The adventure of a newbie learner and the curious case of 青

So, I decided to have my first go at reading and translating a simple story. After doing a bit of searching I stumbled upon level 0 tendoku stories, and decided to give it a go. I had a lot of fun translating and I ran into a funny learning experience too! (if I mistranslated anything let me know! :slight_smile: )

The story was “みんな青いです” (which I translated as “These things are blue”). Each page had a picture and a short description of the object at the bottom, using the kanji 青.

At first, I found it fairly straightforward. I translated the text using jisho and learned a few new words.

青い車 (blue car),
青い自転車 (blue bicycle),
青い傘 (blue umbrella),

Then, there was a green apple, with the question I translated as これも青?“is this also blue”?

I smiled and said “No, that’s green! Ah! Now we must be looking at objects that are green!”

Well, the next line I translated as "青りんご "

“Huh?! T-there must be some mistake!” I thought to myself, confused. “That apple there is clearly green! Not blue!”. Then it used 青 to describe vegetables and…traffic lights?!

So I did some delving. Hmm, why is 青, known as ‘blue’, being used to describe things that are green?

I studied the kanji a bit more on jisho and it turns out…when referring to vegetables, plants and traffic lights, it can also mean green, which I found quite strange and surprising!

then finally, I understood the title. It showed a compilation of all the pictures, the blue cars and green traffic lights, and it finished with “みんな青いです”

This was an interesting learning experience, and one which made me love Japanese even more! :smiley:


This one’s all down to linguistics. There’s a general order in which languages acquire new colour words, and 緑 for “green” is a comparatively recent innovation - before that, it just meant “greenery”, as in vegetation in general, and 青 referred to everything from blue to green.


Yep! Green is blue in many Asian languages. This book includes some of the research behind this phenomenon that @Belthazar mentioned and other similar linguistic phenomena.

Thank you @Jordan64 for sharing this amusing experience :grin:

I’m not confident about it, but I think みんな青いです means “everything is blue”. I’ve heard the word みんな when podcasters address the audience (みんなさん) and in train announcements (where the politeness level is higher - みんなさま).

And apparently I need to work on my radicals, because at first I thought 青=wheat. Confusing :cry:

I love this word. Self-rotating car.


Self-rotating wheel. Or more historically I think a chariot.


猫車 is a fun one too…


Why is a wheelbarrow called a cat car?

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Wow, there’s even some analogy to catwalk! Interesting!