Thursday, September 21, 2017

yuri 百合 - Meaning in Japanese

In anime, yuri 百合, meaning literally "lily," the flower, refers to lesbian fiction. In Japanese, yuri is lesbian fiction in general. In English yuri is normally lesbian hentai (drawn pornography), its gay counterpart is yaoi. The term originates as a counterpart of bara 薔薇, "rose," another gay genre. Sometimes, Yuri, or Yuuri, is somebody's name instead. It's also spelled ユリ, ゆり.

An example of "lilies," yuri 百合, used as a visual pun for lesbian romance.
Left: Kirishima Shouko 霧島翔子
Right: Himeji Mizuki 姫路瑞希
Anime: Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu バカとテストと召喚獣 (Episode 2, Censored)


What yuri means in English and in Japanese differs.

Lesbian Genre

In English, lesbian hentai is called yuri, this includes adult anime, manga, fanfiction, and so on, while non-pornographic anime focusing on a lesbian romantic relationship is called shoujo-ai instead.

In Japanese, yuri refers to lesbian scenarios in general, while and shoujo-ai 少女愛, literally "girls' love," is a term for "pedophilia" instead, as in "liking (little) girls."

In English, there is a shoujo-ai vs. yuri dichotomy, but in Japanese shoujo-ai isn't a genre, and everything relating lesbian romance is just called yuri.

This difference can catch people off guard sometimes.

  • Yuru Yuri ゆるゆり is a series about Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, but if you only know the term yuri as being about lesbian pornography, you'll imagine it's about something completely different.

A guy that likes yuri is called a hime-danshi 姫男子, "princess boy," or yuri-danshi 百合男子.(姫男子)

See also: fujoshi 腐女子.

vs. Lesbian

The word yuri doesn't mean "lesbian" in Japanese. It only means a lesbian genre of anime, of manga, of light novels, etc. And it also means "lesbian" in the sense of fictional characters being lesbian. For reference, some ways to say "lesbian" in Japanese:

  • yuri kankei
    Lesbian relationship. (of characters in anime, etc.)
  • bian
    "Bian." A lesbian person in Real Life™.
  • rezubian
  • rezu
    • This term is considered offensive by some, while bian is preferred, even though they're both parts of the same word. In particular, rezu-mono レズ物, "les thing," refers to something of the lesbian genre, e.g. pornography.
  • {josei no} dou-sei-ai-sha
    {Female} "same-sex-love-person."
    Homosexual woman. Lesbian.

In English, too, sometimes lesbian scenarios in anime are called yuri, even if they don't feature anything explicit, just situations where a girl looks like she likes another girl. This would also include works categorized as a shoujo-ai.


The origin of yuri as a word for lesbian is a certain gay magazine called bara-zoku 薔薇族, "rose tribe," which had a lesbian column called yuri-zoku no heya 百合族の部屋 "lily tribe's room."(

According to its editor, he wanted to register it as bara, "rose," because "in Greek mythology [...] gay men exchange vows under roses," but the bara was already registered. The reason why the lily flower was chosen for lesbian is:

  • yuri wa hora, narushishizumu no shouchou dakara.
    Because lily is, [you see], the symbol of narcissism.

Note that this was a magazine targeted at gay men (and lesbian women) in real life, so it had nothing to do with anime. It just happens that gay manga that targeted gay men became called bara, while the lesbian ones became called yuri.

vs. Yaoi

In English, the gay counterpart of yuri is yaoi, which might make you wonder why it's not bara, instead.

Basically, bara is a genre that targets gay men, while yaoi typically targets straight women, who ship male anime characters with other male characters, the fujoshi 腐女子. It boils down to there being more straight women into gay shipping than gay men into manga.

vs. GL

Sometimes, yuri is called GL instead. GL stands for "Girls' Love." This is a Japanese term for lesbian fiction, a counterpart for BL, which stands for "Boys' Love." It's uncertain if there is any difference between yuri and GL at all.

Some say they're synonymous. Some say GL is yuri for men. Some say GL is a subset of yuri focusing on romance between underage characters. Some say it's only lighthearted moe 萌え rather than anything serious. Some say it's the same thing as BL, but with girls.(

It's likely GL was just made up as a counterpart for BL. There's in fact a whole series of these terms: BL, GL, NL, ML, TL. Love is pretty standardized nowadays, eh.

