I'm a graphic designer and illustrator working on a personal character design project about animals made out of combining different asymmetrical figures.

I've been trying to choose a name for my project, and I found out about this Japanese kanji '図' (romanized 'Zu') which according to various dictionaries that I have consulted, means "figure" but also means: illustration, drawing, and most importantly "diagram".

I don't trust these dictionaries enough though, so what I need to know is if '図' is really used to say "figure" or "illustration" in Japanese since I want the project to be called 'Zumals', a word combination between that word 'Zu' from Japanese, and the word 'animals' taken from English.

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    @EddieKal I consider cultural appropriation to be a meaningless and very nationalist concept since every culture has taken things from other cultures throughout history, so taking inspiration from another culture that is not my own for my projects is not a bad thing at all. The use of that kanji is just an idea that came to my mind.
    – Rainer
    May 1 '21 at 22:08
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    @EddieKal well, you're right saying that it's always better to learn about things instead of asking someone else to do the job for you, personally, I love Japanese culture and I know about the country ever since I was a child, although I've never been able to learn the language because of lack of time, and well maybe it could be interpreted as appropriation seeing it from that point of view, so I'm going to change it as well, thank you for the advice.
    – Rainer
    May 1 '21 at 22:23
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    @Rainer While in the U.S. cultural appropriation is a topic of serious concern and debate, I think it is worthwhile to include the following observation: Of the dozens of Japanese friends that I have and maintain personal contact with, none of them would find elements of the above question offensive. The Japanese people I personally know would love the fact that you are trying to integrate elements of their culture in your project.
    – ajsmart
    May 1 '21 at 23:42
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    I don't know why some people are trying to mark this as a "translation request". While this question may seem a bit elementary, I think this is a valid and focused question with enough research effort and background information.
    – naruto
    May 2 '21 at 9:39
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    "Zumals" rather sounds like German to me... May 2 '21 at 12:02

図 ("zu") is a word that primarily refers to technical diagrams and illustrations. A typical 図 is something shown in this page:


Technical illustrations are also 図, but artistic illustrations are not.

図 and non-図

The English word "figure" has many meanings. 図 refers to "figure" as in "This research paper has one table and four figures".

So the first thing you have to do is check if you're really making a 図 like the ones shown above.

However, even if you're actually making 図, that's not enough. Technically speaking, "zumal" is a portmanteau, but 図 is a very short word. It's very unlikely that anyone who is familiar with both English and Japanese will notice your intention by looking at this word. If that's not a problem to you, go ahead, but if you're thinking of using "zumal" as a catchy title, you may want to reconsider.


The Kanji Learner's Course lists this kanji with the keyword "drawing". It's not strictly the meaning of the kanji, but most of the time words containing 図 will be related to that meaning. Kanji, in general, don't have a meaning directly translatable to English.

Some examples:
図書館 (toshokan) Library
図鑑 (zukan) Pictorial book
図表 (zuhyou) Diagram

  • One more example: Map -- 地図 (chizu)
    – ajsmart
    May 1 '21 at 23:48
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    図 (ず) is a very common independent word. You can say 図を書く, このページには2個の図がある, etc.
    – naruto
    May 2 '21 at 3:00
  • You are right. I focused too much on the kanji itself, and I forgot some kanji are also words. Good catch!
    – oscarlima
    May 2 '21 at 19:49

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