Japanese words for taste sensations (食感を表す日本語の表現)

Japanese film classic Tampopo is a joyful celebration of Japanese food culture. In a famous scene there (see above), an old sensei jokingly winds up a young ‘un by making up, with a deadpan face, overly complicated rules of eating a bowl or ramen. Eventually, everyone present bursts out laughing at the sheer ridiculousness that the sensei‘s “rules” reach.

Food in Japan, however, is a serious business that requires quite an evolved vocabulary to deal with. Apart from the basic words such as 美味しい/おいしい (tasty) and 不味い/まずい (bad-tasting), Asian cuisines in general and Japanese one in particular are concerned with the balance and quality of the Seven Tastes:

・ 甘い あまい sweet
・ 酸っぱい すっぱい sour
・ 塩辛い/しょっぱい しおからい/しょっぱい salty
・ 辛い からい spicy
・ 苦い にがい bitter
・ 渋い しぶい tart
・ まったり(とした)or コクがある full of umami

Umami うま味/うまみ is the savoury taste of naturally occurring MSG, e.g., the taste of double cream or bone marrow broth. Many people in one way or another are aware of this taste but most languages do not have a specific word for it.

Japanese also has a slew of expressions to describe various nuances of tastes, textures, and flavours. For example:

・ 後味 あとあじ aftertaste
・ 口直し くちなおし eating something nice to compensate for something bad-tasting you’ve just had
・ 隠し味 かくしあじ ”hidden taste”, elevating or underlining the main taste by using a supporting ingredient such as a pinch of salt in a sweet cake, or cocoa powder in a beef stew
・ 甘口 あまくち mild
・ 辛口 からくち dry (wine)
・ ツンとした pungent (wasabi)
・ ピリッとした pungent (cheese)
・ まろやかな smooth or mellow (whiskey)
・ 甘酸っぱい あますっぱい sweet and sour (pork)
・ 甘塩の あましおの lightly salted (salmon)
・ ほろ苦い ほろにがい  slightly bitter (beer)
・ 濃い こい thick, intense (stew)
・ 薄い うすい thin, watery (broth)
・ 味がしつこい heavy-tasting
・ あっさりとした light and simple tasting
・ 味気ない あじけない bland, insipid
・ 生温い なまぬるい lukewarm
・ こってり thick (e.g., udon noodles)
・ 歯応えがある はごたえがる (pleasantly) chewy
・ 噛みにくい かみにくい (unpleasantly) chewy
・ 甘ったるい  あまったるい  sickly sweet, saccharine
・ ふわふわ fluffy (cake)
・ とろとろ (pleasantly) oily, creamy (e.g., tuna belly sashimi)
・ もちもち viscous like mochi
・ ほかほか (pleasantly) hot (temperature) like freshly steamed rice
・ ぷりぷり plump (e.g., shrimp)
・ しゃきしゃき crisp or crunchy (salad or vegetable stir-fry)
・ からっとした or さくさく (pleasantly) dry and/or not-oily
・ かりかり  (bacon or fish skin) crisp

I know dozens, or even hundreds more, especially onomatopoeic ones. Let me know in the comments if you want me to extend this list further.


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大器晩成 (たいきばんせい) – “Genius matures late”

The Japanese expression 大器晩成 (たいきばんせい – taiki bansei) is used for people who achieve success later in life


The world-renown Japanese painter Hokusai created his, perhaps, most famous painting, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, in his early 60s. He changed his name four times and kept reinventing his style his entire life.

Although he gained fame early on in life, he truly blossomed in his autumn years. On his deathbed at 88, he reportedly exclaimed, ‘If only Heaven will give me just another ten years … Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.’

The Japanese expression 大器晩成 (たいきばんせい – taiki bansei) is used for people who achieve success later in life. It is credited to the Chinese sage Lao Zi, who is traditionally considered to be the mastermind behind Tao Te Ching, one of Taoism’s most revered texts.

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