See the article on BL for details.


Another term that existed a hundred years ago was Esu エス, the katakanization of the letter "S," from "sister," or "sisterhood." It was a genre dealing with high school girls falling in love with other high school girls.(

Seme & Uke

The terms seme and uke 攻め, 受け refer to the "top" and "bottom" of a gay ship, or the active (assertive) and receptive (passive) roles of any ship in general, including yuri, girl × girl ships.

黒髪ロング同士のカップリングといえば百合作品全体としては少なくないはずだがなぜメインストリームへの採用は稀なんだ? キャラクターのバラエティー?画面映え? いや やはり受け攻めを第三者に伝える上で髪の色や髪型でわかりやすく表現する必要があるのだろうか ・・・が!!
Manga: Yuri Danshi 百合男子 (Chapter 8, TURN)
  • Context: a yuri shipper analyzes how seme-uke roles are conveyed through stereotypes.
  • {{{kuro-kami-rongu-doushi no} kappuringu to ieba} yuri sakuhin zentai toshite wa sukunakunai} hazu da ga naze meinsutoriimu e no saiyou wa mare nanda?
    [I] guess {[considering] all yuri works, {pairings [in which] {both [girls] have long, black hair}} aren't few}, so why [its] use in mainstream [works] is rare?
    • i.e. a lesbian couple with two characters of long, black hair happens sometimes, but in mainstream works that rarely happens.
  • kyarakutaa no baraethii? gamen-bae?
    Character variety? [To look good] appearing on screen?
  • iya, yahari {{uke-seme wo dai-san-sha ni tsutaeru} ue de kami no iro ya kami-gata de wakari-yasuku hyougen suru} hitsuyou ga aru no darou ka
    いや やはり受け攻めを第三者に伝えるで髪の色髪型わかりやすく表現する必要があるのだろうか
    No, [considering it again], [I] guess [it] is because {{to convey who is uke and who is seme to a third-party}, [it] is necessary {to express [it] in a way that's easy to understand, using the hair color, hairstyle, [and so on]}}.
    • He then goes on to say that such pairing is great nonetheless.

As a standard, the order of the names in a pairing, or coupling, カップリング, also called a CP, matters: the first name of a CP is the seme and the second is the uke.

Tachi & Neko

Sometimes, the tachi タチ and neko ネコ may be used instead of seme and uke to describe characters' roles in a ship.


In English, a femslash is a term for a a lesbian fanfic.(

There's no specific way to say "femslash" in Japanese. You could say, however:

  • yuri no shousetsu
    A lesbian story. A lesbian novel.
  • yuri no esu-esu
    A lesbian short-story.
  • {niji-sousaku no} yuri
    A lesbian [work] [that] {is a derivative work}.
    • A "fanfic" that actually uses characters from another author, a parody, rather than having original characters and being made by an author who is merely a fan of anime in general.

With Male Characters

Sometimes, yuri is used to refer to a heterosexual or gay scenario instead of a lesbian one, in which a character is a boy that looks like a girl, i.e. a "trap," in Japanese: an otokonoko 男の娘 character.

  • giji-yuri
    Pseudo-yuri. A scenario that looks like yuri, but isn't, possibly featuring:
    • josou
      A girl is actually a guy wearing "female clothes," i.e. crossdressing.
      • Note: a girl crossdressing is said to be wearing "male clothes," dansou 男装. Since the term used was specifically josou, then dansou still counts as normal yuri.
    • futanari
      A girl is actually a "hermaphrodite," with this term typically having penis, breasts, and possibly a vagina.
    • seitenkan
      A girl is actually a guy that "changed sex" and became a girl (or vice-versa), in this case we're talking about nyotaika 女体化 / nantaika 男体化 fiction, in which characters turn into the opposite sex by often magical and sci-fi means, and typically unwillingly, too, rather than a normal trans person.
    • Stories featuring a non-human species, such that all the males disappeared for some reason, and there are only females left. The cited article cites Simoun シムーン as example, in which everybody is born female and can choose sex at age 17.
  • homo-yuri
    Gay yuri. An uke × uke pairing, i.e. a gay ship in which both male characters are bottoms.

Lily Flower

Normally, yuri 百合 means "lily," the flower, or a bunch of "lilies," in the plural.

