Questions tagged [history]

歴史. The origins and changes over time of the features and characteristics of Japanese in its spoken and written forms.

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Form of address for a medical doctor in Edo and Sengoku eras

I know that nowdays 先生 is used as the honorific for medical doctors (among others), but I'm curious what honorific was used in older periods, Edo and Sengoku specifically. Also if this usage of 先生 is ...
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What does “近侍の臣” mean?

I'm reading a story about ancient Japan and I have a problem with what seems to be a title of some kind (?): 近侍の臣. Here's the context: この年の春、樹々 の芽吹く ころから、クナ国の兵がしきりに国境を侵しはじめた。ここ数年、たえて無かったことである。 ...
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What's the story behind 小間物屋を開く = to vomit?

jisho.org defines [小]{こ}[間]{ま}[物]{もの}[屋]{や}を[開]{ひら}く as "to vomit", "to spew". What's the story behind this funny term? How would you express it in English?
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Which god does 神様 actually refer to?

I have the impression that if a Japanese uses the term 神様, they refer to an omnipotent deity very similar to the Abrahamic god. According to my (very limited) knowledge of Shinto and Buddhism, there ...
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Is the first supposed invention of romaji in 1548 by a Japanese Catholic called Yajiro fact or fiction?

Any research I try leads back to sites I don't know if I can trust, because most of them are random fact articles. I've found an official site that has some of the history, but not this specific fact. ...
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“Sunday this week” or “Sunday next week”

I am wondering about the history about the beginning of the week. Although some recent calendars start their week on Monday, "traditionally", the Japanese start their week on Sunday (so that 今週の日曜日 ...
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Do Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi have a collective title in Japanese?

When reading up on Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi I often see them referred to as the "great unifiers" but I can't find what (if anything) Japanese people call them? Is there ...
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Why is there a difference between the hand drawn 道 and the pc font one?

I was studying this kanji and looked at the strokes order to figure out how to write it, only to realize the difference between the pc font one and the diagram. Why is the 3 look-alike only on hand ...
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What's the original Japanese word for door, other than the loanword ドア?

I assume that ドア is a loanword from English, unless it's a big coincidence, yet, it's in the top 200 most used Japanese words by frequency, in a Japanese words by frequency list. What's the original ...
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名前, does it have English Roots?

I know it's a stretch, and I'm pretty sure it's not, but is 名前 related to name? I always thought it was weird that they were so similar in pronunciation.
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で in the copula である

I have always wondered where the で in ~である (and ~でございます) comes from. In the answer to the question 「です」, what is it really? Is my analysis correct?, Eiríkr Útlendi states that the で in ~である is the ...
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What is the difference between ばんごはん and よるごはん?

I looked at two different sentences: 六時半に母とばんごはんをつくりました。(At 6:30, I made dinner with my mother.) よるごはんのあと家族とえいがをみました。(After dinner, I watched a movie with my family.) In both sentences, they ...
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Origin of the small っ

There are several uses of the small っ: Compounds with the first kanji ending in つ or ending in consonant + 'u' with the second kanji beginning with the same consonant: the elision of the 'u' happens ...
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How was the first Japanese-English dictionary made?

How was the first Japanese-English dictionary made? In other words, how could the author map correctly each Japanese word to its corresponding one in English?
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History of Japanese “Vulgar” Vocabulary

This has been bothering me for a long time. I'm not sure which words are used in Japan in modern times for refering to things like sex, cursing, and going to the bathroom, and I don't know of a good ...
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な vs の classes of nouns

Based on my understanding, it seems that "な-adjectives" and "nouns" both function as nouns in the grammatical sense with the exception that "な-adjectives" are linked to other nouns with な and "nouns" ...
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Why do Latin letters have English pronunciations in Japanese?

The Latin letters A–Z are used in Japan today and they each have a name just like in English. Take the first five Latin letters, A–E. Source: https://jisho.org A 【エイ】【エー】 B 【ベー】【ビー】 C 【シー】 D【ディ】【ディー】 ...
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Translation struggles - Kuroshio Current being mentioned in a patriotic song

I'm trying to make sense of an old Japanese patriotic song 五・一五事件 昭和維新行進曲 陸軍の歌, and there's a line that contains a reference to the Kuroshio Current. The event this song was written about (the so-...
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の: nominalization vs. 'the one that…'

の can be used as a noun with a relative clause in what appears to be two separate situations. Referring to a thing or person, e.g. '来たのは田中です。' ('The one who came is Tanaka.') Nominalizing a verb (as ...
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Origin of ません (-masen)?

I understand that polite forms like yomimasu are actually (or originated as) infinitive yomi + auxiliary verb masu in its plain non-past form. Then past form yomimashita is just infinitive yomi + ...
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Are on’yomi words loanwords?

this is probably a silly question, but since words with multiple kanji are usually read with on’yomi would that effectively make most japanese vocabulary loanwords? like 森林 or 図書館?i understand ...
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Elongated お in the volitional verb form

In native Japanese words (that I know of at least) like 通り and 大きい, to elongate the お-sound, another お is added when written in Hiragana (instead of う like in Sino-Japanese words). However, it just ...
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Why has を been spared but ゐ and ゑ been deemed obsolete?

According to When is the katakana form of wo (ヲ) used?, を is almost always used only for the particle, and is usually pronounced o (お). There are some dialects where を is pronounced with a "w", but ...
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447 views

What happened to the を sound?

Unlike ゑ and ゐ, を actually still exists. However, I've never heard of this letter actually being pronounced fully as 'wo'. It's kind of weird that there aren't any words with that letter, isn't it? ...
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Can someone identify this stamp in a Bible that allowed my roommate's Grandpa to keep it in a POW camp in WW2?

Can someone identify this stamp in a Bible that allowed my roommate's Grandpa to keep it in a POW camp in WW2? Normally Bibles would have been forbidden but apparently this stamp that was inspected ...
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Why is katakana /va/ normally written ヴァ rather than ヷ?

Even though there is a katakana character ヷ, most of the time when I see something that is transcribed into Japanese as /va/, it is in the form ヴァ (say, for example, in the title of the anime series ...
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Sleeping verbs and まで vs までに

So I was wondering, pretty much all of the sleep related verbs switch meaning with まで and までに. Was it always like that? Or was there a time when 8時まで寝る meant "going to bed at 8"? Or take the even ...
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「チェ」 「ちぇ」 外来語のみ ? — How old is the interjection 「ちぇっ!」 ? ??

Why does ちょうし translate to "choushi"? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y%C5%8Don > Yōon or Youon (拗音?, contracted word or diphthong) is a feature of the Japanese language in which a mora ...
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273 views

What is the etymology of this kanji 厚?

In this wiktionary page https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/厚 the etymology for the kanji 厚 is not complete: they wrote that it's an ideogrammic compound but they didn't write the component functions. I ...
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What are the origins of the names of tanuki and kitsune noodle dishes?

Two of Japan's native wild animals are the きつね fox and たぬき raccoon dog. Interestingly there are also noodle dishes apparently named after each. (Not containing the meat of those animals!) The terms ...
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560 views

Orthography at the turn of the previous century

A couple of days ago I purchased an old book published in 1908. It uses a strange orthography I haven't encountered before. Everything that is not in kanji is written in katakana, including particles,...
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Why are phone calls cylindrical?

何本か重要な電話をかけ、... He made several important phone calls and ... Originally part of this question but separated due to popular? demand. Why is the counter 本 used in reference to phone calls?
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133 views

Variations in polite negations: ありません, ないです, -ません

Negations that consistently take -ない in the plain form show differences in the polite version: 食べない -> 食べません で(は)ない -> で(は)ありません but 大きくない -> 大きくないです Why the inconsistency? Is it due to history?
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Why is ostracism called 村八分【むらはちぶ】?

While doing some reading of old questions, I stumbled upon the term 村八分【むらはちぶ】, which is apparently means ostracism. I'm curious what the 8 parts (八分) are and how this relates to ostracism.
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Why お寺 but 神社 (not ご神社)?

Why the difference between Buddhist temples, お寺, and Shinto shrines, 神社? (The latter does not take ご神社, お神社 or 御神社.)
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What is the etymology of Honshū (本州)?

Honshū is the main island in Japan (so it could be called something like 大州 or 広州). But it is also common in cosmogonies to say the gods created our land first and foremost, and the rest of the planet ...
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Why is the Japanese currency pronounced “yen” in English?

I'm wondering what the reason for the mispronunciation of 円 in English came to be "yen". I can understand how some words like 東京 became "Tokyo", but "en" to "yen" seems strange. On a side note, why is ...
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Why are Japanese fonts different to Chinese?

I’ve noticed that Japanese and Chinese writing tends to use different fonts. Japanese fonts tend use wider lines and more curves. Chinese fonts tend to use narrow angular lines and there are ...
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Appropriate terms for indigenous people

I'm often asked about my home country by Japanese people and wish to discuss the unique polynesian culture of the indigenous people there. How do I describe them in Japanese? I understand that this is ...
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Why is あすぶ an “out-dated or obsolete” kana usage for 遊ぶ?

I saw this note on the jisho.org page for 遊ぶ: Other forms 遊ぶ 【あすぶ】 Notes あすぶ: Out-dated or obsolete kana usage. And I'm curious what this means - did it used to be read this way? Or do ...
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Loanwords related to science

I speak fluent English, Ukrainian and Russian. And I also have experience learning German and Japanese. As an avid language learner, I've been reflecting on what the languages have in common, their ...
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衰えるという言葉の由来は何ですか?

For instance, とじる and しめる. とじる means an activity or a show has finished so "the door is closed". This word is used in ending or closing something like 傘をとじる, 本をとじる. しめる means to tie the bag tight ...
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What is the subtext of this situation?

Here is a paragraph from Yukio Mishima's 憂国 - "Patriotism" which I understand relatively well, but miss the point of the whole scene. So I don't need a translation but an explanation about the subtext ...
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110 views

the meaning and use of the word 殺素 today

I'm trying to understand some paper about Udagawa Youan and chemistry in Japan and I have a big problem with 殺素. It's means all chemistry elements which can kill or mayby only radioactive? Or mayby it'...
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Unknown kana in a late C19th address cartouche

Given their visual form, I am uncertain about two kana (the 5th and 6th characters) in a late C19th cartouche. It names an artist's address: Asakusa-ku [... ...]suji chō gojūhachi banchi / gakō / ...
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When did the “wu” character drop out of use?

In the last century, the ゐ and ゑ characters were eliminated from common use. But it seems like there used to also be a "wu" character that has since been lost. Given that it's a lot harder to find ...
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What is the origin of the foreign word サクランボ?

サクランボ means cherry in English. However, it is different from the direct conversion of cherry, チェリー. What is the origin of this word? Which language does it originate?
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If 校 is the kanji for school, why do I need 学 to actually say school?

Perhaps a dumb question, but something that I was wondering and couldn't find a clear answer via search. Since 校 is the kanji for school, why do we also need the kanji for learning 学 to say "school" (...
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556 views

Does the etymology of 星 suggest the japanese/chinese knew the sun was a star?

星 contains the radical 日 meaning sun/day. This makes sense from a modern understanding, as it is well known that the sun was a star. However, it appears this has only been known since the 19th century,...
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Why was both katakana and hiragana created?

Nowadays, katakana tends to be used for gairaigo and onomatopoeia, while hiragana tends to be used for native Japanese words. This is a slight simplification - more information is available here. ...