The most surprising thing I learned about Japanese beauty

What makes something beautiful? The answer may comfort you

Kaki Okumura
4 min readMar 1

--

Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

What is the most beautiful Japanese word to exist?​

What is the most beautiful Japanese word to exist?​

This was a question posed by the Japanese national broadcaster, NHK, in a public survey.

And the answer astounded me.

Learning about this survey, my mind immediately went to the more poetic aspects of Japanese. As a language, Japanese has a strong relationship with nature, and many words and adages are based on natural elements.

For example, there is a word setsunai, which is based on the feeling of sadness one experiences with the changing seasons.

But it’s not just sadness, and can also mean the bittersweetness we feel with change — like the mixed emotions we feel when we graduate school, or come back from a long trip away from home.

In a language with so many nuanced terms and emotions based in nature, surely there could not be a general consensus on what the most beautiful terms are?

But surprisingly, there was a pattern.

What makes something beautiful?

According to Japanese people, these are the top 5 most beautiful words in Japanese:

  1. Arigato (Thank you)
  2. Sayonara (Goodbye)
  3. Hai (Yes)
  4. Sumimasen (Excuse me)
  5. Ohayogozaimsu (Good morning)

If you study beginner’s Japanese, these are all words that would be covered within the first week. They are so common that even if you have never deliberately studied Japanese, you would pick up on most of them should you visit Japan.

They are all common greetings, words we use to interact with others on a daily basis. Why do Japanese people find them so beautiful?

--

--

Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