How Do You Say Black in Japanese?

March 20, 2024
How Do You Say Black in Japanese?

The Japanese language (in contrast to its Western counterparts) boasts distinct structural, phonetic, and scriptural characteristics. One of the most striking differences lies in its writing system. 

Japanese employs a combination of logographic characters called kanji—borrowed and adapted from Chinese—and two syllabaries, hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is primarily used for native Japanese words and grammatical functions, while katakana is often reserved for foreign loanwords, onomatopoeia, and some proper nouns.

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3 Words that Translate to Black in Japanese

In Japanese, the concept of "black" can be expressed in several ways, each serving a different purpose. Many languages around the globe – including Japanese – distinguish similar ideas into different words to convey slightly different nuances or contexts.

In the case of Japanese, these distinctions can be particularly important due to the language's structure and the rich layering of meaning in kanji characters. Here are different terms Japanese people use for “black”:

Japanese Transliteration English
Kuro Black (noun)
黒い Kuroi Black (adjective)
黒色 Kuroiro "Black Color"


Kuro – Black as a Noun

Kuro (黒) is the Japanese term for "black." It signifies the color black in various contexts, from fashion to art. In Japanese culture, Kuro can represent darkness, mystery, or the absence of color, and holds symbolic meanings. It's usually used as a noun.

Japanese Transliteration English
が彼女の好きな色だ。 Kuro ga kanojo no suki na iro da. Black is her favorite color.
ドレスの色はですか? Doresu no iro wa kuro desu ka? Is the dress's color black?
彼はの使用を選びました。 Kare wa kuro no shiyou o erabimashita. He chose to use black.


Kuroi – Black as an Adjective

Kuroi (黒い) is the Japanese adjective form of "black." It describes objects, feelings, or situations as black or dark, indicating not just color, but sometimes mood or tone in literary contexts (meaning: dark, suspicious, malevolent, etc).

Japanese Transliteration English
その黒い猫はとても可愛い。 Sono kuroi neko wa totemo kawaii. That black cat is very cute.
彼女は黒いドレスを着てパーティーに来た。 Kanojo wa kuroi doresu o kite paatii ni kita. She came to the party in a black dress.
その部屋は黒い壁紙で飾られている。 Sono heya wa kuroi kabegami de kazara rete iru. The room is decorated with black wallpaper.


Kuroiro – “Black Color”

Kuroiro (黒色) is the Japanese term for the color "black." It literally translates to "black color," emphasizing the concept of blackness in contexts where specifying the attribute of color is important or distinctive.

Japanese Transliteration English
彼女は黒色のインクで手紙を書いた。 Kanojo wa kuroiro no inku de tegami o kaita. She wrote the letter with black-colored ink.
この車は黒色だけでなく、他の色もあります。 Kono kuruma wa kuroiro dake de naku, hoka no iro mo arimasu. This car is available not only in black color, but also in other colors.
彼のo黒色oの絵は非常に人気がある。 Kare no kuroiro no e wa hijou ni ninki ga aru. His paintings in black color are very popular.


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Japanese for Black and Other Colors

Other colors in Japanese have a similar treatment, where there's a distinction between the noun form of the color and the adjective form. It's also important to note that in daily conversations, these distinctions might blur a bit. For instance, while "ao" is technically the noun form for blue, people might use it adjectivally in casual settings. Still, understanding these distinctions can help in grasping the nuanced use of colors in the Japanese language.

Japanese Transliteration
(Noun, Adjective, “-Color”)
黒 , 黒い , 黒色 Kuro, Kuroi , Kuroiro Black
白 , 白い , 白色 Shiro, Shiroi, Shiroiro White
赤 , 赤い , 赤色 Aka, Akai, Akairo Red
青 , 青い , 青色 Ao, Aoi, Aoiro Blue
緑 , 緑い , 緑色 Midori, Midorii, Midoriiro Green
黄 , 黄い , 黄色 Ki, Kii, Kiiro Yellow
茶 , 茶色 Cha (noun), Chairo (color) Brown
橙 , 橙色 Daidai (noun), Daidairo (color) Orange

Do note that some colors – such as brown (茶) and orange (橙) – traditionally don't have an adjective form in the same way that (黒い) or (白い) exist for black and white, respectively. Instead, the noun form is often used in combination with ~色 (color) to describe things.


Japanese Words with Black Integrated in Them

Japanese features many compound words with "black" (either as "kuro" or "kuroi") integrated in them. Such terms showcase how "black" or the idea of darkness/deepness is used in compound words in Japanese, but they also illustrate the nuances and cultural specifics of language. Here are some examples:

Japanese Transliteration English
黒竜 Kokuryū Black Dragon
黒鬼 Kuroki Black Demon
黒髪 Kurokami Black Hair
黒猫 Kuroneko Black Cat
紅茶 Kōcha Black Tea
黒鳥 Kurotori Black Bird
黒馬 Kurouma Black Horse
黒雨 Kuroame Black Rain
黒帯 Kuroobi Black Belt (Martial Artist)
白黒 Shirokuro Black and White


How do cultural contexts influence the use of 'black' in Japanese?

When translating 'black' into Japanese, you should pay close attention to the cultural contexts. Japan associates 'black' with a range of meanings, such as sophistication or mystery, and even mourning. Ensuring the right nuance in translations involves a deep understanding of these cultural underpinnings to convey the intended message accurately.

What challenges do translators face with homonyms like 'kuro' in Japanese?

Homonyms can be particularly tricky. For instance, 'kuro' can mean 'black' or 'difficulty' in different contexts. I've learned to look for contextual clues to determine the correct meaning, ensuring my translations are both accurate and culturally sensitive.

How do pitch accents affect the translation of words like 'kuroi' into Japanese?

Pitch accents in Japanese can change the meaning of a word entirely. With 'kuroi,' getting the pitch right is essential to distinguish it from other similar-sounding words. I often practice with native speakers to perfect my pronunciation and ensure clear communication.

In what situations would 'kuroiro' be more appropriate to use than 'kuro' or 'kuroi'?

'Kuroiro' explicitly refers to the color black, making it ideal for contexts where clarity is key, such as in design or art descriptions. I've found it's best used when you need to emphasize the concept of the color itself, rather than just describing an object as black.

Final Words

Relative to Mandarin, Japanese might seem simpler phonetically speaking. However, when using the language, pitch accent can still greatly impact conveyed meaning. Japanese offers a rich tapestry of linguistic features that reflect its unique cultural, historical, and social fabric, setting it apart from other popular languages.

For individuals looking for professional language support, you may check our translation services. You may also contact us directly to have your needs addressed immediately.

By Clarriza Heruela

Clarriza Mae Heruela graduated from the University of the Philippines Mindanao with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, majoring in Creative Writing. Her experience from growing up in a multilingually diverse household has influenced her career and writing style. She is still exploring her writing path and is always on the lookout for interesting topics that pique her interest.



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