8.5. Colors


First of all, please note that the colors you see on your computer screen are highly dependent on your particular system. Different systems often display different colors. The color files used here are adjusted for my system.


8.5.1. Basic color names


All Japanese color names are nouns, but the six basic color names shown below have corresponding adjectives. The Japanese basic colors are a system based on color warmth/coolness and lightness/darkness. The adjective of a basic color is a combination of the color noun and the adjective suffix (i) "i". In this chart, the upper words are nouns and the lower words are adjectives.

Warm colorsCool colors
Light
colors
Red


(a)(ka)
aka
(a)(ka)(i)
akai
Yellow


(ki)(i)(ro)
kiiro
(ki)(i)(ro)(i)
kiiroi
White


(si)(ro)
siro
(si)(ro)(i)
siroi
Blue


(a)(o)
ao
(a)(o)(i)
aoi
Dark
colors
Brown


(ti)(small ya)(i)(ro)
tyairo
(ti)(small ya)(i)(ro)(i)
tyairoi
Black


(ku)(ro)
kuro
(ku)(ro)(i)
kuroi

It is interesting that brown seems more important than green in Japanese. Since green is not a basic color, the word (a)(o) is often used for it in old compound words, such as (a)(o)(ya)(sa)(i) "aoyasai" (green vegitables).

Remember Japanese adjectives contain tense. (a)(ka) means the color red, while (a)(ka)(i) means something is red. Its past form is (a)(ka)(ka)(small tu)(ta) "akakatta" (something was red).


8.5.2. Important color names


Colors other than the basic colors only have nouns. Use a copula to make a color noun predicator. Most color names have the suffix (i)(ro) "iro", which means color. You can add it after a color name if it is not there.

ColorWordDescription
(mi)(do)(ri)
midori
Green.
(mu)(ra)(sa)(ki)
murasaki
Purple.
(ha)(i)(i)(ro)
haiiro
Gray.
The word (ha)(i) "hai" means ash. The imported word (gu)(re)(long) "gurê", which came from gray, is also common.
(mo)(mo)(i)(ro)
momoiro
Pink.
The word (mo)(mo) "momo" means peach. The imported word (pi)(n)(ku) "pinku", which came from pink, is common too.
(da)(i)(da)(i)
daidai
Orange.
It is the name of a kind of orange, but it is not well known. The common name for Japanese oranges is (mi)(ka)(n) "mikan". Western oranges are called (o)(re)(n)(zi) "orenji", and it's also used for the color orange.
(mi)(zu)(i)(ro)
mizuiro
Light blue.
The word (mi)(zu) "mizu" means water.


8.5.3. Additional color names


Color names shown here are not so common, but they should be understood by any native Japanese speaker. Japanese has hundreds of color names, but to my regret many of them are being lost, as Japanese traditions are being lost.

ColorWordDescription
(sa)(ku)(ra)(i)(ro)
sakurairo
Pale pink.
(a)(ka)(ne)(i)(ro)
akaneiro
Crimson.
The word (a)(ka)(ne) "akane" is a plant whose root is used to dye cloth deep red.
(si)(small yu)(i)(ro)
syuiro
Vermilion.
(ya)(ma)(bu)(ki)(i)(ro)
yamabukiiro
Orange yellow.
The word (ya)(ma)(bu)(ki) "yamabuki" means a kind of yellow flower.
(u)(gu)(i)(su)(i)(ro)
uguisuiro
Olive green.
The word (u)(gu)(i)(su) "uguisu" means a kind of bird.
(ki)(mi)(do)(ri)
kimidori
Yellow green.
(hu)(ka)(mi)(do)(ri)
hukamidori
Deep green.
The prefix (hu)(ka) comes from the adjective (hu)(ka)(i) "hukai", which means deep.
(a)(i)(i)(ro)
aiiro
Dark blue.
The word (a)(i) "ai" means Japanese indigo.
(ko)(n)(i)(ro)
kon'iro
Dark purplish blue.
(hu)(zi)(i)(ro)
huziiro
Lavender.
(o)(u)(do)(i)(ro)
ôdoiro
Yellow ochre.
(ko)(ge)(ti)(small ya)
kogetya
Dark brown.


Further readings:

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