Some people love them, and some people hate them. But no matter what you think of them, bugs are everywhere… including in Japan! And to talk about them, you gotta’ know how. So, what is the Japanese word for bug?
I’m going to be going into depth on our creepy crawly friends (or foes!) and provide you with plenty of useful vocabulary when dealing with them.
I mean, if somebody yells out (in Japanese) that there’s a spider on your shoulder, that’s probably a message that you want to understand! Right?!
How to Say Bug or Insect in Japanese
The Japanese word for bug is 「むし」 and it uses the kanji 虫 in writing. You should take this time now to become very familiar with this particular character because it is going to appear a lot in the different names of bugs.
It will show up as a part of larger compound words, like 亀虫 「かめむし」 for shield bug, and it will also appear as a component (or radical) in new kanji, such as 蛍 「ほたる」 for firefly.
A word that is closely related to bug is “insect” and the Japanese word for it is 昆虫 「こんちゅう」 which you will no doubt have noticed uses the kanji 虫 in the second half of the word, but with a different reading this time.
Something else you will see occasionally is the kanji 蟲 which shares the same basic reading as 虫 「むし」 and also the same meaning, but the primary difference is that 蟲 is a little more archaic, so it is used less often.
The first time I saw it was in anime mushi-shi, but in that particular context it didn’t mean “bug” so much as it was used to refer to a special species of creatures that the show centered around. It was actually really good, so I highly recommend checking it out if you get the chance.
There is also the English load word バグ, but this actually refers to a programming error (or computer bug) and not the millions and billions of eight legged freaks that haunt your bedroom.
I know, I know… Technically, spiders are not bugs since they are arachnids not insects. Potato, topaydow.
Alright, are you ready to hop into some Japanese bug names?
Various Japanese Names for Bugs
So here is a list that I have amassed of common bugs names in Japanese, their appropriate kanji, and of course the English translation so you can learn them now.
One of the things I should mention is that, even though these all have kanji, it’s not uncommon for them to be written in katakana instead, since it helps to make the word pop out in manga and such.
So be sure to also pay attention to the reading of it since that might be what you see more often.
Bugs that only use one kanji:
蛍 「ほたる」 firefly
蠅 「はえ」 fly
蚊 「か」 mosquito
蝶 「ちょう」 butterfly
蟻 「あり」 ant
蝉 「せみ」 locust
蜂 「はち」 bee
蚤 「のみ」 flea
虱 「しらみ」 lice
Bugs that use two kanji:
亀虫 「かめむし」 shield bug
蟋蟀 「こおろぎ」 cricket
蜘蛛 「くも」 spider
蜻蛉 「とんぼ」 dragonfly
蟷螂 「かまきり」 praying mantis
家蠅 「いえばえ」 housefly
蠕虫 「ぜんちゅう」 worm
甲虫 「かぶとむし」 rhinoceros beetle
百足 「むかで」 centipede
床虱 「とこじらみ」 bed bug
Bugs that don’t fall into the above two categories:
てんとう虫 「むし」 ladybug
網翅目 「もうしもく」 cockroach
等翅目 「とうしもく」 termites
Did you notice just how many times the kanji 虫 appeared in the above list of bugs? Quite a few!
Some Example Sentences You Might Find Useful
It’s almost always better to study new words within the context of a full sentence. This allows you to gain at least one understanding of a situation where it is used.
Sometimes a word will have several potential meanings to them, and you really have to pay attention to the context in order to gain the correct meaning.
For example, the Japanese word for the bug “fly” has two potential meanings:
- 蠅「はえ」1. fly 2. person of no worth
So here are a few sentences for you to enjoy.
Sometimes bugs come into my room.
An insect has six legs.
A mantis has sharp scythes.
蝶 – 昆虫の名。
Butterfly – The name of an insect.
I am scared of spiders!
How to Count Bugs
You are probably familiar with the concept of “counters” in Japanese, but if not then you can read about them quickly by clicking on this link.
The particular counter used to count bugs is 匹 「ひき」 which has some phonetic changes depending on the number that comes immediately before it. Here’s a list of them all now, both the normal readings and the ones that change:
- １匹 「いっぴき」
- ２匹 「にひき」
- ３匹 「さんびき」
- ４匹 「しひき」
- ５匹 「ごひき」
- ６匹 「ろっぴき」
- ７匹 「しちひき」
- ８匹 「はっぴき」
- ９匹 「きゅうひき」
- １０匹 「じゅっぴき」
Hopefully you’ll never need to count how many bugs you see scurry under your bed when you turn on the lights!
If you know of any other names for bugs in Japanese, be sure to share them down below and I’ll add them to the list!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: