Japanese Colors: Learn 30+ Color Words the Creative Way

Japanese colors

Japanese color schemes are fresh and pleasant and play a significant role in Japanese design. Maybe you’re learning Japanese and want to know how to describe standard colors in Japanese. Or perhaps you’re a designer looking for some new inspiration through traditional Japanese colors. Either way, this article will provide you with some helpful information to get you started!

Vocabularies for standard colors

how to say colors in japanese

Adjectives: four traditional concepts of colors

In the image above, you can see, there are four color words ending in い: “あかい,” “あおい,” “くろい,” and “しろい”. In Japanese, words that end in い are usually adjectives. While all other color words are nouns in most cases, あかい,” “あおい,” “くろい,” and “しろい” are adjectives because they are the four traditional colors of Japan.

The ancient Japanese people believed that the four traditional colors are the source of all colors. According to this opinion, other colors can be created by adjusting the four colors in terms of shade or mix. It doesn’t sound unreasonable. You probably learned that the three primary colors are red, green, and blue in high school. However, the traditional Japanese colors are only “red” and “blue” without “green.” Why?

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Aoi (青い): blue or green? 

The word “あおい” was used to represent the colors “green” and “blue” until the 20th century. About 100 years ago, the kanji みどり(green)” was first introduced to represent green. Today, however, “あおい” can still mean “blue” or “green,” but is only standardly used for “blue” in a handful of cases. For example, the green traffic light that allows pedestrians to cross a road is called the “青信号あおしんごう” in Japan.  

In fact, not only “あおい” but also “くろい,” “しろい,” and “あかい” represent a broad spectrum of colors conceptually. Thus, although there were only four words for colors in ancient Japan, they also referred to a wide range of colors.

Using Japanese color words

After the above explanation, I think you may have a general understanding of Japanese colors. But don’t feel worried if you don’t quite get it yet! Now, I’ll introduce to you how to use these standard Japanese color words. Here are some example sentences that you can use for reference.

japanese lucky cat color meanings

 

In the above five examples (except for “みどり” which was added to contrast with “あおい”) you can see the four traditional colors mentioned earlier, which also happen to be adjectives. In Japanese, adjectives are placed directly in front of nouns for modification, just like in English.

Additionally, you may have noticed that in the last sentence, “っ” is added before “くろい.” “っ” means “pure,” which is used to emphasize the depth of color.

Next, I will introduce you to Japanese color vocabulary in the form of nouns. To modify one noun with another noun in Japanese, you must add “の”, the particle used to connect nouns and indicate possession, between the two nouns. We have an article about Japanese particles if interested to learn more.

あきには黄色きいろになる

The leaves of the trees turn yellow in fall

ドア におおきな金色きんいろほしがついていました

There was a big gold star on the door

雄弁ゆうべんぎん沈黙ちんもくきん

Speech is silver. Silence is golden

彼女かのじょ茶色ちゃいろを している 

She has brown eyes

あの ピンク のふく女性じょせいはだれですか 

Who is the woman dressed in pink

むらさきのじゅうたん

purple carpet

だいだいいろの オレンジ

orange orange

English loanwords of colors 

Good news! There is a super-easy way to express colors in Japanese. If you think the above color words written in kanji are too hard to remember, you can try the corresponding loanwords written in Katakana. Just as there are many Japanese loanwords in English, most of these words are originally English, so you can quickly memorize and use them. Nevertheless, these words are thought of as nouns in Japanese, which are different from their original lexical category in English.

レッド - reddo - red

ブルー - buruu - blue

ブラック - burakku - black

ワイト - waito - white

イエロー - yieroo - yellow

オレンジ - orenji - orange

グレー - guree - gray

ゴールド - goorudo - gold

シルバー - shirubaa - silver

パープル - paapuru - purple

ブラウン - buraun - brown

ピンク - pinku - pink

More specific colors in Japanese (e.g., navy blue, violet, scarlet)

Before this color journey ends, here are more colors full of Japanese beauty for you. Without further ado, let’s enjoy this feast for the eyes! 

colors in japanese

 

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Anonymous
Anonymous
23 days ago

Hi, thanks for the summary! A question: why is the sound for “tea” transcribed as tya and no cha?

blogger deer
Admin
blogger deer
22 days ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Hi, both “tya” and “cha” are commonly accepted romaji for 茶. If you have a Japanese keyboard, you’ll see you can easily type 茶 by either inputing “tya” or “cha”. Learn more about romaji from our previous article: https://blog.lingodeer.com/what-is-romaji/

Jule
Jule
22 days ago

Interesting topic!
I wondered why there is sometimes the additional ‘iro’ behind the color word and sometimes it stands without. I saw it both ways for example with Midori or murasaki. What is the rule for that?

Thanks!