"Pan", in both Japanese and Spanish means bread. Is this purely coincidental, or do they have the same origin?

  • the latin is panis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
    – user23139
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 18:05

4 Answers 4


According to jisho.org パン has its origins from the Portuguese word “pão”, and was originally written as 麺麭 or 麪包 before being written as パン like it is today.

Is this pure coincidence or do they have the same origins?

Seeing as how both Spanish and Portuguese are Latin-based languages, I think it's not a stretch of the imagination to say that the origins are related.


Using the information from the comments below, I have an updated etymology for you.

1) Panis is the Latin word for bread. The Spanish pan, the Portuguese pão and French pain derive from this Latin root. (@ToddWilcox)

2) パン was introduced to Japan by Portuguese Missionaries. (see answer below, as well as this Wikipedia article compliments of @leoboiko)

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    both words come from latin but the word is from Portugal portuguese, just like カップ which comes from "Copo" Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 17:21
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    Panis is Latin for "bread", and it is the origin for pan in Spanish, pão in Portuguese, pain in French, and words in several other languages. The origin of the Latin is uncertain but may be from Proto-Indo-European peh, meaning "to graze". See: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/panis Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 19:12
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 10:21
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    @ToddWilcox may be you should post that as an answer too since nobody mentioned the latin root "panis" for spanish pan and portuguese pao.
    – Pablo
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 10:26
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    @Pharap, "soap" appears to have come from Spanish instead -- historically, the Portuguese sabão has always had the /s/ on front, whereas the modern Spanish jabón came from older xabon, which had /ʃ/ as the initial consonant, which better matches the Japanese borrowing. Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:24

This is not pure coincidence, but the Japanese did not get the word パン from Spanish, but rather Portuguese. The coincidence part is that Spanish and Portuguese are very closely related languages and share a huge volume of cognates.

It's not happenstance that things worked out this way, and I think it's interesting to understand a bit of the historical background that led to why certain words were imported as opposed to others.

First, remember a bit of interesting history of how the Catholic Church divided the entire world between Spain and Portugal. Japan fell within the domain of Portugal and I believe that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to wash up on Japan's shore during the Age of Exploration in the 1550's. The Dutch also came along shortly there after (about half a century later).

Japan had a long period of isolation following fears of what might happen if too many Christians started coming into the country: remember this was also a time of religious wars being waged between nations and forms of Protestantism and Catholic Church in Europe.

Then beginning in Meiji, the Japanese began to import many more foreign words. From German, an extensive vocabulary related to the sciences (particularly medicine); from English vocabulary related to business (and I think politics). Though, these were hardly hard and fast rules, after all, バイト <- アルバイト has its origins in the German Arbeit (though I believe that word was borrowed when both Japan and Germany were Axis nations.

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    @jkerian Certainly by Tokugawa, the country was unified. I didn't mean to imply that things took place overnight. But also, Tokugawa unified the country within a century of the Portuguese arrival in Japan and it's not ahistorical that some in the Tokugawa shogunate were worried that Christianity was a belligerent import. I guess I just find this interesting given more recent political goings-on in Washington and the current pandering to fears of what might happen if too many Muslims come into the west.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 17:11
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    @jkerian I'm sorry to hear you feel that way. Actually, I wasn't trying to make a political point. I actually added what I did because I think historical context is relevant and interesting. Parallels to the current political climate are merely superficially interesting.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 18:13
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    Just to add some facts around the side discussion on the Catholic Church dividing the world between Portugal and Spain, thus rationalizing the reason the portuguese were sailing up the coast of Japan and not the spanish. The name of that treaty was the Treaty of Tordesillas en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tordesillas. It was agreed to and signed in the latter parts of the 1400s between the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile (now Spain). The fact that the spanish were in the Philipines which on the map is clearly in the portuguese sphere of influence suggests the treaty was not adhered to Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:48
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    at least in that part of the world. So its was probably historical luck that the portuguese were there before the spanish. In any case it would hot have had any effect on the resulting japanese word for bread. Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 20:48
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    Arbeit is from meiji era. ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 18:46

Pan comes from the Portuguese word pão for wheat bread specifically and bread in general. The coincidence part is due to the fact the portuguese traders and then Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries were the first europeans to contact Japan in the 16th century. I don't have the time to confirm but I believe the portuguese had a trade monopoly with Japan for about 100 years and in that time their must have been cultural and knowledge exchange including the adoption of new vocabulary.


The most common theory is that パン originated from the Portuguese pão because Portugal traded with Japan in the 16th century. But, as somebody else already pointed out, this does not explain the パン pronunciation because pão (with a nasal sound) is closer to パウ than パン. Macao, which also traded with the Portuguese around the same time, call bread 包 (pronounced "pao"). What if パン may have actually originated from the Spanish pan, which has the exact same pronunciation? This is actually possible as the Spanish also regularly visited Japan from the Philippines. History tells us that bread was first called 波牟 (pronounced "pan" not "pamu") during the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603). This was decades after the Spanish missionary Francis Xavier visited Japan in 1549. Both Portuguese and Spanish Christian missionaries helped spread the consumption of bread through the ritual of the Eucharist, so I guess we're never going to know the correct answer to the question. Note that this was before Christianity was prohibited by Hideyoshi in 1612. (Reference: Feeding Japan: The Cultural and Political Issues of Dependency and Risk, edited by Andreas Niehaus and Tine Walravens)


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