I'm curious as to why Japanese uses a 外来語 for whiteboard ホワイトボード, but a native word for blackboard, 黒板. Is there a historical reason this emerged? If you called a whiteboard a 白板{はくばん}, would people understand you or would they laugh at you and think you were strange?

  • I mean, aren't blackboards older than whiteboards?
    – Angelos
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 11:01
  • pretty sure it's because 黒板 are centuries old, and whiteboards are relatively new. Plus, doing a search for 白板 leads to some VERY interesting results... yes, it shows regular whiteboards, but it also seems to have links to mahjong .... and to sex. Loan words are considered cool too, so that might be the main reason. Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 11:05
  • Sure, but I guess I'm wondering why the difference - why Japanese didn't start calling 黒板 ブラックボード, or why the 外来語 is used instead of a native rendering.
    – Lou
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 11:06
  • 1
    time for a linguist to come to the rescue ^_^ Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 11:06

1 Answer 1


This mainly depends on when these concepts were imported to Japan. Words introduced to Japan before WWII (e.g. 水素, 野球, 飛行機) tend to have kanji names, while recent ones (e.g. イリジウム, ラグビー, ヘリコプター) tend to have katakana names. Although some kanji words may be gradually replaced by new katakana versions, most words will remain the same after it was introduced for the first time.

白板 doesn't sound funny and Wikipedia says it's another name for ホワイトボード. Although people will probably understand when you say it, it's still fairly uncommon.

  • can you comment on the online dictionary entries concerning 白板 that relate it to mahjong (which I can kind of understand, given they are white tiles) and "paipan", which I found really odd... Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 12:15
  • I'm not good at mahjong, but that white tile is normally called haku, not paipan. Paipan is a slang term that does have a sexual meaning, but it's always written in katakana and I didn't know it can be written as 白板 in kanji. So writing 白板 or saying はくばん is not really risky at least in this regard.
    – naruto
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 12:26
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    @ericfromabeno Paipan is the Chinese pronunciation of 白板. Mahjong terms generally use Chinese pronunciations, like Chun for 中 and counting in Chinese. Normally it's just called Haku (白), and paipan is more often used for the other meaning.
    – Jimmy
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 23:18

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