Culture

What is Goku’s Symbol? Learn The Meaning in Japanese.

If you’re a fan of Dragon Ball Z, or any of the other Dragon Ball shows, then you’ve no doubt seen Goku’s iconic orange and blue clothing with a Japanese symbol on them. What is Goku’s Symbol? You will learn the meaning in Japanese in this article!

One thing before we get started that you might find interesting is that the type of clothing Goku wears is called a 着 (gi) which is a lightweight two-piece garment that is used when engaging in martial arts.

Usually the word 着 (gi) is tacked onto a type of martial arts. For example, 柔道着 (jūdogi) is the clothing worn for judo and 空手着 (karategi) is what’s worn for karate. I guess you could translate the word 着 (gi) to mean “uniform” in these contexts.

The Meaning of His First Symbol

The first symbol that Goku wears on his 着 (gi) is 亀 (kame) which means tortoise; turtle in Japanese. This makes a lot of sense when you think about the guy who he trained under as a kid: Master Roshi.

In the series, the old man Master Roshi is also known by another name: The Turtle Hermit. In Japanese, it’s spelled as 亀仙人 (kame sen nin) which of course has that same kanji that is on Goku’s clothes: 亀.

So you can see how the clothing that Goku wears shows the symbol of the person who he trained under.

It makes sense, right? Your uniforms show the organization or school that you belong to. It’s a pretty common thing.

This key insight will basically give away the meanings of the next two symbols he dons, which you will recognize if you watched Dragon Ball Z.

The Meaning of His Second Symbol

Goku wears the first symbol 亀 for the original series Dragon Ball and for the beginning of the second show Dragon Ball Z.

But if you remember, Goku dies in the beginning of Dragon Ball Z!

Spoilers, I know… But come on! That shows been out for forever now!!!

But that’s not the end of his story… Actually, no matter how many times this guys dies HE ALWAYS COMES BACK!

But I digress…

After he dies the first time, he decides to travel to King Kai’s little planet and train with him in order to get strong enough to fight the evil saiyans who are coming to earth.

King Kai’s Japanese name is 界王様 (kaiō-sama) which tells you a lot about him as a person, so long as you can read Japanese. Here’s a breakdown:

So you can see from his name that this guy is king of the world. Makes sense when you know the story.

Here’s where it gets interesting, King Kai’s symbol is actually his name 界王, but it’s stacked vertically instead of horizontal.

This makes sense for the Japanese written language which is normally written vertically as well.

Although in the show, the kanji have been altered so that they fill up the circle completely and look aesthetically pleasing… unlike the one I made above!

So when Goku trains under a new master, he gets a new symbol on his threads to reflect that fact.

The Meaning of His Third Symbol

Of course Goku and friends beat the bad guys and save the earth. But unfortunately, Piccolo dies this time!

And that of course means that Kami (his other half) also dies too!

Which means that Earth’s dragon balls disappear! No more wishes to bring back friends :'(

But wait! There are more balls!!!

Of course, once the gang learns about these other balls, they decide to go the planet Namek in order to find them and wish for their friends to be revived.

Most of the gang heads on out, but Goku has to stay behind and recover from the earlier fight. He got his butt kicked after all!

Eventually he heals up and gets his own space ship that is able to increase the gravity within it so that Goku can train under more intense conditions, and therefore grow stronger.

Goku basically just trains for days and days by himself and the increased gravity… Up to 10 times Earth’s normal gravity!

Then when he finally arrives at this destination, guess whose symbol he is wearing?

That’s right! His own!

The symbol 悟 (go) is the first half of Goku’s name. Now the student has become the master.

The Meaning of Goku’s Name and His Famous Energy Beam

Goku’s full name is spelled as 悟空 (gokū) which is comprised of two kanji that can each mean several things:

  1. 悟 : enlightment, perceive, discern, realize, understand
  2. 空 : empty, sky, void, vacant, vacuum

Knowing the above information, you can say that Goku’s name translates as “One who understands the Sky.”

But if you take a look at Goku’s full name, you see that it is 孫 悟空 (son gokū) which should hint to this character’s origins.

