What is Japanese for Death? And Why The Number 4?

If you watch a lot of action anime or read a lot of fantasy manga, then you’re definitely going to run into some Japanese words like kill, die, death and so on. What is Japanese for Death? The short answer is (shi).

Not only does it get used to say things like “you killed my father!” but it also gets combined with other words to form new compounds like 死神 (shini gami) for death-god (Death Note anyone?).

Let’s take a look at the of ways (shi) gets used and some of the other words that usually go along with it.

How to Use 死 (shi) And Other Related Words

The simple way to say “to die” is 死ぬ (shinu) in the casual form and 死にます (shinimasu) in the polite form. These both follow the basic rules for conjugation into either the negative or the past forms.

Some phrases that you’re likely to encounter when reading manga are:

  • death and the number four in japanese死んじゃいやぁ!
    (shin ja iyaa!)
    Don’t die!


  • 死んでくれ!
    (shinde kure)


  • 死ねーっ!!!


  • これから死ぬぞ、お前!
    (korekara shinu zo, omae!)
    You are just about to die!

The word 殺す (korosu) means “to kill.” So you might hear in an anime some of these:

  • こいつは…僕が殺す!
    (koitsu wa… boku ga korosu!)
    This guy… I’ll kill him!

Or an evil king might say something along the lines of:

  • 歯向かうヤツを殺す!
    (hamukau yatsu o korosu!)
    I’ll kill whoever defies me!

When the king’s guards show up, the main character might reply with:

  • 僕を殺しに来たんだろう?
    (boku o koroshi ni kita n darou?)
    You’ve come to kill me, haven’t you?

Of course not everyone wants to kill. Sometimes they just need to hash things out with a good fight. Like you do with your main rival.

  • 今…我々は戦う!
    (ima… wareware wa tataku!)
    Now… We fight!

Here are some compound words that are pretty common to see that use :

  • 死体 (shitai) = Dead body; Corpse
  • 死後 (shingo) = After death
  • 死者 (shinsha) = Casualty
  • 死神 (shinigami) = Death god; Reaper
  • 死滅 (shimetsu) = Extinction; Annihilation
  • 死人 (shinin) = Corpse; Dead person

What is the Deal with the Number 4?

In English, we typically associate the number 13 with bad luck. I remember being in an apartment complex once that didn’t even have a “13th floor” because nobody would want to stay there! It just went from floor 12, to floor 14!

Likewise, the Japanese people tend to avoid the number 4. Why is that though? I mean, the kanji for the number four is which doesn’t look like the kanji for death at all. Take a look at the picture below to figure out why:

As you can see, the word for “death” and the word for the number “four” sound exactly the same in Japanese! No wonder they tend to avoid it. But if they don’t like it, then why are those words pronounced the same way?

Well as it turns out, the Japanese language has multiple words for each of the numbers 1-10. The number four in particular actually has three different ways to pronounce it depending on how it is used. They are よ (yo), よん (yon), and of course し (shi).

よ (yo) and よん (yon) are both the Kun’yomi of the number four, which means that they are from the original Japanese language. But し (shi) is actually the On’yomi reading of it, which is the version that came into the Japanese language from the Chinese language when they imported all of their Kanji to establish a writing system in Japanese.

So there you go. It was the Chinese, lol! (¬‿¬)

What do you think of the number four sharing the same pronunciation as the word death? Know of any other words that share the same pronunciation? Let me know with a comment below!

4 thoughts on “What is Japanese for Death? And Why The Number 4?”

  1. I love Japan! I plan to travel there in the near future.
    It’s always nice to know a little bit extra information about the Japanese culture. Do they has Friday the 4th? lol
    I am a great fan of anime as well. Death Note was awesome, although I didn’t quite like the end (but I won’t reveal why to avoid spoilers).
    Reading through the article it’s funny to stumble upon some really common phrases, it gave me flashbacks to scenes from several anime series 🙂

    • Yeah I totally know what you mean Jacob. Pretty much all of my friends who enjoy anime want to visit Japan! It’s a like a rite of passage for the anime fanatics, lol!

      Death Note was pretty sweet! Although, I agree that I did not like the ending of the first season. Have you seen the live action moves that they did? They are pretty good and they actually changed up the story a little so that die hard fans would have some new stuff to watch.

      Plus I heard that there is a new Death Note movie coming out in America in English! Should be pretty cool I think.


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