Japan has four seasons. The color of the landscape changes along with the season. Autumn is a mix of Red, Brown, Grey, Green, Yellow, Purple etc. Winter has a White color, while Spring brings again a mix of colors of Pink, Yellow, Red, and Purple. I haven’t noticed any particular color during the Summer season and therefore I attribute a pale yellow color to it. During summer, the bright sky may look pale yellow (to my eyes). That being said, Japan is Pink for many of my friends, especially for those who live in Arab countries.
There might be a stereotype image that Japanese girls prefer pink color over other colors. If we pay attention to the colors of the toys and dresses designed for boys and girls we can notice that it is not just a stereotype image. Until recently my daughters refused to select things that didn’t have a pink shade! Sakura flowers are pink and therefore beautiful (to almost all beholders). Hence the Japanese girls also show a tendency to look like Sakura flowers. Colors have particular importance in our life and we all might have a favorite or preferable color. Mine is Green, which in the Japanese language is Midori written as 緑.
One of the first set of Kanjis that I learned during the initial days in Japan were of colors. Color is called Iro-色 (いろ). When iro attaches with the kanji of wearing, it becomes coloring or wearing the color, written as 着色 (chakushoku). Thus, the iro has a different reading shoku. Irodori is another word used in Japanese to indicate ‘coloring’, which is written as 彩り. The Kanji 彩 has a reading of irodo, which may sound similar to that of 色. The word Chakushoku is used in coloring industry where color pigments are used for coloring process. The color pigments or dye is called Shikiso in Japanese, written as 色素.
There are certain colors that are internationally recognized to use in the coloring process of products. The most popular 12 colors are;
Blue, Orange, Green, Brown, Grey (Slate), White, Red, Black, Yellow, Violet (Purple), Pink (Rose) and Aqua (Light Blue).
Blue is called Ao あお and is written as 青. This Kanji has a moon radical at the bottom. Moon is known for its calm, quiet, and obviously blue!
Orange is a color and a fruit. Orange is called Daidaiだいだい, 橙. The Kanji for Orange is a combination of a tree (木) on the left side and the Kanji for ‘Climbing or Ascent’ (登). I have no idea how the combination of a tree and climb will become Orange. Orange trees are not tall and not necessarily need to climb to pluck the orange fruits.
Green is called Midori, みどり 緑. Midori is one of the frequently used Kanjis in Japan as people are becoming more aware of the environment. From 2007 onwards, May 4th is celebrated as a Greenery day (みどりのひ midorinohi, literally meaning ‘the day of Green). The birthday of the current Japanese emperor is marked as “Greenery Day” to acknowledge his love for the plants. Midorinohi s a day for Japanese people to commune with nature and to be thankful for blessings. Midori is a combination of ‘thread’ called ito 糸 and another radical whose bottom has water, mizu 水.
Brown color has two Kanjis. The most popular one is 茶色 Chairo meaning Brown color or the color of Cha. If you are a tea lover, you might have seen the Kanji for ちゃCha. Cha or Chay (tea) is brown in color. The radical ⺾ means grass. At least some of the dry grasses are brown in color.
The color of ash is grey and therefore the Kanji of Grey has ash in it 灰色 haiiro. Ashes are the aftereffects of fire that deposit beneath the hearth. Old Chinese people placed the Kanji of fire under a cliff. The radical 厂 represents a cliff, steep valley or a structure below which ‘something’ is there.
Personally, I like the Kanji for white because of its simplicity. White is Shiro in Japanese and is written as 白 representing a ray coming out of the Sun. Indeed that looked white for Chinese.
Red is Aka 赤 in Japanese. If you happened to look around for gifts to babies, you might have heard of Akachan hombo 赤ちゃん本舗. あかちゃん means ‘Baby’. Newborn babies have a red color. The Kanji for Red looks similar to 歩 for me and I memorize both by associating a thread that a person who walks many kilometers on the earth becomes red in color.
Though most of the Japanese people do not express their dislike towards black skin publicly, they have a preference for the white skin. Discrimination based on skin color may not be visible just like that in the United States or many European countries, but Japan has its own way of discriminating black. They may like the black dress, but may not prefer black skin! Thus the word 黒人 (くろじん) Kurojin meaning Blackman has almost become a word for abuse. The Kanji for black is 黒 kuro. Kuro is a combination of filed 田, Soil 土, and fishtail radicals. An easy way to remember the structure is “a black-tailed fish in a soil field”.
You might have listened to the announcement on train platforms that you must keep away behind the Yellow lines. It says ”黄色い線の内側までお下がり下さい” “きいろせんのうちがわまでおさがりください” Kiirosen no uchigawa made osagarikudasai – Please stay within the Yellow lines. きいいろ 黄色 kiiro is Yellow color.
Purple (Violet) is Murasaki 紫 (むらさき). Purple-colored Tulip flowers (紫色のチューリップ) enhance beauty to the garden in Spring season. 紫 is a combination of 此 (upper) and 糸 (lower). The radical 此 if comes alone indicates ‘this’ and is used in 此方konata, this person and 此の, kono, which is usually written in hiragana as この. Ito 糸 is the ‘thread’.
Momoiro or Pink Color got its Kanji from the Peach fruit. A ripen peach fruit turns to Pink in color. Peach is Momo – もも – 桃. The Kanji is a combination of tree 木 and 兆 (chou – Trillion, omen, sign, augury, divine, auspice) indicating that a peach tree is an auspicious/divine tree. One kilogram of Peach fruit costs around 450 Japanese yen. Though the pink color got its Kanji from Peach, most of the peach fruits produced in Japan are white. Yamanashi and Fukushima prefectures top the list of peach-producing prefectures in Japan.
Water is light blue (aqua) in color. So is the color of the sky. The sky is blue in Japanese too – Aosora 青空, but actually, it is light blue in color. Light blue is mizuiro みずいろ – 水色 in Japanese, the meaning of which is ‘color of water’.
Other colors that are frequently used in the Japanese language are;
紺 Dark blue