Japanese

Another Way to Say “Old Man” in Japanese

Back at the beginning of May, I talked about how to say old man in Japanese. But at that time I didn’t really go into depth on one particular way of doing it.

I saw it pop up in an old show that I was watching with a friend, and thought that I should talk more about it my original post on the topic, but it ended up being way too long for a simple revision so I just decided to publish it as its own post.

Does that mean I talk too much?

You can read the original article by clicking this link.

Otherwise, here we go!

What Does Google Translate Say?

kanji for old man in japanese

If you entered in “old man” in a Google search bar, then chances are you would see this picture:

The word 老人 (roujin) means “old man” in Japanese and it’s created by taking the kanji for “old age” () and combining it with the kanji for “person” ().

Even though means person, it often gets translated as man. Perhaps there’s some historical reason for this? I don’t know, but if you see 老人, you might want to think “old man” rather than “old person” as the correct interpretation.

I’ve also seen just the kanji (rou) translated as “old man” kind of like an abbreviated version of the word.

It was when I was watching an older anime (in English) called Outlaw Star. There was an old pirate who used tracking magic on a space ship so that he could follow the main character across the galaxy. The symbol of his magic was and then a translation popped up on the screen that said “old man.”

On a side note, I also find the pronunciation of 老人 interesting when compared to the Japanese word 浪人 (rounin) which is a masterless samurai who wanders the land.

Both words are the same when it comes to how you pronounce the fist kanji (ろう) but the kanji themselves are different ( vs. ). Whereas the second halves of both words use the same kanji (), but pronounce it differently (じん vs. にん).

That’s one of the reasons why I feel like the method of study used by most books on kanji is a little impractical. They will give you a kanji and all of its possible sayings. But that doesn’t really help you out when a kanji has multiple possibilities.

Imagine that you knew all of the correct readings for and then you ran into these two words without ever having seen them before:

  • 老人
  • 浪人

You would still have to look up each word in order to know how to say the part correctly. I think this is probably due to the fact that the Japanese language existed for so long without any sort of written counterpart.

Eventually they imported China’s writing system and did what they could to make it fit with the Japanese language.

I think that if you were already fluent in spoken Japanese when you started learning how to read it (like how Japanese kids are), then you probably wouldn’t run into this problem. But most English speaking natives learn how to speak and how to read Japanese at about the same time.

But I digress! You just wanted to know about old men, right?

Vocabulary Using 老

  • 老人 (roujin) = Old man
  • 老医師 (rouishi) = Old doctor
  • 老婦人 (roufujin) = Old woman
  • 老後 (rougo) = Old age
  • 老いる (oiru) = To age; to grow old

What do you guys think? Why are there so many different ways to say “old man” in Japanese? Do we have something similar to that in English?

Leave comment below and let me know!

2 Comments

  • NathanG

    Well Nick, I suppose this old man just got another great lesson in Japanese! I certainly didn’t know Google had a translator for it (should have, they have everything!), but I would suspect it has limitations. Recently, I took a couple classes in Braille. Online translators often made errors. Just as there may be different dialects of Japanese, there have been different versions of Braille though there is a move for unification. Anyway, thank you for teaching this old man something new today!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Nathan, yeah I hear ya’ on the online-translators problem. I think that they are probably pretty good for the languages that most English speaking people study, like Spanish and French, but they are pretty bad for Japanese in particular (interesting that it’s also bad with Braille!).

      The problem with Google Translate and Japanese is that the language relies heavily on what is not said in conversations. You are expected to pay attention to what the other person has said earlier in the conversation, so that it doesn’t have to be repeated later on. And you are also expected to “read between the lines” and understand what the other person is implying as well. 

      With all of that taken into account, it is no wonder that a machine like Google gets it wrong when a person takes a sentence out of its context and plops it in there!

      BUT having said all of that, I think that Google Translate can still be good when you just want to look up an individual word. Also, whenever you type something into your Google search bar like “How to Say Master in Japanese” it will often times (but not always) have their own translation at the very top of the page.

      Sometimes it’s good that it’s there, but other times you will want to actually go to a person’t website so that you can not only learn the correct meaning of the word, but also the correct situations to use it in, and any other subtle nuances that come with it. 

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