Friday, 20 April 2012

Random Japanese Lesson: 渋い "SHIBUI"

Hey there~

I felt like doing a little post on a word that often gets used in tv shows that I find hard to translate.
I thought it might interest some people?

So the word is "Shibui"   渋い
It has several meanings such as:

-Sour/bitter/ astringent taste
-Glum, sullen, sour (as in 'sour feeling' not taste)

There's a few other ways it can be used, but the meaning that always troubles me is something else.
The definitions I've given sort of seem like they'd be used negatively (well, the 'glum' and 'sullen' meanings anyway) but it can also be used to refer to something in a good way.

It's sort of hard to explain as I don't think there's a word for it in English......So I'll show you some pictures of people who will be considered "shibui".




It's kind of like a smooth, mature kind of coolness.
Like a mature calmness of older adults....if that makes sense.

It's not only limited to descriptions of people though. It can be used to describe anything with that kind of sense really. A lot of old fashioned stuff would be considered as shibui, like record players, pottery or vintage items.

Clothes that are considered shibui would be stuff like suits, leather shoes and traditional Japanese kimono.
Usually shibui stuff would be dark coloured like black, brown or grey,

Some people might perceive shibui as and a tad dull or "old".

In the comments it was mention that "rugged" might be the closest word but...that's not really what it is. I realise that it's probably because I put up pics of rugged people. Another reason that the people I've posted are 'rugged' is because they're old. Most handsome old men would be the rugged type since there's not really any other way to be old and handsome....that I can think of. But rather than physical features it's more of their character or aura that it refers to. The main aspects are calmness, maturity.

Another example is drinking green tea, and writing poetry or something even when you're young or something. Some people might think that's cool, and that's when you say that's shibui in a good sense. Some people might just think that they're boring.

So yeahhh, it's a pretty vague kinda concept. From reading stuff on the internet, it seems that most Japanese people have trouble explaining what it is, especially into English.
I hope you were able to get a sense of what the word shibui is often used to refer to though.

I suppose it's kind of like being "dandy". But maybe a less posh version though.

I dunno. lol


  1. Replies
    1. Hmm, it's not ruggedness it refers to. It's more like....a mature calmness. I didn't explain it well in the post... I think a lot of Japanese people also have trouble.

    2. I've slightly updated the post a bit. not sure if it changes much thougha

    3. Ah I got it wrong lol I blame Clint Eastwood :P

      After reading your post again, I think I have a small idea of what it means. I might be way off this time's like unassuming coolness..something refined without being flashy right?

  2. Damn I've been using this word all wrong then... I thought it meant fashionable =)

    1. Haha, well that could work depending on what type of fashion though, I suppose. It wouldn't make sense to say "Oh yeah you're shibui" for cute stuff like......I dunno, a girl with bunny ears or something lol.

    2. Yeah the last time I used it was when a friend pointed out that he had the exact same pair of shoes that I was wearing so I said 'omae shibui ne!', which I would have said 'Oh you've got good taste' if we were speaking English.... I guess I got away with it since they were kind of 'handsome' shoes =)

  3. I've been hearing hardboiled quite a lot too
    as in "harudo boirudo"

    1. Haha yeah, they use various English words and phrases now. Like "Severe" (Shibia), Loose (ru-zu) and heaps of other stuff. I wonder if half of the people in Japan understand what people on TV are saying with these words half the time. Actually Matsumoto Hitoshi often uses random english words from time to time that most people usually don't use. Which is strange. It's also often wrongly used lol

  4. LOL @ Solid Snake!! Awesome.

  5. Hey, that's a very interesting blog entry :-).
    You should do more of these, it's quite educational!

  6. yeah i agree with scattie, "rugged" would probably be the closest english equivalent.

    1. Hmmm I've slightly updated the post a bit to address this. Hope it makes

  7. Thanks for teaching me a new word!
    How about distinguished, classic, vintage, stately, seasoned... errm that's all I can think of atm. I don't think stately or distinguished have to be old per se.

  8. If you look at Katherine Hepburn in the '30's, then look at her in the movie, A Lion in Winter. She became shibui. Same with a young Julie Christie versus the way she looks in the movie, Away From Her. In youth they're both beautiful, but in maturity, they're still beautiful, but far more interesting and textured.

    1. Ahh right yeah.
      Except I haven't really heard this word being used for females that much.
      Probably because Japanese females mainly want to look cute or whatever.

  9. It's a troublesome word to understand for me. I hear it a lot in Japanese TV, but I can never really understand what it means.

    Some tried to define it as:

    "Events, performances, people or objects that are beautiful in a direct and simple way, without being flashy. "

    But that doesn't even take into account different BEHAVIOURS, which can also be said to be 'shibui'.

    A good example, that the blog posts about this word usually do not cover:

    - An 'idol' called Fujimoto Miki once said in a TV program called "Utaban", to Ishibashi Takaaki (a humorous guy from 'Tunnels'), "Shibuuuuui!", clearly despising his behaviour laughingly. This happened after Ishibashi gave an example of how he thought Fujimoto should have behaved in a situation - an example of behaviour that Fujimoto would never have engaged in. I think someone tried to translate it as "That's so grim!" or something. But I am not satisfied with that. And these blog entries do not seem to ever take such an eventuality into account with their explanations about "taste" (this certainly wasn't about 'taste').

    I still don't know what Fujimoto meant to say by uttering that word. And looking at these blog posts and dictionaries, and all the attempts to explain the word (that I have run into so far), I don't think I ever will.

    1. Yeah, it's an interesting word.
      I've found that even natural Japanese people have a bit of trouble explaining it.

      Well I haven't seen that particular video so I can't really comment much on it.
      Do you have a link to the clip or something?