How do you translate “colorful” into Japanese?

iro

 

The Japanese word for “color” is ‘色’ (‘iro’). Japanese is full of expressions which use ‘色(‘iro’)’, but in many cases the meaning is significantly different to that of English “color”.

Take the word ‘色っぽい’ (‘iroppoi’) for example. This is often used to describe “sexy” (‘セクシーな’) women. ‘アンジェリーナ・ジョリーは色っぽい’ (“Angelina Jolie wa iroppoi.”, “Angelina Jolie is sexy.”) or ‘彼女のくちびるは色っぽいね’ (“Kanojyo no kuchibiru wa iroppoi ne.”, “Aren’t her lips sexy?”) and so forth. The words ‘色男’ (‘iro-otoko’) and ‘色女’ (‘iro-onna’) are used in a similar way. These too are used to express the sense of beauty that attracts the opposite sex, such as in ‘ブラッド・ピットって色男だよね’ (“Brad Pitt tte irootoko dayone.”, “Brad Pitt is such a lady-killer, ya know”). Additionally, ‘色目を使う’ (‘iro-me wo tsukau’) means “the way a woman seduces a man (with amorous glances)”.
In this way, Japanese ‘色’ (‘iro’) naturally implies a sexy meaning.

For this reason, the Japanese have struggled to find a perfect translation of the English word “colorful”. It is only referred to in katakana as ‘カラフル (karafuru)’. For example, ‘社長はいつもカラフルなネクタイをしている’ (“Shachou wa itsumo karafuru na nekutai o shiteiru.”, “The president always wears a colorful tie”). Furthermore, in the cases where somebody’s personality is being described, such as “a colorful character”, it seems that rather than using ‘カラフル(karafuru), translations such as ‘おもしろい人’ (“omoshiroi hito, an interesting person”) are usually used instead.

Did you understand the ‘色々な’ (‘iroiro-na’,’several’) meanings of ‘色’ (‘iro’) ‘? Then again, the word ‘色々な’ (‘iroiro-na’,’several’) itself doesn’t carry any sexy connotations – so use it with confidence.

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Iidabashi Japanese Language School

The Iidabashi Japanese Language School motto is "Be Unique, Have fun Globally!" We teach classes focused on conversation skills to foreigners living in Japan.

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  • leslie nguyen

    Never knew “colorful” had so many meanings in Japanese

  • Rui

    The word 色鮮やか means colorful. Coming from a stranger saying that the CEO neck tail is colorful might be of use in the US, it’s not in Japan. I’d rather say that in some situation in will be taken as an insult, as Japanese are not supposed to wear colorful things when working. “Sensu no yoi nekutai desu ne” is more likely to be understand as you mean it.

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