Goku is actually based off of Sun Wukong from the famous Chinese story Journey to the West.

Think of the similarities, right? He’s a monkey, he fights with a red pole, he flies around on a golden Nimbus cloud. You get the picture.

As for his famous attack move, how many of you also practiced yelling “Ka-me-ha-me-HAAAA!!!!!” when you were a kid?

What’s interesting is that, even though us English speakers just know it phonetically, it actually has some meaning behind it.

Akira Toriyama (the creator of Dragon Ball) was trying to come up with a “kame” attack for Master Roshi.

Remember that the word “kame” is the Japanese word for turtle 亀.

Toriyama’s wife suggested the name of the Hawaiian king “Kamehameha” for the name of the attack, as they had recently taken a trip to the islands.

Well, the name was PERFECT!

Take a look at how it is normally written in the manga: かめはめ波

  • That first part かめ means turtle.
  • The middle part はめ comes from the Japanese word 破滅 (hametsu) which means ruin; destruction.
  • The last part 波 (ha) is the kanji for wave.

Therefore, かめはめ波 (kame hame ha) means “Turtle Destruction Wave.”

Pretty Fricken Sweet!!!

Understanding Japanese Gives You Insights Like These

One of the original reasons I started learning Japanese was to gain access to awesome anime and manga that hadn’t been translated yet.

What I didn’t know then, that I absolutely love now, is that by knowing Japanese you actually gain a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the things from Japan, like Dragon Ball Z.

It’s just one of those situations where stuff gets lost in translation from one language to the other, since there’s not really a way to preserve it.

What are your thoughts on Goku? Which Dragon Ball series is your favorite?

Know of any other interesting insights that can only be understood from the Japanese version of things?

Leave a comment and let me know!

4 Comments

  • Josh Ellery

    Very interesting article you’ve got here. I think a lot of people question what that thing actually means on dragon ball z. All the symbols are so sophisticated man, if it was an english cartoon it would probably mean “the awesome dude” or something (not much honour in that). Are you a fan of dragon ball z yourself?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Heck yeah man, I grew up on Dragaon Ball Z and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing when I was a kid and they used to play them on Toonami every day.

      I remember that I used to watch Dragon Ball Z and it would start from the beginning when Gohan gets captured all the way to the point where they are on Namek fighting the Ginyu Force and Goku shows up to join the fight. 

      Then the whole series would reset!!!

      It drove me nuts as a kid and I watched that particular part of the series 3 or 4 times before, one day from heaven, the show actually continued and I finally got to watch Goku kick some butt and finish the season!

      Needless to say, Dragon Ball Z was THE ANIME that got me hooked on ’em.

  • Win Bill

    Dragon ball series used to be my favorite since I was little. Actually I have always known that dragon ball is related to journey to the west when I first watched it, because there are simply too many coincidences. Not to mention, I watched journey to the west first before I came into contact with dragon ball. I love the series even though there are no 72 transformations involved, the power pole is highly downgraded to merely a stick that extends. Nevertheless, the action gets me really excited especially when the main character powers up into different super Saiyan modes. One thing I do not like about the series is the recent development. Goku developed god mode and that is the peak of the super saiyan transformations. I am fine with that because it does not make sense to have infinite number of transformations. However, the the god mode seems very downgraded considering the fact that people from different universes like Toppo can easily counter him in that form. I mean come on, saiyans are a strong race. Nevertheless, not giving up on the series yet. How do you feel about all this?

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, I also grew up on the Dragon Ball shows. Although the furthest I got was at the end of Dragon Ball Z when they were fighting Kid Buu and doing all of that “fusion” stuff to get stronger.

      When it comes to the newest one, Dragon Ball 超 Super, I actually just picked up the first manga the other day and started reading it.

      I have to admit that I was also a little disappointing in the “god mode” for the super sayians. It seemed like they (Goku) received an awesome power, and then went ahead and lost the fight with it!!!

      Perhaps the ability gets better, later on in the story? I’ll have to keep reading to find out!

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