Do the Japanese have a distinction between spirit and soul?

Right now the only word that comes to mind would be 魂; does this refer to the concept of an individual’s immortal soul, like in Christianity?
Also, in English we sometimes refer to the ‘soul’ as ‘spirit’, but the latter is more often used to describe one’s volition or for ghosts. Is it similar for the Japanese?


According to Wikipedia they use 霊魂 for what we’d refer to as the immortal soul.


While 魂 is closer to what we’d call a “soul” in English, I’m not sure that the soul is considered to be immortal in the shinto religion. There’s no salvation narrative in shinto; it’s more about connecting with nature and the gods. Also keep in mind that not many people still hold those sorts of beliefs, so I imagine most Japanese people only use the word metaphorically.

I think the character 気 is perhaps closer to what we’d call “spirit”, since it’s used in lots of words related to energy and mood.


Damn, I’m not even sure what the real difference is between spirit and soul in english, nor between the french equivalents for that matter. This is the kind of problem that hints at the existence of 2 entirely different perspectives between japanese and western cultures, differences that make any attempt at litteral translation futile. Just an intuition!


i asked myself a very similar question a couple days ago. between the words for soul and heart, it’s hard to tell what would be the best translation.

i guess it’s another one of those cases where the culture influencing usage is so different that it’s particularly hard to find the right word.

and there’s that as well!

a spirited person can be seen as having “heart” or courage but a spirit has this ethereal quality of an afterlife character. Some people place the soul with the heart and others more with the “head”.

as for me, i’m not a believer at all, so i use the word soul as either a collective description of persons’ feelings (am using person for lack of something better here) or as a quality stemming from having gone through a lot, as in this old tattered jumper has got soul or this piece of art has so much soul.

i would have no clue what to pick in japanese to describe soul the way i use it.

WK do teach us the vocab of 精神【せいしん】(n) mind, soul, heart, spirit, intention, §, so, I guess, that’s what they use in a less “spiritual” context compared to 魂【たましい】(n) soul, spirit, §.

From Jisho:


Slightly unrelated but an interesting thing of note is that こころ in Japanese refers both to what we call the “mind” as well as what we’d we call the “heart” (both figuratively and literally).

Same thing with 思い being both thoughts and feelings.

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