Sunday, April 17, 2011

Going to France

This whole entry started when I saw this word in the dictionary:

Japanese: 渡仏
Reading: tofutsu
Meaning: going to France

I was thinking to myself that this is weird. Why would Japanese have a special specific word for 'going to France'? I love France and my name (Michel) is French but isn't such a word too specific?
I mean, if we have a word for 'going to France', why not have a word for like...'visiting a shrine', or better yet 'visiting a shrine in winter'! or if we are going all out, why not have a word for 'visiting a shrine NAKED in winter'!

But OH WAIT! Japanese DOES have a word for that...

Japanese: 裸参り
Reading: hadakamairi
Meaning: visiting a shrine naked in winter

OK, so Japanese has some very specific words targeted to very specific situations <cough>, but why France? I asked around and found out that it's not only France. There are quite a few specific words for going/visiting other countries. Here is the list I have now:

Japanese: 渡米
Reading: tobei 
Meaning: going to USA; going to America

Japanese: 渡欧
Reading: toou
Meaning: going to Europe

Japanese: 渡英
Reading: toei
Meaning: going to Britain

Japanese: 渡露
Reading: toro
Meaning: going to Russia

Japanese: 渡伊
Reading: toi
Meaning: going to Italy

Japanese: 渡独
Reading: todoku
Meaning: going to Germany

Japanese: 渡西
Reading: tosei
Meaning: going to Spain

And just when you get used to the whole "TO-something" you get this unexpected turn:

Japanese: 訪中
Reading: houchuu
Meaning: going to China

Japanese: 訪台
Reading: houtai
Meaning: going to Taiwan

Japanese: 訪韓
Reading: houkan
Meaning: going to South Korea

Japanese: 訪朝
Reading: houchou
Meaning: going to North Korea

For a short explanation about how those words were formed just know that each county has a katakana name (katakana is the syllabic script used in Japanese to write foreign vocabulary, including foreign country names) but Japanese also has a way of writing the county names using Chinese characters (Kanji) and so, those words up there are a combination of one Chinese character meaning to transit or to visit and a second Chinese character that symbolizes the specific country.

There is one more word related to this long entry. How about visiting Japan? right? wrong.
Japanese people don't visit Japan, they live there, you are the one coming to visit and that is why the word is:

Japanese: 来日
Reading: rainichi
Meaning: arrival in Japan; coming to Japan; visit to Japan

In this case the first Chinese character's meaning is "come" and the second is "Japan".

Opening up a dictionary can sometime be time consuming.


  1. My Japanese isn't the best but I've come across this a couple times: 上京 going to Tokyo. Just to add to the list.

  2. Thanks Daniel!
    I didn't know this word.
    Apparently you have to 'rise' to the capital.