I'm reading Kawabata's 「雪国」alongside Seidensticker's translation from 1956. A few pages in our narrator casts a glance at a sick man's hand and describes it as 男の青黄色い手. Now I'm wondering what colour is being described. When I google the term I get recipes for how to make green but I've a feeling the hand is more distinctly both blue and yellow. However, Seidensticker translates it as "ashen" - which seems not only to be an attempt at translating it into how one in the English language would often describe the colour of a sick person, but also wholly off considering the kanji at play.

To my inner eyes the distinct combination of blue and yellow seems right - moreso than green or ashen - but I'm interested in how a native (or anyone with a keen inner eye) perceives this.


1 Answer 1


There are many common expressions to describe unhealthy skin using colors (eg, 青白い, 赤黒い, 土気色の), but 青黄色い is not something in common use in modern Japanese. 青い is commonly associated with pale and anemic skins, but 黄色い皮膚 is usually associated with jaundice (due to some liver disease). And according to Wikipedia, this guy (行男) had intestinal tuberculosis, which rarely causes jaundice. I'm at a loss to explain this further, but we can instantly understand that his hand had a "very unusual and unhealthy-looking color", anyway.

Should this have been translated literally as "blue and yellow" rather than "ashen"? I'm not very sure, but "blue and yellow" seems a bit too vivid to my inner eyes... After reading the first part of 雪国 (available here), somehow I feel the author was trying to describe something more colorless, 土気色-ish skin by 青黄色い...

  • ありがとうございました!I've read the translation in full before but didn't seem to catch on to the nature of his disease. In the light of the above I agree that "blue and yellow" would indeed be a bit too vivid. I shall read on with a less colourful man in mind :-)
    – matshell
    Jul 15, 2016 at 10:50

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