Friday, July 29, 2016

Bishounen, Bishoujo - Meaning in Japanese - 美少年, 美少女

In many anime there are characters known to be bishounen 美少年 or bishoujo 美少女. Many times, the only quality of these bishounen and bishoujo characters is to be... well, a bishounen or a bishoujo. But what do these words mean again?

Looking at it by the kanji, we can separate 美少年 and 美少年 into 美 followed by shounen 少年 and shoujo 少女, which mean "boy" and "girl" respectively. The bi 美 kanji here means "beauty." This 美 is the same as the one in the word utskushii 美しい, "beautiful."

Bishounen means "beautiful boy."  Bishoujo means "beautiful girl." Very literally and very directly. We could end the post here, now, if only beautiful meant the same thing always.

Young and Beautiful

When we say beautiful girls and beautiful boys there's an emphasis that we're talking about young people here. The 少 kanji in 少年 and 少女 means "little," and shounen and shoujo are literally "few years" and "little woman"  in Japanese.

So, most of the time, bishoujo characters in anime, bishoujo girls, are portrayed as flat-chested, younger, cuter, and full of glee. Similarly, bishounen characters in anime, bishounen boys, have lean physique, never too muscular and never, ever, ever have beards, of whatever kind.

Both bishounen and bishoujo characters are awfully popular inside the anime, specially characters in a high-school setting.

Example of bishounen and bishoujo and the meaning of the words 美少年 and 美少女 in Japanese as shown by characters of the anime Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon 美少女戦士セーラームーン

The words bishounen and bishoujo really just mean beautiful. Like a beautiful starry sky, a beautiful scenery, or a beautiful work of art. They have nothing to do with sensual, sexual or sexy in any way or form.


Some related terms have more or less the same meaning as bishounen and bishoujo because they share the kanji 美. Those are:

Bijin 美人

Literally "beautiful person," as hito 人 means "people."

However, bijin is usually used as a way to say "beautiful women" in Japanese. Simply because it's more common to call women beautiful than it is to call men beautiful.

Bijo 美女

Since shoujo 少女 means "girl" and onna 女 means "woman," bijo 美女 is the woman version of bishoujo 美少女. That is, it's often used for older, adult-ier women, but not old women, just not too young women either.

Unlike bijin, bijo puts emphasis on the woman attributes (oppai!) of the woman.

Transgender Event

One funny story I found on the internet about bijin and bijo is that around 1980, there was an model campaign called Roppongi bijin 六本木美人, which was mean to have prettiest women around Roppongi, but ended up having a transgender too!

In response, the transgender in question, Matsuhara Rumiko 松原留美子, said: if the campaign was called Roppongi bijo 六本木美 (implying pretty women only) then they wouldn't have entered, but since it was Roppongi bijin 六本木美 (pretty people), they thought they had a chance.

Bimajo 美魔女

This word is like bijo, but comes from the word majo 魔女 instead of onna 女, which means "witch" in Japanese.

This isn't used for beautiful witches, which by the way don't exist, but instead, for older women who look too young for their age and are beautiful like your usual bijo.

(do not mistake mahou 魔法, which means "magic," with keisei shujutsu 形成手術 that means "plastic surgery" in Japanese)

Beautiful Men

Some words used for men that mean beautiful are:
  • bidanshi 美男子
    Beautiful young man.
  • binan 美男
    Beautiful man.
  • biseinen 美青年
    Beautiful adult man
  • ikemen イケメン
    Rather difficult to translate.

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