The Japanese word HANA is spelled はな in Hiragana. This word can actually mean a couple different things, which can be confusing to anyone who is just starting out with the language. So what does hana mean in Japanese?
The short answer is that it can mean either flower or nose, depending on the context surrounding it.
You would think that since they are spelled with the same kana, that there would be a difference in the pitch-path (tonality) that each word uses as an easy way to tell them apart.
Unfortunately, there is not. They sound identical and are both pronounced with a rising intonation starting with は and ending with な.
So let’s take a look at the different kanji (thank goodness!) so that reading will be no problem. And then perhaps some examples to help learn when it means one thing over the other when spoken.
When Does HANA Mean a Flower in Japanese?
The Japanese word for flower is spelled with the kanji 花 (hana).
When it comes to knowing that はな (hana) means flower when you hear it, you’ll just have to pay attention what is being said about it.
For example, take a look at this phrase:
- May I have the yellow and red flowers please?
kiiro to aka no hana o kudasai.
Now obviously you know it’s flowers when you read it, but even if you were to hear it spoken, it would really only make sense that はな (hana) in this phrase means flowers.
Because if someone had actually said “May I have the yellow and red noses please?” then you would be dealing with a crazy person!
Unless they were buying supplies for clown costumes… See? You just have to know the context to be 100% sure what it means.
Did you know that there is actually a famous Japanese proverb that uses the word 花 in it? Take a look at it below:
hana yori dango
It literally says “Dumplings, rather than flowers” but what it means is that you should put practical things first, over aesthetics.
So if a family has five kids and they need a new vehicle, this expression could be used to say “let’s get a useful minivan, rather than a nice looking sports car.”
You will no doubt hear the word はな as a part of a larger word. These are known as “Compound words” since they are constructed by using multiple kanji. I’ve chosen a few for you to see, just in case you hear them used.
Some compound words that use 花 are:
- 花見 (hanami) = Flower viewing
- 花火 (hanabi) = Fireworks
- 花嫁 (hanayome) = Bride
- 花びら (hanabira) = Flower pedal
- 花束 (hanataba) = Bouquet
Now let’s get to the other word for hana:
When Does HANA Mean a Nose in Japanese?
The Japanese word for nose is spelled with the kanji 鼻 (hana).
Again, when you hear this word spoken in a full sentence, you will have to see if it makes more sense to interpret “hana” as either flower or nose.
- I have a stuffy nose.
hana ga tsumatte iru.
This is one of the things that makes the Japanese language so interesting. You have to wait to the end of a phrase in order to understand it as a whole.
If you were listening to it, then after hearing just the first part of “hana ga…” you still wouldn’t know if the other person was talking about noses or flowers.
Unless you could see them and they were pointing to their nose or something.
Here is an idiom that involves the nose. You will hear it used to describe how a person is:
hana ga takai
It literally says “a high nose” but what it really means is that someone is a proud or boastful type of person.
Some compound words that use 鼻 are:
- 鼻血 (hanaji) = Nose bleed
- 鼻水 (hanamizu) = Runny nose
- 鼻紙 (hanagami) = Facial tissue paper
- 鼻声 (hanagoe) = Nasal voice
- 鼻歌 (hanauta) = Humming
What Other Word Sounds Pretty Similar to HANA?
A common word you will hear and use is 話 (hanashi) which has the same first two syllables as the words we just learned above. 話 (hanashi) can mean talk; speech; or story depending on the particular context of the dialog.
But when it’s used as a verb, it is spelled as 話す (hana.su) and it means to talk in Japanese. In this situation, the 話 part is actually identical to the words for flower and nose.
But there’s probably not a huge chance that you will confuse it, since it will always have some kind of verb conjugation attached to it. I just thought it was worth mentioning.
Know of any other words that はな (hana) can mean? Let me know your thoughts with a comment below!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: