So, why is the word for carrot 人参?

These kanji [person, come] make no sense for this word. Any ideas? I guess it makes it easier to remember just because of how weird it is.


Looking at Wiktionary:


So, it’s a loanword from Chinese. We can also see that the Japanese words for Japanese and Chinese ginseng use this - I’m not entirely sure why it’s used for ‘carrot’ now, but they are both roots of some variety. But why these kanji?


So, apparently in Chinese this is a simplified form of the original hanzi - presumably, the Japanese is also using this simplified form. Let’s look at the etymology on the page for the traditional Chinese word:


So! We can see that the ‘come’ kanji has been simplified from the traditional kanji, which simply means ‘ginseng’, and that the ‘person’ refers to the shape of the root itself.

Example of a man-shaped carrot - not ginseng, but just as capable of anthropomorphism!

In fact, if we look at that kanji’s Japanese entry on Wiktionary, ‘ginseng/carrot’ is one of the definitions given:


Etymology is fun! (And also worth taking with a grain of salt - I am just looking on Wiktionary and I’m not an expert.)

It’s also a useful reminder that WaniKani - and in this case, dictionaries like Jisho - don’t always give every possible meaning of a kanji, especially not ones which might mostly come up in Chinese loanwords!


Hmmm based on the meanings of the kanji used (person, participate) I could even associate it with some kind of “picante”, mature origin of the word. :wink:

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This is Jisho’s definition.

common word wanikani level 14Links


  1. carrot (Daucus carota)​Usually written using kana alone
  • にんじん人参
  • ビタミンエービタミンA
  • たくさん
  • ふく含んでいる

Carrots contain a lot of vitamin A.


  1. Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)​Usually written using kana alone, See also 朝鮮人参

Wikipedia definition

  1. Carrot​The carrot is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is a taproot, although the greens are edible as well. It is a domesticated form of the wild carrot Daucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot.
    Read “Carrot” on English Wikipedia
    Read “ニンジン” on Japanese Wikipedia
    Read “Carrot” on DBpedia

Other forms



It’s not uncommon for words that originally used rare, difficult kanji to get written with visually similar, easier kanji that have no connection to the original meaning.


You will also come across words where the kanji meaning(s) have no relation to the word. Ateji, kanji used phonetically to represent the word. 寿司 is one that comes to mind.

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And in some cases the “purely phonetic” usage produces a new meaning that eclipses the original one (like with 英 or 亜, those kanji were not created to represent England or Asia), or be equally as usual as the original meaning (like with 米, 独 or 仏 (or 美, 德, 法 in Chinese)).