I don't know Japanese, however the word "Horaisan" is of deep interest to me.

I've learned that it comes from Horai, the mythical mountain which is similar to the Garden of Eden myth in Japanese mythology. Horaisan is used to refer to the part of a garden which is inaccessible but visible.

Is there any deeper etymology for the naming of Horai? Does it come from anything? Like "distant" or "bounding" or "inaccessible" or so?

The Japanese original rendering is: 蓬莱 (Hōrai ほうらい)

  • 3
    – macraf
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 11:13
  • I've seen this page, there's nothing on it about the etymology of Horai. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 11:20
  • 1
    But there is a clear information that the name in its unaltered form comes from Chinese. So this is the etymology; loanword or whatever you call it for proper nouns. For further details, you might be asking on a wrong site.
    – macraf
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 11:20
  • @ChristopherDone Chinese 'Penglai' is read in Japanese as 'Hourai'.
    – Sjiveru
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 13:33

1 Answer 1


「[蓬萊]{Hōrai}」is actually the wholesale assignment of the name of a Chinese mythological location to a superficially similar but quite distinct Japanese legend. It may otherwise be called「蓬萊山」(lit. Mount Hōrai) or abbreviated as「蓬山」; this name is due to the Chinese legendary location being a mountain hosting the Eight Immortals.

Some of its earliest appearances in Japanese literature include Nihon Shoki and the lost work 『[丹後國風土記]{Tango no kuni fudoki}』, a Fudoki on Tango Province written during the Nara Period. Quote from the opening text of Tango no kuni fudoki:






(My own translation given below.)

Yosa District.

Township of Hioki.

There was a village named Tsutsukawa. A man named Tsutsukawa no Shimako lived here, who was the ancestor of the chiefs of the Kusakabe Clan. He was peerless in his grace and elegance. Thus, he was known as Mizunoe no Urashimako. The contents of this record are the same given as that by the official Iyobe no Umakai, and it is declared that this is a summary.

During the Reign of Emperor Yūryaku, one day Shimako boarded a small boat alone and drifted out to sea to do some fishing. After three days and three nights passed, he did not catch one fish, but finally caught a five-coloured turtle. He thought this was very peculiar, and took the turtle in his boat and went to go to bed, when suddenly it turned into a woman, whose beauty was second to none.

Shimako asked the woman in surprise: "This place is far from the homes of people, and there is no-one out on the sea. How did you suddenly appear?" The young lady smiled, replying: "A graceful and elegant man, drifting alone out in the blue sea. I could not see this and resist approaching and talking to you, and rode the wind and clouds to come." Shimako replied, asking: " Where did the wind and clouds come from?" The lady replied: "From the immortal people in heaven. Please don't be suspicious. Let's talk and love together." After Shimako found out that the lady was a goddess, his suspicions were gone. The lady spoke: "I want to pledge myself to you, from heaven to earth, until the end of time. What are your thoughts about this?" Shimako replied: "I have nothing to add; do you have any reservations?" The lady replied: "Turn the boat around, and let us journey to 蓬山." Shimako complied.

By most interpretations,「蓬山」is supposed to be read as「[常世の國]{Tokoyo no Kuni}」, which is a realm in Traditional Japanese mythology of everlasting life somewhere out in the distant sea. In the majority of records to do with specifically Japanese mythology, the name or characters「蓬山」(and similarly「蓬萊」,「蓬萊山」) are borrowed for this purpose due to their superficially similar idea to the Chinese Penglai, but there isn't an actual mythological connection between Penglai and Hōrai.

The superficial connection can be seen if one reads the texts behind Chinese Penglai. Quote from the Classic of Mountains and Seas, a mythological geography account of pre-Qin China:


Mount Penglai, in the middle of the sea Guo Pu notes: "On the mountain resides Immortals and their palaces are made of gold and jade. The birds and beasts there are completely white. To stare at the mountain is like gazing at clouds. It is located in the middle of the Bohai Sea."

Linguistically, there is a striking similarity between 「蓬萊」(Old Chinese: /*boːŋ rɯː/) and several words for sea/ocean in some Southeast Asian languages (Burmese and Jingpho: panglai, Shan: paaŋ2 laaj2).

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