I was watching an interview by "That Japanese Guy Yuta" (a Japanese YouTuber) where the question was "What if everyone in Japan could speak English. What would be the impact?".

Most suggested they would travel more, but one woman lamented that something in communication would be lost as there are words like:

komorebi [こもれび] / [木漏れ陽] - sunlight streaming through trees

This doesn't have a direct translation like "sun" or "tree" which can be seen as it appears to be a combination of various words/kanji like 木 for tree; 陽 for sun etc.

It also has a connotation of serenity and tranquillity as well as the standard description of a phenomenon and so could have philosophical implications.

Are there other words like this anyone knows which potentially have wider/philosophical meanings and/or can't be directly translated?

[I'm particularly interested in the kind of words you might find in poetry.]

  • 2
    This seems waaaay too broad to me.
    – istrasci
    Feb 9 '18 at 16:17
  • I see your point but is asking for a few examples frowned upon? How would you phrase it so its less broad? Feb 9 '18 at 16:26
  • とっさに思いついたのは「愛」と「恋」でした
    – naruto
    Feb 9 '18 at 17:08
  • Are you not 'begging the question' here, as to there being a causal link between the introduction of and increased proficiency in a second language and the loss of the 'indigenous' one? Is someone worried about English totally supplanting Japanese? It seems like these arguments are simply reactionary (possibly xenophobic) excuses for resisting the perceived encroachment of a foreign influence. Scandinavian countries, Germany, the Philippines all seem to be able to incorporate English while both maintaining fluency in their national languages and their identity as members of that community.
    – BJCUAI
    Feb 9 '18 at 17:48
  • @user27280 You can direct your concerns to "That Japanese Guy Yuta" the Japanese YouTuber who asks Japanese people harmless questions like these on the streets of Tokyo. Most suggested they would travel more because their lack of English is a barrier when travelling. Only one woman cited the above and I thought it was interesting but also true. There would be some words which would lose significance because of the lack of direct translation. Same can be said for any language. They have words unique to that language. I don't think he means any harm by it. Feb 9 '18 at 19:07

I can think of one word "もったいない" now. Is this one you are looking for?

It seems that there isn't a word which means もったいない in the world except Japanese language. https://swinginthinkin.com/column/mottainai/

  • Thanks for the suggestion. That exactly the kind of word I was looking for. Know any others? :) A friend helped me come up with some like "Itadakimasu" etc. Feb 9 '18 at 17:29
  • 2
    I think よろしくお願いします is difficult to be translated into English. Feb 9 '18 at 17:57

Some examples to answer this question include the following: [komorebi is already listed]


Shoganai means ‘it can’t be helped’, but also expresses a conviction that there’s no point in complaining if a situation is out of one’s control. This mentality can be both realistic and fatalistic.


Literally means ‘I humbly receive’, is said before every meal, and expresses appreciation for all the work that went into the meal that is about to be eaten. It conveys a respect for all living things.


A set phrase said whenever you enter someone else’s house, signifying that you know you are going to be a bother and apologise in advance. When using this phrase, you are signifying your own modesty and sense that you are intruding.


When said to colleagues at work, you are recognising their hard work. Sometimes it is even used in place of ‘cheers’ when drinking together with friends on a Friday after a hard work week. They might seem like empty phrases, they smooth interactions in stressful workplaces


Literally “forest bath,” shinrinyoku means walking through the forest and soaking in all the green light.


The imperfect, incomplete, and transient nature of beauty. Objects that elicit a sense of quiet melancholy and longing could be defined as wabi-sabi.


Literally ‘leaf-wilting wind’, kogarashi refers to the withering wind that comes at the start of winter and blows the last leaves off of the trees.

Mono no aware

This means sensitivity or sadness, to connote a pathos engendered by a sense of the fleeting nature of life


This adjective is commonly used when something evokes a sense of nostalgia for the past or fond remembrance; not a wistful longing, but a happy look back at a past memory, for instance when looking at old pictures from childhood.


A word that means ‘what a waste!’ and expresses regret over this waste. This wastefulness not only pertains to physical resources, but also to a misuse of opportunities and time. It can also be used to deflect praise that one feels isn’t deserved.


Kuidaore means to go bankrupt because you spend all your money on food and drink.


This word is made up of the characters for the verb ‘to accumulate, pile up’ and the verb ‘to read’, but it is also a play on tsunde oku, which means to simply pile up something and leave it. It is defined as constantly buying books that accumulate but never get read.

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