A "lily" flower, called yuri 百合 in Japanese.
Anime: Ouran High School Host Club, Ouran Koukou Hosuto-Bu 桜蘭高校ホスト部 (Episode 9)
  • Context: a lily.

For reference, a photo of a lily:

A photo of a Lilium auratum flower, called yama-yuri ヤマユリ in Japanese.
Credit: KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Context: a yama-yuri 山百合, "mountain lily," also known by the scientific name Lilium auratum.


The kanji of yuri mean:

  • hyaku

  • au
    To match. To combine.

Combined together: one hundred matches, or one hundred combinations. This doesn't seem to have anything to do with lilies, so it's impossible to guess the meaning of the word from its kanji.

This happens because 百合 is an ateji 当て字.

According to horticulturist Kuniyoshi Jun 国吉純, lily is written 百合 because of its shape:(

  • {hyaku-mai hodo no} rinpen ga awasatte-iru
    {Around a hundred scales} (petals) are combined together.

The readings of 百 and 合 can't form yu-ri. You can read them as hyaku-gou 百合 in on'yomi, but not as yuri. This happens because yuri is a jukujikun 熟字訓, a reading that's only used when a specific combination of kanji is used to spell a word, and not used when those kanji spell other words.

In other words, there was a Japanese word, yuri, that referred to the flower, and 百合 were chosen as the kanji to spell this word because of their meaning.

The origin of yuri ゆり is from the movement of the flower.(

  • yuri wa {{hosoi} kuki ni {ooki-na} hana wo sakaseru} node {{kaze wo ukete} yureru} sugata ga "yusuri" to nari, {sore ga henka shite} "yuri" to natta.
    A lily {makes bloom a {large} flower on a {thin} stalk}, so [its] appearance [when] {[it] wavers (yureru) {receiving wind}} is called "swinging" (yusuri), {[the pronunciation of that] changed}, becoming "yuri."

Background Effect

In anime, sometimes lilies are used as background effect when there's some yuri (lesbian) action going on, specially when it's someone having a "fantasy," mousou 妄想, shipping a girl they know with another. Such scenarios are often nothing more than obvious yuri fanservice.

An example of "lilies," yuri 百合, used as a visual pun for lesbian romance.
Left: Moritani Hiyori 森谷ヒヨリ
Right: Kotoura Haruka 琴浦春香
Anime: Kotoura-san 琴浦さん (Episode 5, Censored)

Person's Name

Sometimes, Yuri is somebody's name instead. Sometimes, Yuri is actually Yuuri, because Yuuri has a long vowel in the Yuu syllable that's also romanized with a macron above the u: Yūri, but nobody knows how to type the macron, so it ends up becoming Yuri without macron.

Notably, Yūri ユーリ!!! on Ice is ironically a series about gay romance that has two called characters Yuuri:

  1. Katsuki Yuuri 勝生勇利.
  2. Yuri Plisetsky, katakanized Yuuri Purisetsukii ユーリ・プリセツキー.


1 comment:

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  1. " Fans of manga and anime, specially of the shoujo genre, will sometimes fantasize about female characters of a given series somehow falling in love with each other. Such practice is called "shipping."
    I would argue that shojo anime (beside magical girls and MariMite) is not the best way to develop femslash. I've read many 80's and 90's shojo.

    80’s shoujo manga had a major strike against it when it came to nurturing yuri the same way shounen manga nurtured BL. Not a lot of shoujo manga are about female relationships of any sort! In 80’s shoujo manga, it’s usually a heroine, her love interest, and/or a rival that are the main players. Guys might find a heroine cute–say Ranze from Tokimeki Tonight but it’s slim pickings when it comes to positive f/f interaction. In Saint Seiya you have guys crying and dying for one another. In 80’s shoujo, you have girls that start off at one another’s throats over a guy and slowly come to a tentative friendship. Even magical girl shows, which have become such a fertile playing ground for yuri fans, were mostly a solo operation back in the 80’s.

    Current shojo anime? Dude, good luck find more shojo like Sabagebu, and not reverse harem.

    If anything, shonen/seinen anime full of cute girls like Tohou, Love live, Madoka Magica, and Kemono Friends is the one where most femslash can be found. You're much more likely to find Madoka/Homura fanarts in pixiv rather than Haruka/Michiru.