Since the Japanese language is rather limited on sounds, it ends up having a lot of different words that all share the same pronunciation. Basically, there are a lot of different words that are all pronounced as “kata.”
So what does KATA mean in Japanese? I’m going to give you several answers that primarily rely upon the kanji that each one utilizes, and also the way that they appear in context.
Both of these things are important to recognize in order to fully understand the word’s meaning. Let’s start with the simplest ones first.
It Can Mean The Body Part “Shoulder”
You’ve got a shoulder, and I’ve got a shoulder right? Well, hopefully we both still have the two we were born with!
In Japanese, the word 肩 (かた) means “shoulder” when referring to the part of the body that connects your arm to your neck and torso.
This word is pretty easy to understand and would probably appear in a number of common sentences like either of the following:
My shoulder hurts.
To be relieved of responsibility (Lit. the shoulders become light). This is a Japanese proverb.
- 肩 (かた) = shoulder
- 痛 (いた) = painful
- 軽 (かる) = light (in weight)
It Can Mean A Model Or Type Of Goods
Another rather common word for かた is 型. This word means “model; pattern; style; etc.” and is usually combined with another word like any of the following:
ハート型のイヤリング = heart shaped earings
99年型ポルシェ = 1999 model Porsche
B型の血液 = blood type B
When reading Japanese, it should be immediately clear when this is the particular use of かた since you can just recognize the kanji, but if you’re listening to people speak, then try to see what words came right before かた to see if this translation makes sense.
It Can Be A Formal Way To Address Someone
If I had to pick which kanji for かた was used most often, it would definately be this one: 方.
When used as a noun it is often used to mean “person” in a very polite way. It has the same meaning for person as 人 (ひと) does, it just shows more respect.
Also, 方 doesn’t distinguish between man or woman, so it can be used for either. In English, it might be similar to referring to a person as a gentleman or a lady.
That lady is Ms. Tanaka.
It can also be used to pluralize certain nouns in much the same way that 達 (たち) can:
- 先生 (せんせい) = can mean either teacher or teachers, not totally specific.
- 先生方 (せんせいがた) = this specifically means teachers (plural).
Again, the 方 makes it a more polite, respectful version of the word.
It Can Mean A Way Or Method Of Doing Something
The reason I said that the kanji 方 gets used the most is because in addition to all of the stuff above, it can also be used to describe a particular way or method of doing something.
This gets combined with a verb to form a common pattern, which is the giveaway that it has this meaning. Let’s take a look at it now:
- 書き方 (かきかた) = way of writing
- 読み方 (よみかた) = way of reading
I’ll teach you how to write. (Lit. I will teach you the way of writing, as a favor.)
How do you say this kanji? (Lit. what is the way of reading this kanji?)
Takashi’s manner of speech [way of talking] sure is awkward, dontcha think?
Possibly, It Can Still Mean Something Else
I’ve gone over the most common meanings for “kata” in Japanese, but you could probably find some lesser used ones by searching for them in a Japanese dictionary if you wanted to.
If you’ve run into a sentence that uses かた in it, and none of the above explanations make sense for it, drop it down in the comments below and let me know.
I’d love to check it out!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: