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Star constellations in Japanese

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Ancient Japanese constellations

The Japanese were a sea-faring and farming race from times of old. They used the stars to navigate the seas and understand the seasons better.

There are old Japanese names for the constellations although they are less known and less used now as the more universal Western names are used more.

In this blog by JOI professional teacher Mizuno sensei, she explains some interesting roots of Japanese constellation names. Read and watch this blog to learn Japanese and much more for free at JOI !

Star constellations in Japanese


By MIZUNO Momoyo


何の絵でしょう。2つの絵は、実は同じものを表しています。左は、「オリオン座 Orion, the Hunter」ですね。右の女性が肩に載せているものは日本の伝統的な打楽器で、といいます。


鼓の形とオリオン座を比べてみてください。オリオンの両肩、腰のベルト、衣服模る星 と、鼓の形はそっくりではありませんか。オリオン座は、日本では古くから「鼓星(つづみぼし)」と呼ばれています。


この星は、夏の夜空主役「さそり座 the Scorpion」です。サソリの形を思い浮かべると、誰もが納得する名前だと思います。さて、古い日本名は何でしょう。



the Great Bear

この星座は、「北斗七星」と言います。大熊座(おおぐまざ the Great Bear / the Big Dipper)の一部ですね。7つの星を結ぶと「柄杓(ひしゃく dipper)」の形に見えることから、古い日本は「柄杓星(ひしゃくぼし)です。この名前は、なんとアメリカでも同じですね。そして、柄杓の先に北極星(ほっきょくせい the North Star)があります。北極星は航海に大切な星ですから、「舵星(かじぼし)」と言われています。「」は船の進む方向を決めるハンドルのことです。


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何(なん)の絵(え)でしょう。2つの絵(え)は、実(じつ)は同(おな)じものを表(あらわ)しています。左(ひだり)は、「オリオン座(ざ) Orion, the Hunter」ですね。右(みぎ)の女性(じょせい)が肩(かた)に載(の)せているものは日本(にほん)の伝統的(でんとうてき)な打楽器(だがっき)で、鼓(つづみ)といいます。


この星(ほし)は、夏(なつ)の夜空(よぞら)主役(しゅやく)「さそり座(ざ) the Scorpion」です。サソリの形(かたち)を思(おも)い浮(う)かべると、誰(だれ)もが納得(なっとく)する名前(なまえ)だと思(おも)います。さて、古(ふる)い日本名(にほんめい)は何(なん)でしょう。


この星座(せいざ)は、「北斗七星(ほくと しちせい)」と言(い)います。大熊座(おおぐまざ the Great Bear / the Big Dipper)の一部(いちぶ)ですね。7つ(ななつ)の星(ほし)を線(せん)で結(むす)ぶと「柄杓(ひしゃく dipper)」の形(かたち)に見(み)えることから、古(ふる)い日本名(にほんめい)は「柄杓星(ひしゃくぼし)」です。この名前(なまえ)は、なんとアメリカでも同(おな)じですね。

そして、柄杓(ひしゃく)の先(さき)に北極星(ほっきょくせい the North Star)があります。北極星(ほっきょくせい)は航海(こうかい)に大切(たいせつ)な星(ほし)ですから、「舵星(かじぼし)」と言(い)われています。「舵(かじ)」は船(ふね)の進(すす)む方向(ほうこう)を決(き)めるハンドルのことです。


Star constellations in Japanese

What do you think these pictures are ? Actually both pictures are representing the same thing. The left one shows Orion the Hunter, right ? And the woman on the right is holding a Japanese traditional percussion instrument on her shoulder known as a Tsuzumi or hand drum.

Please compare the shape of the Tsuzumi drum and the Orion constellation. Don't you think that the stars that make up Orion's shoulders, his belt, and the hem of his clothes are the same shape as the Tsuzumi drum ? The Orion constellation, was known as the Tsuzumi constellation in Japan through the ages.

These stars play a leading role in the night sky in the summer, they form the Scorpio constellation. The fact that they call to mind the shape of a scorpion means that everyone can understand the reason for the name. But what do you think it was called in ancient Japan ?

In Japan it was sometimes known as the Tsuri Boshi or the Uo Tsuri Boshi or fishing constellation in English. This is because the shape resembles a fishing hook.

This constellation is known as the Plough it is part of the Great Bear constellation or Big Dipper. If you connect the 7 stars with a line, it looks like the shape of a hishaku water ladle or dipper, and in ancient Japan it was known as the 'Hishaku' star. Amazingly the Japanese name was the same one as the English language one.

And at the end of the Dipper you can find the North Star. The North Star was important for navigation, and so was known as the 'Kaji' star. A 'Kaji' is the steering wheel-like handle used to guide the direction of ships.

There are surely some names for stars that were used in the old days in your countries too. If you compare the Western names and the Japanese names, you might make some new discoveries.

載(の)せる:to put/place something on ~

打楽器(だがっき):percussion instrument

鼓(つづみ):hand drum (used in traditional Japanese music )

比(くら)べる:to compare

両肩(りょうかた):both shoulders


裾(すそ):hem, bottom

模る(かたどる):to make in the shape of ~

古(ふる)くから:through the ages, since long ago

夜空(よぞら):night sky

主役(しゅやく):the leading character


思(おも)い浮(う)かべる:to call something to mind

納得(なっとく)する:to understand, to accept




線(せん)で結(むす)ぶ: to join (the stars) with a line

航海(こうかい):navigation, sea voyage

舵(かじ):steering wheel



西洋(せいよう):Western countries



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