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Both words mean "beautiful woman", but I guess the reason two words exist is because of some nuance. Am I right ?

4 Answers 4

15

I see no semantic difference, but 佳人 is an uncommon outdated word. On BCCWJ, there are over 2000 instances of 美人 and only 28 instances of 佳人, most of which are part of certain old book titles (incl. 佳人之奇遇) or idioms (incl. 佳人薄命). If you said 佳人 in casual speech, the listener probably wouldn't even understand it. On the other hand, on 青空文庫検索, there are many instances of 佳人 from novelists of the 19th century. So unless you want to write something stiff mimicking the writing style of old novelists, you should not use 佳人. (BTW there is also 麗人, which is equally rare)

5

From super daijirin:

び-じん [1][0] 【美人】

美しい容貌の女性。美女。麗人。

〔古くは,男子もさした。「玉のやうなる―,…もらひまして聟にいたします/浮世草子・胸算用 2」〕

(Woman of beautiful appearance. In old times, was used for boys too.)

...

か-じん [1][0] 【佳人】

美しい女の人。

(A beautiful woman)

...

Also note the small differences between the kanji meanings (from jisho.org):

美: beauty, beautiful

佳: excellent, beautiful, good, pleasing, skilled

...

Also note the different contexts that show up when you look for example sentences:

美人: https://ejje.weblio.jp/sentence/content/%E7%BE%8E%E4%BA%BA

佳人: https://ejje.weblio.jp/sentence/content/%E4%BD%B3%E4%BA%BA

By comparing the example sentences, 佳人 seems more poetic and much less common.

0

Not a native language speaker, but I've seen a phrase in a Chinese historical romance (set in ancient times) that went something like this: meiren (美人) is easy to find, jiaren (佳人) is difficult to seek. Which in this context I interpreted as meiren referring to outer, superficial beauty--i.e. anyone who is very very pretty suffices to be called it. Whereas jiaren requires beauty at a deeper level--i.e. someone who is not beautiful merely in that skin-deep sense.

I think the difference in nuance might be of relevance only in an ancient setting, when language was much more complex, and more laden with subtle and hidden meanings. In modern novels, I've rarely if ever seen jiaren be used; and if it were used, it would probably be used interchangeably with meiren, more or less.

That's my two cents.

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  • 2
    In what sense was language (Japanese? Chinese?) more complex in the past?
    – a20
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 19:22
-1

According to the dictionary, it seems that 佳人 can only refer to a woman, while 美人 may also refer to a man.
https://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/40900/meaning/m0u/
https://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/286724/meaning/m0u/

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    現代の日本で男に「美人」は使わないですよ。
    – chocolate
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 16:34
  • [決]{●}[し]{●}[て]{●}使わないですか?それとも、使いましたら特別なニュアンスになるのですか? Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 20:50

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