Language | WELL SAID

Adding 'ao,' the blue that can also be green, to your Japanese linguistic palette

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Special To The Japan Times

Aomushi-wa, happa-o tabeta-kara aoku-natchatta-no? (Has the caterpillar turned green because it ate the leaf?)

Situation 1: Little Mariko is in the garden with her grandmother, looking at a green caterpillar on a leaf.

まり子:  青虫は、葉っぱを食べたから青くなっちゃったの?

祖母:   そうじゃないのよ。敵に見つからないように、青菜と同じ色をしているのよ。

Mariko: Aomushi-wa, happa-o tabeta-kara aoku-natchatta-no?

Sobo: Sō-ja nai-no-yo. Teki-ni mitsukaranai-yō-ni, aona-to onaji iro-o shite-iru-no-yo.

Mariko: Has the caterpillar turned green because it ate the leaf?

Grandma: No, Mariko. It’s the same color as green vegetables so that its enemies won’t find it.

Today we will introduce the noun 青(あお), meaning blue, and its related expressions. 青 and its i-adjective form, 青い, modify nouns as in 青の/青いシャツ (a blue shirt). Na-adjective 真(ま)っ青(さお)な is its emphasized form. 青々(あおあお)とした(very blue) is also used, as in: 空(そら)は青々と晴(は)れわたっている (The sky has cleared to become deep blue). 青筋(あおすじ)を立(た)てる (literally, “to make veins stand out on the temples”) is used when someone turns purple with rage. The noun that shows light blue is 水色 (みずいろ, literally, “water color”) as in 水色のセーター (a light blue sweater).

In Japanese, 青 can indicate not only blue but also green. For example, a green traffic light is said to be 青 in Japanese. Other examples where 青 is used this way: 青葉 (あおば, green leaves), 青菜 (あおな, leafy green vegetables), 青物 (あおもの, greens), 青果市場 (せいかいちば, fruit and vegetable market), 青田(あおた, a green paddy field), etc. 青田がり (“harvesting rice while it’s green”) refers to the recruitment of students for future jobs long before they graduate.

Thus, 青 also has connotations of youth, as in 青年(せいねん, youths), 青少年 (せいしょうねん, youths/boys and girls), 青春時代 (せいしゅんじだい, youth/younger days), etc. 青二才 (あおにさい) is a word used to look down a young person due to their immaturity. The noun 緑 (みどり, green) means the color green exclusively, and this word is also used to show trees and plants, as in: 都会 (とかい)は緑が少(すく)ない (There’s not much green in the city).

Situation 2: Mr. Tien finds his colleague, Ms. Shiba, looking pale.

ティエン: 芝さん、顔色が真っ青ですよ。だいじょうぶですか。

芝:   すみません、ちょっとめまいがして…。

Tien: Shiba-san, kaoiro-ga massao-desu-yo. Daijōbu-desu-ka?

Shiba: Sumimasen, chotto memai-ga shite …

Tien: Ms. Shiba, you look very pale. Are you OK?

Shiba: Sorry, I feel a bit dizzy.

青い and 真(ま)っ青(さお)な are also used to describe a person’s pale face, as in Mr. Tien’s sentence in Situation 2, or here: こわくて顔(かお)が真っ青になった (He turned pale with fear). The verb is 青(あお)ざめる (to turn pale).

Bonus Dialogue: Mr. Sere and his girlfriend, Yuri, look at a poster.

セレ:  うわー、きれいなポスター!青い海(うみ)、真っ青な 空(そら)!ぼくの国(くに)みたいだ。

ゆり:  あ、グァム旅行(りょこう)のポスターね。いいなあ。 行(い)きたいな。

セレ:  グァムもいいけど、ぼくの国もいいよ。日本(にほん) みたいに緑(みどり)は豊(ゆた)かじゃないけど、海と空は最高(さいこう)だよ。

ゆり:  行ってみたいけど、ちょっと遠(とお)すぎて…。

セレ:  ということは、ぼくが帰国(きこく)することになったり、遠い国に転勤(てんきん)になったりしたら、二人(ふたり)は「さよなら」なの?そして、十年後(じゅうねんご)、「あのころは青春(せいしゅん)してたなあ」って、なつかしく思(おも)い出(だ)すわけ?…あ、ゆり、顔色(かお いろ)が急(きゅう)に青ざめた!

ゆり:  セレの転勤のことを考(かんが)えると気分(きぶん)が悪 (わる)くなるの。でも、もう逃(に)げてはいられないよね。

セレ:  うん。ちゃんと向(む)き合(あ)えば、きっと解決(かいけつ)策(さく)が見(み)つかるよ。

Sere: My goodness, what a beautiful poster! The blue sea and the completely blue sky — just like in my country!

Yuri: Oh, it’s about trips to Guam. How nice! I’d love to go.

Sere: Guam would be good, but my home country is nice too. There is less green than in Japan, but the sea and the sky there are the best in the world.

Yuri: I’d like to visit your country, but it’s too far.

Sere: So it’s goodbye when I’m transferred home or to a place far away? And in 10 years you’ll say, “Oh, it was the springtime of our lives,” cherishing our memories of love? … Ah, Yuri, your face is white as a sheet!

Yuri: Whenever I think about you transferring, I feel ill. But we can’t keep running away from the idea.

Sere: That’s right. If we face this thing head-on, I’m sure we’ll be able to work out a solution.