japanese kanji for old

What Is The Japanese Kanji For Old? | How To Say Old In Japanese? 

05 de June, 2024Shopify API

The Japanese kanji for old is 古. Learn the breakdown of the kanji 古 and how to say old in Japanese. 

The Japanese writing system is a fascinating blend of characters, each conveying a distinct meaning and cultural significance. 

Among these characters, known as kanji, is the one representing the concept of "old" - 古. This single character captures a wealth of history, cultural values, and linguistic nuances that reflect Japan's rich heritage.

Japanese Kanji For Old Is 古

The origins and form of the Japanese kanji 古 provide valuable insights into how the character came to represent the concept of "old" and the cultural significance it holds.

The kanji characters in the Japanese writing system have their roots in Chinese characters, which were imported to Japan centuries ago. 

These characters were adapted to fit the Japanese language and culture, resulting in a unique set of characters known as kanji. 

The character 古 has its origins in ancient Chinese scripts, and its meaning evolved as it was incorporated into the Japanese writing system.


The visual structure of the kanji 古 is a combination of two distinct components, known as radicals, which contribute to its overall meaning:

  • Upper Radical - 口 (kuchi): The upper part of the 古 character consists of the radical 口, which represents a "mouth." This radical brings the concept of communication and speech into play.

    In the context of 古, this could be interpreted as the act of information being passed down through spoken word, much like stories and knowledge that are shared from one generation to another.
  • Lower Radical - 一 (ichi): The lower part of the character features the radical 一, which means "one." It is a simple horizontal stroke. In 古, the 一 radical can represent an initial point, suggesting the beginning of something that has persisted over time.

When these two radicals are combined, as they are in 古, they create a character that can be understood in the context of "something that has been passed down through words, something old or ancient." 

This interpretation aligns with the cultural significance of preserving traditions, knowledge, and historical contexts.

Metaphorical Interpretation

The combination of the "mouth" radical and the "one" radical in 古 has led to a metaphorical interpretation of the character. 

Beyond its literal meaning of "old," it can be seen as a representation of "wisdom spoken by the ancients" or "the knowledge of the past transmitted through generations."

This metaphorical dimension adds depth to the character, showcasing how the Japanese writing system is not just about conveying words, but also about encapsulating cultural concepts and values within individual characters.

In summary, the origins and form of the kanji 古 reveal its evolution from ancient Chinese scripts to its place in the Japanese writing system.

The combination of the "mouth" and "one" radicals beautifully encapsulates the concept of "old," including the passing down of knowledge, the importance of oral tradition, and the cultural respect for history. 

This character serves as a testament to the intricate connection between language, culture, and the passage of time.

Linguistic Complexity Of 古

The linguistic complexity of the Japanese kanji 古 goes beyond its simple appearance as a character representing "old." This complexity is rooted in the nuanced ways in which the character is used and understood within the Japanese language.

Nuanced Usage

While 古 is commonly translated as "old," its usage extends beyond a mere description of age. In the realm of language and culture, this kanji is employed in a variety of contexts that add layers of meaning to its interpretation. 

For instance:

  • Historical References: 古 can be used to describe historical periods or objects that are of ancient origin. For example, "古代" (kodai) refers to ancient times, and "古書" (koshō) means an old book. This usage connects the character to a sense of historical depth and cultural heritage.
  • Metaphorical Significance: The kanji 古 is not limited to physical age; it can also convey metaphorical notions of tradition, wisdom, and legacy. When used in phrases like "古い言葉" (furui kotoba), which translates to "old words," it implies words or phrases that have been passed down through generations, often carrying profound cultural significance.
  • Nostalgia and Emotion: 古 can evoke a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality. For instance, the term "古里" (furusato) refers to one's hometown or place of origin, evoking emotions tied to memories and a longing for the past.

Cultural Reflections Of

The multifaceted usage of 古 mirrors the intricate relationship between language and culture in Japan. 

The character's ability to convey both literal and abstract meanings demonstrates the Japanese language's capacity to encapsulate cultural concepts within individual characters.

The concept of honoring tradition and ancestral wisdom is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and this is reflected in how the character 古 is used. 

It's not just about referring to something that has aged, but about acknowledging the value of historical continuity, shared experiences, and the insights of previous generations.

Time and Change 

In a society that has experienced rapid technological advancement and cultural transformation, the kanji 古 also highlights the interplay between tradition and modernity. 

As Japan navigates change, this character serves as a reminder of the importance of retaining connections to the past even as the country embraces the future.

How to Say 'Old' in Japanese?

In the Japanese language, expressing the concept of "old" involves a nuanced understanding of vocabulary and context. The word for "old" can vary based on the subject being described, the level of politeness required, and whether the reference is literal or metaphorical. 

Let's delve into the various ways to say "old" in Japanese and the subtleties each conveys.

  • 年老いた (としおいた, toshi oita): This phrase is used to describe a person who has aged, often in a respectful or formal manner. It carries a sense of maturity and respect for the individual's life experience. It's important to note that this phrase specifically refers to people and not objects or abstract concepts.
  • 古い (ふるい, furui): The most common term for "old" in Japanese is 古い. It is used to describe objects, places, or ideas that have aged over time. While it is a neutral term, its connotation can be both positive and negative depending on the context. For instance, something 古い could be seen as vintage and valuable or outdated and obsolete.
  • 昔の (むかしの, mukashi no): This phrase means "of the past" or "olden days." It's often used to refer to historical events, traditions, or cultural practices that are not necessarily physically old but are rooted in the past. This term invokes a sense of nostalgia and cultural heritage.
  • 年季が入った (ねんきがはいった, nenki ga haitta): This expression is used to describe something that has been seasoned or experienced over time. It can refer to a skilled craftsman, a well-practiced technique, or a matured flavor. It implies a depth of knowledge or skill that comes from years of practice.
  • 古典的な (こてんてきな, koten-teki na): When describing something as "old-fashioned" or "classic," the term 古典的な is used. It often refers to ideas, styles, or designs that have stood the test of time and are admired for their enduring appeal.
  • 年月が経つ (としつきがたつ, toshi tsuki ga tatsu): This phrase means "time has passed." While not a direct translation of "old," it is commonly used to convey the idea that something has existed for a long time and has accumulated history and experience.

Understanding the nuances of these terms allows for more precise communication and cultural sensitivity when discussing age or the concept of "old" in Japanese. 

Each term carries its own implications and emotional associations, highlighting the rich tapestry of language and culture that the Japanese language offers.

In Conclusion

To sum up, the kanji 古 encapsulates more than just the concept of "old" - it encapsulates Japan's reverence for tradition, its connection to history, and its unique ability to convey complex cultural nuances through language.

As learners delve into the intricate world of kanji, they unlock doors to a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture and the timeless wisdom it holds.

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