What Is The Japanese Word For Car?

Today’s lesson is all about cars! And if you’re reading this, then you are probably asking what is the Japanese word for car?

Well today I’m going to give you the answer. Many of them in fact!

I think we can all appreciate a nice classic car, a modern sports car, or even our own cars that have served us well through the years.

And if you want to be able to talk in Japanese about your car, or about someone else’s, then you’re going to need to know some vocabulary.

In addition to the common Japanese word for car, there are also some other ones that would be good to learn. Let’s start!

The Normal Japanese Word for Car

The normal Japanese word for car is 車 (kuruma) and when you take a look at the kanji, if you can squint your eyes just right, then you can actually see how it was originally a picture of a cart that they used back in the day to move goods.

In order to say that you own or have a car you can use the verb 持つ (motsu) which means “to have” in Japanese.

I have a car.


watashi wa kuruma o motte imasu.

Since cars fall under the classification of machines, when you want to count them you have to use the counter 台 (dai).

(We) bought a new car.


kuruma o ichi dai kaimashita.

In order to say that you are driving a car you will need to use the word 運転 (unten) which literally means something like “operation of a machine” but is pretty much the same thing as “drive” in English.

Now the word 運転 is one of those suru-verbs which means that you have to use する (suru) with it in order to correctly conjugate it into the form you need.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about:

My brother is driving his car.


otōto wa jibun no kuruma o unten shite imasu.

So now you know that 車 means car in Japanese, and you also know some of the common words that appear together with 車 in natural speech.

If you do nothing else, then be sure to memorize the words 持つ, 台, and 運転 so that you have a pretty good range of vocabulary when talking about your car.

There are of course other useful words you can learn that will help you to talk more about cards, like 停める (tomeru) for “to park” or 洗う (arau) for “to wash” and such.

If there’s a specific word or phrase you’re looking for, let me know down in the comments section and I’ll help you out!

English Loan Words For Car

I’ve been doing a lot of lessons on basic Japanese words lately on this blog. This article you’re reading right now is one of them!

And it seems like I always have a section dedicated to English loan words that they use in Japanese. Well, I’ve got another one for you now as well, lol.

The main difference however, is that there are actually quite a few words this time that come from English!

The basic one is カー (kā) and is pretty self explanatory. What’s interesting is how this basic word gets combined with some other English words that have been Japanified to create something new.

For example, we have such fine examples as レンタカー (rentakā) for “rental car” and スポーツカー (supōtsukā) for “sports car” and of course there is パトカー (patokā) which is an abbreviation for “patrol car” and mainly refers to police cars.

I don’t want to stray too far from today’s topic, but I thought it was worth mentioning the word ラック (torakku) for “truck” and also バイク (baiku) whch means “bike” when referring to a motorcycle.

Compound Words For Car

In Japanese, there are lots of compound words. In case you need a refresher, a compound word is simply a word in Japanese that used two or more kanji.

When it comes to talking about cars, compound words can give you specific insight into exactly what kind of a car we’re talking about. But there is something important that you must keep in mind.

I’m talking about the reading (or pronunciation) of the kanji 車 which changes from “kuruma” when it’s all by itself, to “sha” when it is combined with one or more kanji.

Perhaps the best way to learn this, is to see some words that use it.

The first two words we have are 新車 (shinsha) for “new car” and 中古車 (chūkosha) which means “used car.”

As you can see from both of those examples, 車 is read as “sha” at the end of each word. It will remain this way for all of these following examples as well.

Keeping with the theme of pairs of words, lets take a look at 日本車 (nihonsha) which is used specifically for cars of Japanese origin, and then 外車 (gaisha) for cars that are not of Japanese origin.

外車 literally means “foreign car,” but if you’re talking to a Japanese person, then they will most likely be referring to any non-Japanese car with this word.

The last two words for this part are 車両 (sharyō) which means a “wheeled vehicles” and can be used to talk about cars, and then 自動車 (jidōsha) which simply means “automobile” in Japanese and is often used in car company names.

You’ve probably heard of Toyota Motor Corporation and in Japanese it would be spelled トヨタ自動車 (toyota jidōsha).

Unusual Words That Can Mean Car

Before we end this lesson, I wanted to switch over to a couple of words you might run into that can also mean car. I’ve only ever seen them once or twice, but that might just be due to the types of material I like to read.

The first one is 小型車 (kogatasha) which means “compact car” and is used to refer to small sized cars that Japanese people are likely to own and drive.

There’s not a lot of room in Japan’s cities, so having a small car can be a nice thing for both yourself, and the other people on the road.

The second word is 乗り物 (norimono) which literally says “ride-thing” or “thing that you ride” in Japanese, but can be used to talk about vehicles in a general sense.

You can use it for car if you’d like, and people should know what you mean.

When 車 Does NOT Mean “Car”

By the way, just because you see a compound word with 車 in it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a type of car.

The other day I learned the word 機関車 (kikansha) for “locomotive” which is technically a “railway vehicle that provides the motive power for a train” according to Wikipedia.

Honestly, I didn’t know that at first. I thought that locomotive was just another word for car, but now I know better. I know the truth!!!

What other words for car do you know in Japanese? What kind of car would you love to own?

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