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What is black in Japanese language?

What is black in Japanese language?

The Japanese language has several words that can be translated as “black” in English. The most common words for black in Japanese are “kuro” (黒) and “koku” (黒). There are some subtle differences in how these words are used that are important to understand when communicating about the color black in Japanese.

The Word “Kuro” for Black

The most common and generic word for the color black in Japanese is “kuro” (黒). This word can be used to describe any black objects, substances or concepts. For example:

– Kuroi neko – A black cat
– Kuroi kami – Black hair
– Kuroi fuku – Black clothes
– Kuroi penki – Black ink

“Kuro” is used for black in a neutral sense and does not have strong positive or negative connotations on its own. It is the default word you would use when simply describing something as being black or referring to the color black in general.

Some other key points about “kuro”:

– It is used for black in a literal, physical sense, like black hair, black cats, black ink, etc.

– It can be used metaphorically like “black mood” or “black outlook” in Japanese.

– It is used in compounds like “kurobose” (black hat) or “kuroneko” (black cat).

– The kanji 黒 means black and is the basis for the word “kuro.”

– There are other kanji compounds like 黒色 that specifically mean “black color.”

So in summary, “kuro” is the most ubiquitous, neutral term for describing things that are black in color in the Japanese language. It will fit into most contexts where you want to convey the idea of black.

The Word “Koku” for Black

Another important word for black in Japanese is “koku” (黒). While “kuro” is the more common and generic term, “koku” has some specific usages:

– It can refer to black that is very deep, intense, or pure in color. For example, “koku na kami” (黒な髪) meaning “jet black hair.”

– It is used in some compound words and phrases like:

– Kokuhatsu (黒発) – Blackhead (acne)

– Kokujo (黒女) – Sexy or attractive woman

– Kokuze (黒ぜい) – Blackout drunk

– In legal terminology and financial contexts it can refer to deficits, illegal acts, or other metaphorical “dark” things. For example:

– Zaisei kokuji (財政黒字) – Financial deficit

– Koku no kaze (黒の風) – Illicit or “black market” wind

– It is used as a symbol of formality and elegance in words like “kokuhatu” (黒鍵) meaning a black necktie worn with formal Japanese dress.

So “koku” carries some nuances of intensity, formality, or metaphorical darkness that “kuro” does not. It has more specific usages, while “kuro” is the generic black.

Other Japanese Words for Black

There are a few other less common Japanese words that can mean black in certain contexts:

– Anzui (暗い) – Dark, gloomy, pitch black

– Kokunai (黒内) – Black inside, as in black background or black box

– Konashi (渾なし) – Very dark, jet black, usually used for eyes

– Kurome (黒目) – Pupil of the eye

– Makkuro (真っ黒) – Pitch black, intensely black

So in specialized contexts like describing eyes, graphic design, or emotions, some of these other words may be used to convey certain nuances of black. But the main terms remain “kuro” for generic black and “koku” for formal or metaphorical black senses.

Black Color Names in Japanese

Like other languages, Japanese has some descriptive color words that incorporate black:

– Kurocha (黒茶) – Black tea color

– Kurozumi (黒染) – Black dye color

– Kurobairo (黒灰色) – Black gray color

– Kuromidori (黒緑) – Black green color

– Kuroaka (黒赤) – Black red color

So while “kuro” itself means solid black, combining it with other colors in words like the examples above creates compound terms to describe dark shades of other colors.

Black in Japanese Idioms and Expressions

The color black appears in some Japanese set phrases and idiomatic expressions:

– Kuroi yoru (黒い夜) – The dark of night, midnight

– Kuroi koibito (黒い恋人) – Secret lover

– Kuroi kage (黒い影) – Dark shadow, looming threat

– Niwa kuro, uchi shiro (庭黒、家白) – “The garden black, the house white” meaning putting on appearances despite realities

So while not directly about the color itself, these idioms use the idea of blackness in metaphorical ways to refer to secrecy, threat, darkness and putting on appearances. The positive or negative implications come from the context, not the word “kuro” itself.

Black in Japanese Culture

In Japanese culture, the color black is associated with both positive and negative traits. Some symbolic meanings of black include:

– Authority, elegance, formality

– Mystery, the unknown

– Deficits, forbidden activities

– Decisiveness

– Detachment

Black is considered the color of authority and formality, as evident in the black robes worn by graduates and the dark suits of businessmen. It also represents mystery and the unknown, like the “black ships” of outsiders that appeared in Japan’s past.

But black can symbolize not being straightforward and deficits or illegal dealings in financial contexts. On the positive side, black can mean being decisive and emotionally detached in difficult situations.

So culturally, black has both positive and negative connotations in Japan. But specific words like “kuro” and “koku” themselves are neutral descriptors of the color and only take on positive or negative meanings from the context.


In summary, the Japanese language has two main words for the direct meaning of the color black:

– Kuro (黒) – Common generic term for any black object or concept

– Koku (黒) – Formal or metaphorical black, also means deep and intense black

In addition to referring directly to black objects and concepts, the idea of blackness, darkness, and shadows appears in various Japanese idioms and cultural contexts. But the words “kuro” and “koku” are neutral descriptors not carrying inherent positive or negative meanings out of context. So while the language has nuance, “kuro” and “koku” translate directly as “black” in English in most situations.

Japanese Word Meaning
Kuro Common black
Koku Formal black
Anzui Pitch black
Kokunai Black inside
Konashi Jet black