sci.lang.japan FAQ / 6. Word meanings

6.4. What colour is ao?

The colour ao (青) is a confusing one, since not only are blue skies said to be aozora (青空), but green traffic lights are also ao.

According to the dictionary Gendai Kokugo Reikai Jiten published by Shogakukan, ao is the Japanese name for the printing ink colour "cyan", and it is used for both green and for sky blue and sea blue.

The Kōjien dictionary's entry also says that ao is the name of sky blue, sea blue and green. It also explains that according to one historical explanation, in ancient Japan the only colours were aka, shiro, kuro and ao. This dictionary also notes that historically aoi meant a medatanu iro, a "dull colour", and was used even for grey. It now covers colours as far apart as ai, a dark blue, midori, green, and , the colour of grass.[1]


  1. 広辞苑 [Kōjien] fourth edition, page 11, entries 青[あお] and 青い[あおい]

External links

This web site contains a very large list of Japanese colours with their names.

sci.lang.japan FAQ / 6. Word meanings

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