What is the Japanese Word for Tiger? Learn it, and the Sound Tigers Make!

Yesterday we went over the Japanese word for dragon. So I thought that today I would continue with that theme for new words. This time it’s all about tigers! But unlike dragons, the tiger is an animal that you can check out in a zoo, or perhaps in the jungle if you’re not so lucky!

So what is the Japanese word for tiger you may ask?

Well, there are actually a couple of them! Of course! 🙂 There is the native word that is used most often, but there are also a few others that are loan words for specific types of tigers.

Let’s check them out!

(tora) – Tiger

The common word for “tiger” in Japanese is  (tora). This can be used pretty much indiscriminately whenever you are talking about these apex predators.

The population of tigers is said to be slightly below 4,000 across the whole world. Unfortunately there’s not very many of them left, due to a lot of their natural habitats being destroyed and also due to poaching.

Still, tigers play a pretty big part in a lot of Asian mythology. Just like the dragon, the tiger is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.

Do you know the Japanese word for Dragon? Click here to learn it!

Take a look at the original kanji for tiger, back when the Chinese used to write on bone:

Chinese character Shang oracle 虎 hu3 tiger
Original Kanji for Tiger

And here is what it looks like now:

current tora kanji
Current kanji for tiger

In this pictograph that is used nowadays for “tiger”, the top and middle part of it  is used to represent the head of the tiger. The body of the tiger has been removed, and the legs/tail were changed into  .

I don’t really see it, but that’s the answer I found when I researched it myself. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Some compound words that use the kanji for tiger include:

  • 虎穴 (koketsu) = Tiger’s din
  • 虎口 (kokō) = Jaws of death
  • 虎猫 (tora neko) = Tabby cat
  • 虎斑 (torafu) = Tiger’s stripes
  • 虎児 (koji) = Tiger cub
  • 虎髭 (tora hige) = Bristly beard (lit. “tiger beard”)
  • 虎皮 (kohi) = Tiger fur

Loan Words for Tiger

I’ve got three different loan words for you, and they’re all easy to learn. The first one is タイガー (taigā) and it refers generically to any kind of tiger.

The second one is ホワイトタイガー (howaito taigā) and it’s obviously used for white tigers. Personally, I’ve always thought that white tigers looked the coolest!

Confession time! I used to have a doll of one that I would always sleep with when I was a kid. I WOULD still have it, but my little sister claimed it a while ago and there’s no hope of me getting it back any time soon 🙁

And the last loan word for tiger is ストロベリータイガー (sutoroberī  taigā). This is the Japanese word for Strawberry Tigers. What exactly is a “Strawberry Tiger” you ask?

Well, it is also known as a “Golden Tiger” and the reason why it’s called that, is because it has a color variation that is caused by a recessive gene. It doesn’t have that dark orange color that a typical tiger has. Here’s a picture of one:

Is it bad that I never knew these existed until I came across the Japanese word for them? Ai yai yai!

What Sound Does a Japanese Tiger Make?

In English a tiger would GROWL and ROAR when it challenges anything trying to take it’s dinner away! But what if that Tiger never learned English? What if he only knew Japanese?

Well, then he would say がオー! (gaō!)

That is the sound he would make when he roars, but when it comes to the Japanese word for “to roar” there are actually a few different ones.

It depends on what specifically is doing the roaring. There is a word for when a machine roars, there is a word for a “roar of laughter” and there is a word for when an animal roars.

The noun for “an animal roar” is 吠え声 (hoegoe) and the verb for an animal “to roar” is 吠える (hoeru).

And now you know the different Japanese words for “tiger” and how to roar like one!

Now it’s your turn! Which type of tiger do you like the most? Have you ever seen a Strawberry Tiger in real life before? Let me know in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “What is the Japanese Word for Tiger? Learn it, and the Sound Tigers Make!”

  1. I learnt (a very little!) bit of Japanese when we had the chance to take a term’s lessons in 6th form at school. I found it fascinating learning about the different characters and how they had been put together.

    They are so lovely to look at too, it’s a very pretty language! Unfortunately, I never continued, but I wold love to visit Japan one day and learn a little bit more!

    • Hey Louise that is super cool that you got to do that when you were in school! And yeah, the Japanese written language is pretty cool for us Westerners since it doesn’t use letters at all and is totally different from English.


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