Website for learning Japanese Etymology?

I’m curious if there is a website in English, that explains where Japanese words come from (Like how パン comes from the Portuguese word for bread, pão, etc). Or something along those lines.
I’m wondering because I saw the word for scissors, ハサミ. Why is it in Katakana? I absolutely must know. Where can I answer these questionssssssss ʘ‿ʘ


Depends on where you saw it, but it’s a non jouyou kanji, I think. But a common word, used in early years of schooling as well.

There is a wikipedia page for loanwords in Japanese:

Unfortunately I don’t know an etymological dictionary or other source to recommend.


I personally use Wiktionnary.

Here’s what I found about ハサミ:鋏#Japanese
But why you saw it in katakana? It does not say so :upside_down_face:

I really enjoy that script for semantic-phonetic composition: [Userscript] Keisei 形声 Semantic-Phonetic Composition

Hopefully someone has something more useful :slight_smile:

Edit: Clicked the wrong “Reply” button again :see_no_evil:


Wiktionary is the only half-decent website I’ve found with Japanese etymologies.

Where did you see ハサミ? The use of katakana might have more to do with the context than the word itself. I find in manga a lot of the time the choice of katakana, hiragana, and kanji is a matter of emphasis or the way the character talks or understands what is happening. For example, and this is a gross oversimplification from purely my own limited manga experience that I hope somebody better than me can clarify, more academic-y or smarty characters use more kanji, simpler characters use hiragana, dramatic characters use katakana.

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Wiktionary is indeed quite excellent for both Japanese and Chinese etymology, for those words that it actually has an etymologies for.

Another useful website (in Japanese) is Gogen; it has fewer etymologies than Wiktionary, and it doesn’t cite its sources, but it’s still a good complement.

Most of the time, when a word doesn’t have an etymology entry on Wiktionary, I’ll just google the word (or part of the word) along with the word “語源” (etymology). Unfortunately, for words written in kanji, this often mostly turns up pages in Chinese, but you can usually get around that by just adding something like の OR と OR は OR が OR だ or で to your search; it’s rare to find a Japanese page without them. Alternatively, you can write out part of the word’s reading, as most sites about language will contain it.
If I have a theory about the etymology of the word, I’ll sometimes include some words related to it. Of course, that increases the risk of confirmation bias, since you’ll be filtering for sites that confirm (or at least consider) your assumption.


katakana are not only used for loan words from other languages, but also for kanji that are considered difficult, for animals and plants (often in a scientific context), for slang words or just because to make something stand out :v:


Ohhh, okay, that’s really helpful, I seem to remember learning that but I forgot. Thank you

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It seems that Japanese people also wonder about why some words alternate between kanji, hiragana, and katakana. I found this blog post from 2009, where the author recounts using はさみ in an article about a hairdresser because they felt that it better conveyed the hairdresser’s sincerity in using their tools and the editor correcting it to ハサミ.



ハサミ is also listed in this undated blog post about native Japanese words that are frequently written in kana. The author’s main point to explain this phenomenon is “当て字や難読漢字または読みが複数ある単語によくみられる”, which is in line with @Saida’s point that 鋏 is a 表外字, but it doesn’t really give any explanation as to why it would be written in katakana, other than perhaps to stand out more like @buburoi mentioned, which the author also notes.

The only other thing I found was this Yahoo post from 2013, in which the author acknowledges that they’re totally fine with spelling ハサミ (and also メガネ) despite the fact that it’s a native word:


Yet they did have a discussion with a friend about whether ろうか is preferable to ローカ for 廊下, which led to the post in the first place. So it seems fair to conclude that this is an issue native speakers occasionally run into, too.


Thank you, very helpful! I’ll definitely try searching that way next time.

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I saw ハサミ in a example sentence on wanikani. I didn’t know that about manga though, that’s actually really cool that they write it with those distinctions

What’s a non jouyou kanji? I saw it in an example sentence on wanikani. Also, thanks for your help

That’s super interesting, thank you for answering my question so thoroughly with these examples! I love hearing stuff like this about Japanese

Jouyou kanji are the 2136 kanji taught in schools. Wanikani teaches most of them.
Thus, a non jouyou kanji is one that much fewer people will know or use. Often they are quite massive and complex. Some, like 綺麗 (きれい–pretty) you might see fairly frequently still, but good luck writing them.

If it was a wanikani example sentence on a lower level, they probably choise katakana just to make it more distinguishable for newer learners. I often see them use hiragana instead of kanji for kanji compounds where one kanji is known at that level but another is not, when normally it would be written just in kanji.


Oh okay! Thank you,that makes sense


… or site:*.jp :stuck_out_tongue:

No, the kyouiku kanji are the 1026 kanji taught in schools. The jouyou kanji are the ones set by the government for use in official documents and newspapers and the like.

That’s probably true. You will miss a few good ones (like, but it might still be more reliable than my “filter”.

There is also the option to sort by language, but I’ve had some mixed experiences with that.

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Wooops. Thank you for catching that. 恥ずかしいいい>_<

@elehannah I gave you wrong information, I am very sorry.

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Kyouiku kanji are just for elementary school (first 6 grades of education). They are a subset of the jouyou kanji. The remainder are taught in middle and high school. The jouyou list does have multiple purposes though.


Honestly, I don’t think you’ll find anything other than Wiktionary in English. I personally use Gogen Allguide, which @Kutsushokunin mentioned above, but it’s in Japanese. Just like @Kutsushokunin, I usually search a Japanese expression with the words 語源 to try to get the etymology. There are lots of random Japanese blogs that write about interesting expressions with obscure origins. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to ask questions on Stack Exchange, WK or HiNative to get an answer in English.

If you’re interested in kanji etymology, there’s this: You’ll find links to a video series called ‘Visual Kanji’. It’s probably the best site you can find on kanji in English. Honestly though, some of the etymology on that site is stuff I don’t believe, so I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. (E.g. for 言, both Kanjipedia and my preferred Chinese source, Vividict, say that the original character represented a tongue coming out of a mouth. Kanji Portraits mentions something about a tattooing needle and a mouth. Gosh.) You’ll probably find better explanations if you hunt hard enough, but I think the real best free resource would be materials from NHK, like these:
They’re almost definitely more authoritative, they’re in English, and the first series is managed by a man from New Jersey, so no worries about someone ‘not getting the foreign student’s perspective’.