I see banana be written バナナ so since it's katakana I guess they imported it from English or Spanish where it's written the same.

But does Japanese have an original word for bananas?

I guess that if bananas didn't exist in Japan before fluid contact with the western world there isn't an original word, but is this so? I've read on the Internet that Japan produces a small fraction of the bananas it consumes, so bananas could have always existed in Japan I suppose?

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    The English word 'banana' was borrowed from Spanish or Portuguese, which in turn borrowed it from Mande ...
    – Angelos
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 13:26
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    Coined, rather then original, term is 甘蕉 or 実芭蕉, due to the fact that banana is among the Musaceae family, whose Japanese name is 芭蕉(ばしょう). I don't think that bananas were known in Japan before the edo era
    – Yosh
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 14:37
  • @AeonAkechi what is Mande?
    – Pablo
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 14:49
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    @Yosh , Oda Nobunaga supposedly got bananas (in the modern sense) from some Portuguese missionaries, so more like the Azuchi-Momoyama period.
    – a20
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 15:18
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    @eric 「敵性語は法律等で禁止されたものではなく、対米英戦争に向かうなかで高まっていくナショナリズムに押されて自然発生的に生まれた社会運動である。」って・・・ ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/敵性語
    – chocolate
    Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


The most important older word is bashō, 芭蕉. It comes from Chinese, and the first known occurrence of the word in Japanese materials is from ca. 706, in the Nara Ibun historical records.

Bananas are native to the Eastern tropical areas spanning India, Southeast Asia and Australia. However, wild species don't make good edible fruit; they had to be domesticated, and that happened in Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile, non-edible varieties were prized as an ornamental plant in ancient China. The plant was introduced from China into ancient Japan for this purpose; edible bananas only came in much later.

Bananas have various names in Chinese, and one of them was 芭蕉 bājiāo, which entered Japanese along with the plant (and is now pronounced bashō). The -jiāo 蕉 part is a suffix for broadleaf plants in general. I don’t know what’s the etymology of the bā- 芭 part (any help welcome!), but it has the general look and feel of Chinese loanwords to me; it wouldn't surprise me if it came from the name of the plant in some other Asian language.

The most famous Japanese haiku poet is Matsuo Bashō; this is actually his pen-name, derived from a banana plant he had outside of his quasi-hermit's hut.

Other Chinese names which entered Japanese, but are less common, include 甘蕉 gānjiāo (jp. kanshō), “sweet broadleaf”, dated 1712 in Japan; and 香蕉 xiāngjiāo (jp. kōshō), "fragrant broadleaf".

An uncommon, native Japanese word for it is Niwa-mi-gusa, which the Kokugo Daijiten dictionary glosses as 庭忌草 garden-funeral-herb. Apparently there was a Chinese folk belief that planting one in your garden would bring bad luck, and this was transmitted to Japan. Banana plants of the kind brought to Japan flower very rarely, and this fact was seen with some mystique; from which the plant was also called 優曇華 udonge – the Japanese pronunciation of uḍumbara, a kind of fig which, according to Buddhist legend, blossoms only once every 3000 years.

Sources: Japanese Wikipedia, Kokugo Daijiten, Pleco Chinese dictionary.

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    This must be the most authoritative collection of words ever assembled on the subject of the humble banana.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 17:17

There are three words that are the 和名 (Japanese, not katakana word) for Banana. In conversation, I've never heard anybody say anything but バナナ, but apparently 甘蕉{かんしょう}、実芭蕉 {みばしょう} and 芭蕉実{ばしょうみ} also bean banana. I put all three of these words into a 国語辞典 and each time the definition was バナナ.


http://www.tfk-corp.co.jp/food-health/food05-banana.htm  Second paragraph: バナナとは

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