Japanese use of Buddhist terminology

I recently came across the use of「チョモランマ」to describe Mount Everest in a text I was reading. This took me a minute to grasp, and I had to refer to my copy of the Kōjien to find an answer to what it referred to. Turns out it comes from the native Tibetan term for the mountain, Chomolungma, and I suppose this makes some sense given Japan’s Buddhist history and it being the primary religion of the Tibet area.

This led me to wonder what other words of this ilk in Japanese are out there. I’m not so much thinking of obvious ones such as 「坊」but less common/more interesting words to describe things or places that happen to use Buddhist or Buddhist-adjunct terminology.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks in advance.


There’s a ton of stuff in Japanese that finds its roots in Buddhism. Even simple phrases such as ()(がと)う, ご馳走様(ちそうさま) and (いただ)きます have their origins in Buddhist teachings. Similarly お邪魔(じゃま)します seems like a bit of a strange one (I will be a demon) - until you realise that 邪魔(じゃま) is specifically a demon that hinders Buddhist training, and you’re essentially apologising for disturbing the (fairly literal) sanctity of someone’s home. At this point I’m halfway convinced there’s not a single set phrase or expression relating to social conventions that doesn’t have its origins in Buddhist teachings somehow.

One particularly interesting one, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how true it is, is why () is the counter for birds and rabbits. There are a number of theories on this - like there supposedly being a rabbit on the moon, or a linguistic similarity (ウサギ coming into Japanese via Sanksrit, and being interpreted by Japanese monks at the time as う+(さぎ)), there’s also another one:

Buddhist monks were not allowed to eat meat, other than bird meat. However, they really liked the taste of rabbit. So much, in fact, that they reclassified rabbits as flightless birds, and the use of () as a counter followed logically - and stuch around to this day.

Of course I can’t verify if that’s actually the case, but it’s a fun story all the same.


You could peruse the Buddhist tag (#Buddh) on Jisho and see if anything looks interesting.


Oh that’s how it works! I tried a number of hashtags because I‘d seen the „Buddhist term“ comment before, but I didn‘t hit the correct one. Is there a list of all hashtags somewhere? Or how did you find out about it?


TIL there’s a #Buddh tag on Jisho

…I know what I’m doing this weekend :joy:


This page lists all of them.


OMG this is amazing! Thank you so much :star_struck:


Thanks all for the information - lots to go away and research now.

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For what it’s worth: I learned in school (GDR) that that mountain’s name is Chomolungma (spelled Tschomolungma in our atlas). “Mount Everest” was the “Evil West’s” name for it :wink:


Fun fact, Sir George Everest (pron: EEvrist), didn’t want the mountain named after him, not least because it couldn’t be written or (easily?) pronounced in any of the local languages. Evil west indeed.


Jisho.org is hands-down the best dictionary.

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I am sorry that I missed this by 17 days!
I was translating Buddhist texts for a while, and it really opened my eyes up to certain kanji. I didn’t use Jisho for this though.
I will return soon with more to say about this topic!

I learned 釈迦 (しゃか)from reading The Spider’s Thread (蜘蛛の糸) by
Akutagawa Ryunosuke which according to jisho originates from sanskrit!

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