"; 化 ≒ "-fication/-ization"). To put it plainly, you can think "擬人化 is a rhetoric device that makes use of 擬人観" or "擬人化 is a way you express your 擬人観". Simple as that.

  • Well, Google images doesn't agree with you :P 擬人化 almost exclusively shows things personified into people, so this answer isn't satisfying to me. I shouldn't even have posted the example pictures because people now think I am specifically referring to Mario characters and Web browsers, when my point was more of the general difference between "Personification" and "Anthropomorphization". Lastly, your statement "And you said 'making people into things' referring to those ブラウザ娘" again is a strawman because I said the exact opposite. Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 12:25
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    Don't be deceived by Google Image Search. If you saw only ブラウザ娘-type characters by googling 擬人化, that's pretty natural because such ○○娘 has been a hot trend for quite a while in Japan, and many people seek for the pictures of such characters by googling 擬人化. That never means Winnie-the-Pooh or ふなっしー is not 擬人化. And I thought you are concerned about the superficial appearance (ie "basically looks like a human" vs "basically looks like an animal/thing but with a face") because you showed us such a pair of pictures, but if that's not important to you, you should give a better example.
    – naruto
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 13:05

擬人化 means an analogy which things are treated as human.

Your examples seem to be distinguished in English but they are 擬人化 in Japan but some persons may say only things with human face isn't 擬人化 though. They may be said キャラクター化. If they speak something and have emotions, they are really 擬人化.

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