And kanji with manga
Friday, July 29, 2016

"Body" in Japanese

There are various ways to say "body" in Japanese. A physical body is karada , or karada 身体, but the word mi is used in some cases. The morpheme tai 体 is used to refer to aspects of the body. And words like nobody, somebody, anybody, everybody are formed with dare 誰 plus some particle.

This article is about the word for whole "body." See Names of Body Parts in Japanese for a list of terms for specific parts.

体 vs. 身

The difference between karada 体 and mi 身 is that karada is the "body" in the physical, anatomical sense, while mi is the "body" in the individual sense, psychological snese, and the social sense, like in one's social position.


For example, a character that's a spirit capable of possessing people's bodies could complain about the physical body he just possessed by saying:
  • kono karada この体
    This body.
    • Is too weak. I need to possess a stronger body in other to defeat that guy.

Or maybe someone is talking about the physical properties of the body:
  • karada wa tsurugi de dekiteiru
    The body is made of swords.
    • a.k.a. "I'm the bone of my sword."

Or maybe it's part of a joke like this:

我々のボスがあなたの体に興味を持ったようです ! 俺オトコに興味ねーぞ・・・ いや違います先生
Manga: One Punch Man (Chapter 9)
  • Context: a caped baldy with extreme strength is targeted by an evil organization. He interrogates one the bad guys concerning why they're after him.
  • wareware no bosu ga
    anata no karada ni
    kyoumi wo motta
    you desu

    It seems our boss had interest in your body.
  • ore, otoko ni kyoumi nee zo...
    I don't have interest in men...
  • iya, chigaimasu, sensei
    No, [you got it wrong], master.
    • They aren't "interested" as in "attracted," they are "interested" in why he's so physically powerful.


The word mi 身 means "body" in the philosophical sense, rather than in the anatomical sense. A more literal translation of mi 身 would be one's own "self." Sometimes, this can mean one's social position, other times, it's one mind, and other times, one's body in the sense of everything you have. It really varies. For example:
  • mi wo motte shiru 身をもって知る
    To know by [one's] body.
    To experience by [oneself].
    • In this case, mi doesn't refer to your flesh, but you as an individual.
    • What this phrase means is that you don't know something because someone else told you, you know because you learned from experiencing it yourself, with your own body.
  • mi ni shimiru 身に染みる
    To permeate [one's] body.
    To feel [something] deeply.
    • In this case, it's psychological.
    • Obviously, when you feel something, you feel with your physical, flesh-y senses. But because feeling things is a psychological thing, mi 身 is used instead in a number of set phrases.
  • mi no hodo shirazu 身の程知らず
    Unknowing the limits of [one's] body.
    Not knowing [one's] place.
    • In anime, this phrase is often used when you have a character that's nobility or royalty telling some lower-caste character: "know your place."
    • That is, mi, here, refers to one's social position. The "limits of the body" refers to their reach: what they can and can't do. Trying to do something beyond what they're supposed to do means they don't know their limits, they don't know their place.
Manga: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai ~Tensai-Tachi no Ren'ai Zunousen~ かぐや様は告らせたい~天才たちの恋愛頭脳戦~ (Chapter 12)
  • shinjitsu no koi ni naraba
    If it's true love,
  • mi mo kokoro mo ageru kakaugo wa arimasu
    [I've] the resolve to offer my body and soul.

The kanji of mi 身 can also be read as shin 身.
  • bunshin 分身
    "Division of the body."
    • In anime, often used like:
    • kage bunshin no jutsu 影分身の術
      Shadow clone technique.
  • bunshin 文身
    "Literature of the body."

体 vs. 身体

There's a few differences between karada 体 and karada 身体, but it's mostly nuance and both words mean basically the same thing.

The first and most clear-cut difference is that karada 体 is a normal reading, while karada 身体 is a gikun reading.

Officially, it's supposed to be read as shintai 身体 instead:
  • shintai nouryoku 身体能力
    Physical abilities.

More specifically, it's a matter of which readings are part of the school curriculum, which ones are jouyou kanji 常用漢字.
  • mi 身 (yes.)
  • karada 体 (yes.)
  • shintai 身体 (yes.)
  • karada 身体 (no.)

In Japan, there's a number of official documents that must be written only with jouyou kanji. This means that, in any of such documents, 身体 is never read as karada, it's always read as shintai, and karada is always written karada 体.

So why do people write it as karada 身体 instead if it's not even an official reading?

To add the nuance of mi 身 to the word. The nuance of one's social position, of one's psyche. For example:
  • karada wo taisetsu ni suru
    To take care of [your] body.
    • Because you have a promising super-model celebrity idol actress career, so your body is your greatest asset.
  • karada wo taisetsu ni suru
    To take care of [your] body [and mind].
    • Because getting sick, physically or psychologically, is bad for you.

