Japanese Words Hard to Translate into English--渋い 編--

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Jun 7, 2010 16:46 shibui
Japanese Words Hard to Translate into English

There are many words and expressions in Japanese language that are difficult to translate into English. Here are the top five on my list:

1) shibui 渋い (adjective)
2) namaiki(na) 生意気(な) (adjective)
3) atarimae/tozen 当たり前/当然 (adverb)
4) amai 甘い (adjective)
5) amaeru 甘える (verb)

Today I'd like to look at the first word on my list "shibui."

We use “shibui” in several different situations, but when it’s used to describe personal tastes, it's impossible to find a single English word that could replace "shibui." Here are some examples to illustrate how Japanese people use this word and how difficult it is to explain what this word means in English.

Example#1 彼女は年齢のわりに渋い趣味を持っている。

She has a hobby which is normally more popular among older folks than those who are in her age group.

In this case "shibui" refers to her mature or unique taste in hobbies.

Example#2 彼はいつも渋い色のスーツを着こなしている。

He is always dressed up in quiet (but) tasteful colors of suits.

In this case "shibui" refers to quiet, deep (not necessarily dark) colors that are perceived as tasteful by many (or some people.

Example#3 友達の息子はまだ5歳だけど、ローリングストーンズにハマっているらしい。私の感想--(彼って)渋い!

My friend told me that her 5-year-old son is really into the Rolling Stones music. I just had to say "(He is) shibui."

In this example, "shibui" is used in the sense of "cool."

First two examples show the use of "shibui" that are close to its original definition while the third example shows modern use of "shibui."

Last but not least, here's a general definition of "shibui" in Japanese for your reference:


You can read more about "shibui" on this website: