The modern Japanese color lexicon

Ichiro Kuriki, Ryan Lange, Yumiko Muto, Angela M. Brown, Kazuho Fukuda, Rumi Tokunaga, Delwin T. Lindsey, Keiji Uchikawa, Satoshi Shioiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Despite numerous prior studies, important questions about the Japanese color lexicon persist, particularly about the number of Japanese basic color terms and their deployment across color space. Here, 57 native Japanese speakers provided monolexemic terms for 320 chromatic and 10 achromatic Munsell color samples. Through k-means cluster analysis we revealed 16 statistically distinct Japanese chromatic categories. These included eight chromatic basic color terms (aka/red, ki/ yellow, midori/green, ao/blue, pink, orange, cha/brown, and murasaki/purple) plus eight additional terms: mizu ("water")/light blue, hada ("skin tone")/peach, kon ("indigo")/dark blue, matcha ("green tea")/yellow-green, enji/maroon, oudo ("sand or mud")/mustard, yamabuki ("globeflower")/gold, and cream. Of these additional terms, mizu was used by 98% of informants, and emerged as a strong candidate for a 12th Japanese basic color term. Japanese and American English color-naming systems were broadly similar, except for color categories in one language (mizu, kon, teal, lavender, magenta, lime) that had no equivalent in the other. Our analysis revealed two statistically distinct Japanese motifs (or color-naming systems), which differed mainly in the extension of mizu across our color palette. Comparison of the present data with an earlier study by Uchikawa & Boynton (1987) suggests that some changes in the Japanese color lexicon have occurred over the last 30 years.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Color category
  • Color name
  • Japanese color terms
  • Motifs
  • k-means analysis


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