In particular, the bodies of animals are not referred to as karada 身体, because animals are presumed to not to have emotions, at least not emotions as complex as humans, so they don't have a mi 身. They don't even live in a society. We live in a society. So you only use karada 身体 toward humans.

But with this it sounds like referring to a person's body as just karada 体 puts their body on the same level as an animal's body. So people may use karada 身体 as a way to cautiously avoid that implication. As a way to avoid sounding impolite.

Of course, this is completely unnecessary, and a lot of people will ignore it, don't mind it, or just use either spelling interchangeably.


There's a number of words related to the body that have the kanji for body, karada 体, but as the morpheme tai 体 instead. For example:
  • taichou 体長
    Height. Body length.
    • nagai 長い
  • taijuu 体重
    Body weight.
    • One's own weight.
    • omoi 重い
    • futoru 太る
      To get fat.
    • yaseru 痩せる
      To lose weight.
  • taikei 体型
    Body shape
    • kata
      Model. Type.
  • taion 体温
    Body temperature.
    • atatakai 温かい
  • taiiku 体育
    Physical exercise.
    • sodatsu 育つ
      To raise. To up-bring.
  • taichou 体調
    "Body tune."
    Often used as:
    • taichou ga warui 体調が悪い
    • "Body tune" is bad.
      My body feels bad.
      I'm not feeling well, so I won't go to school today, or I'll go to the infirmary.
  • taiken 体験
    Body experience.
    • Experiencing something by yourself, with your own body.
    • hatsutaiken 初体験
      shotaiken 初体験
      First experience. (often about virginity.)

When tai 体 comes after something, it's generally a "body" qualified by the morpheme before it, just like as if it were an adjective.
  • jintai 人体
    Human body
    • hito
    • hito no karada 人の体
      The body of a person.
  • nikutai 肉体
    Meta body. Flesh.
    • niku
    • nikutai kaizou-bu 肉体改造部
      Body improvement club. (from Mob Psycho 100.)
  • reitai 霊体
    Spiritual body.
    • yuurei 幽霊
  • shitai 死体
    Dead body. Corpse.
    • shinu 死ぬ
      To die.
  • hontai 本体
    Real body.
    • In anime, it refers to the bad guy controlling the long-range puppets from afar. No matter how many of the puppets you defeat, the fight won't end until you defeat the hontai.
    • E.g. in JoJo, don't attack the STAND (the enemy's ability), attack the hontai (the enemy himself.)

Body Sides

There's a number of words that refer to the sides of the body, using morphemes for directions. For example:
  • tainai 体内
    Inside of the body.
  • taigai 体外
    Outside of the body.
  • jouhanshin 上半身
    Upper-half of the body.
  • kahanshin 下半身
    Lower-half of the body.
  • joutai 上体
    Upper body.
  • katai 下体
    Lower body.

Nobody, Anybody, Somebody, Everybody

In English, we have the words nobody, anybody, somebody, and everybody which all end in "body," so I guess I might as well include them in this article too.

Japanese doesn't have those words.

Instead, in Japanese using the word dare 誰, "who," plus the particle mo も, which can work as an intensifier, or ka か, which means doubt, or the particles demo でも, meaning "even," plus a negative verb or not, can be interpreted as the words nobody, anybody, somebody, and everybody.
  • dare
  • dare ka 誰か
    • I don't know "who" but somebody is there.
  • dare demo 誰でも
    • Even a "who."
    • No matter "who" it is.
    • Often "anybody" also means "everybody."
    • Note that minna みんな means "everybody" but it doesn't mean "anybody."
  • dare mo... nai 誰も〇〇ない
    Not... anybody.
    • Not even a "who."

For example:
  • dare ga dekiru? 誰ができる?
    Who can do it?
  • dare ka ga dekiru 誰かができる
    dare ka dekiru 誰かできる
    Somebody can do it.
  • dare demo dekiru 誰でもできる
    Anybody can do it.
    Everybody can do it.
  • dare mo dekinai 誰もできない
    Nobody can do it.

Some other examples:
  • dare mo shiranai 誰も知らない
    "dare mo" doesn't know.
    Nobody knows.
  • dare mo inai 誰もいない
    "dare mo" isn't here.
    Nobody is here.
  • dare ka tasukete 誰か助けて
    Somebody help [me]!

An example with minna みんな.
  • minna shinda みんな死んだ
    All died.
    Everybody died.

Even the word hito 人, "person," can be interpreted as "someone" which leads to it becoming "somebody."
  • shinrai dekiru hito 信頼できる人
    A person [whom] [you] are able to trust.
    Someone [whom] [you] can trust.
    Somebody [you] can trust.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave your komento コメント in this posuto ポスト of this burogu ブログ with your questions about Japanese, doubts or whatever!

All comments are moderated and won't show up until approved. Spam, links to illegal websites, and inappropriate content won't be published.