In this word and vocabulary lesson, I am going to tell you how to say “death” in Japanese. As usual, the Japanese language has a bunch of words and kanji that mean “death“, “decease“, or “passing away“. So in this blog post, we are going to discuss the 6 most common ones, their exact translations, and in which situations they can and cannot be used.
The basic Japanese word and kanji for “death” are “shi” and “死”. However, when talking about the passing of a beloved person the words “shikyo” (死去) and “eimin” (永眠) are more commonly used, while when referring to the passing of another person the more respectful “seikyo” (逝去) is more appropriate.
Read on, if you want to know every little detail about the words mentioned above, as well as the other two words that are often used for “death” in Japanese. Further down below, you can also learn how to say “angel of death” and “(grim) reaper” in Japanese shining a light on the famous (or infamous) “shinigami“.
How to Say “Death” in Japanese
- shi – 死
- shibou – 死亡
- shikyo – 死去
- shibotsu – 死没
- eimin – 永眠
- seikyo – 逝去
1. Shi – Basic Word and Kanji for “Death” in Japanese
Shi (死) is the basic word and kanji for “death” in Japanese but it can also be translated as “decease“. In hiragana, it is written as し (shi). Due to its strong connotation with “dying” and negative emotions such as pain, grief, and sadness, it is not often used in everyday conversations, though.
2. Shibou – Neutral Word for “Death” or “Dying” in Japanese
The more formal, neutral, and objective way to say “death” or “dying” in Japanese is the word shibou (死亡). It is used when reporting about the passing of a specific person while the cause of death is still unknown or when reporting a number of deaths that were caused by an accident or a disaster.
Since shibou (死亡) sounds rather neutral and unemotional it is less often used for the death of a specific person, such as a family member, friend, relative, or a famous person. However, it is commonly encountered in newspapers, the news, and reports about people who died in accidents or disasters.
3. Shikyo – Means “(Sad) Death” or “Passing Away”
The Japanese word shikyo (死去) translates as “(sad) death“, “decease“, or “passing away“. It implies that the life of an individual has come to an end and that this person is no longer among us in the land of the living. You should use this word when talking about the passing of someone dear to you.
4. Shibotsu – Formal Way to Say “Death” (Written Japanese)
Shibotsu (死没) is a very formal way to say “death” in Japanese. It is as objective and neutral as the word shibou (死亡), but even more formal. That is why it is most commonly used in written or literary language and not used when referring to the death of a related person or someone dear to you.
5. Eimin – Translates as “Eternal Sleep” or “Death”
Eimin (永眠) translates as “eternal sleep” or “death” and is a politer word that is used when talking about or referring to someone’s death in Japanese. It can be used when notifying others about the death of a beloved family member, a beloved pet, or any other person you respect deeply.
6. Seikyo – Very Respectful Way to Say “Death” in Japanese
Seikyo (逝去) is a very polite word and respectful way to say “death” in Japanese. It is never used to refer to the death of a family member or a relative. It can only be used for the passing of another person like your former teacher, a coworker, or when mourning the death of a famous person.
death (very respectful and polite)
passing (very respectful and polite)
“Angel of Death” in Japanese
There are 3 words that you can use to say “angel of death” in Japanese: shi no tenshi (死の天使), shima (死魔), and shinigami (死神). The first one, shi no tenshi (死の天使) is the most literal translation of the English expression, while shinigami (死神) is the Japanese personification of death or a death god.
- shi no tenshi – 死の天使
- shima – 死魔
- shinigami – 死神
Shi no tenshi (死の天使) literally translates as “angel of death” or “angels of death“. The first part “shi” (死, し) is the basic Japanese word and kanji for “death“, “no” (の) is a particle that translates as “of“, and tenshi (天使, てんし) is the Japanese word for “angel” or also “angels“.
shi no tenshi
angel of death
Shima (死魔) can be translated as “angel of death“, but it actually means “demon of death“. While the first kanji shi (死) means “death”, the second kanji ma (魔), is the Japanese word and kanji for “demon”, devil, evil spirit, and any other kind of evil influence. However, the concept is the same.
angel of death
demon of death
The most traditional and original way to refer to an “angel of death” in Japanese is the word shinigami (死神). While it means “angel of death“, it is more accurately translated as “god of death“, “death deity“, “Death“, or “(Grim) Reaper“.
angel of death
god of death
“(Grim) Reaper” in Japanese
The two most accurate words for “reaper” or the “Grim Reaper” in Japanese are shinigami (死神) and the English loanword Riipaa (リーパー). You should use the word shinigami (死神) when talking about a personification of death or a death god and riipaa (リーパー) when specifically talking about the western one.
- shinigami – 死神
- riipaa – リーパー
As previously discussed, shinigami (死神) are (death) gods or supernatural spirits that invite humans toward death or guide souls into the world of the dead. They are used for tales and Japanese religion, and are often depicted in Japanese culture like in the popular anime “Death Note” and “Bleach“.
god of death
The Japanese word riipaa (リーパー) is an English loanword that translates as “reaper“. It can be used in Japanese to refer to the “Grim Reaper” or any other similar western personification of Death.
“To Die” in Japanese
The Japanese word for “to die” is shinu (死ぬ), but it can also be translated as “to pass away“. On top of that, it can also mean “to lose spirit“, “to lose vigor“, or “to look dead“. In anime, you can often hear characters yell the phrase “Shine!” (死ね！), which translates as “Die!” or “Drop dead!“
to pass away