Japanese Food, Chinese Characters

Here’s a chart which incorporates illustrations of food into their Chinese character forms [Note: these are based on Japanese kanji, so not all apply equally to Chinese; see my notes below]:

Kanji + Food

Below are the characters involved, suped up with Sinosplice Tooltips for the readings of both the Chinese and Japanese (more notes at the bottom). I get the impression the English translations were not written by a native speaker, so I’ve added a few notes in brackets to clarify where appropriate.

English Japanese Chinese (traditional) Chinese (simplified)
apple 林檎 蘋果 苹果
grapes 葡萄 葡萄 葡萄
octopus 章魚 章鱼
lemon 檸檬 檸檬 柠檬
honey 蜂蜜 蜂蜜 蜂蜜
chicken 鶏肉 雞肉 鸡肉
eel 鰻魚 鳗鱼
[mandarin] orange 蜜柑 橘子 橘子
strawberry 草莓 草莓
weigh 量る 稱 (重量) 称 (重量)
bamboo [shoot]
shrimp ( / / )
sausage 腹詰 香腸 香肠
pork 豚肉 豬肉 猪肉
[sweet] dumpling 団子 圓子 圆子
root [= radish] 大根 蘿卜 萝卜
egg 雞蛋 鸡蛋
peach 桃子 桃子
eggplant 茄(子) 茄子 茄子
seaweed 海藻 海藻 海藻
onion (玉)葱 洋蔥 洋葱
saurel [mackerel?] 鯖魚 [?] 鲭鱼 [?]
mix 混ぜる 攪拌 搅拌
flatfish [flounder?] 鰈魚 [?] 鲽鱼 [?]
milk 牛乳 牛奶 牛奶
persimmon 柿子 柿子
drink 飲み物 飲料 饮料

Creating this table was a good exercise in both vocab comparison between Japanese and Chinese, and also simplified and traditional characters. A few things jumped out as I created the table above:

1. Many of the Japanese characters above are not normally written in characters (kanji). In modern Japan, many words like 林檎 (apple), (strawberry), and (shrimp) are often just written as “りんご,” “いちご,” and “えび,” respectively, in hiragana (no characters).

2. There are words like レモン (檸檬), the word for “lemon,” which looks weird not written in katakana. And I’m not familiar with 腹詰; I’ve always encountered “ソーセージ,” which entered Japanese as a loanword from the English “sausage.”

3. means “strawberry” in Japanese, but it’s the morpheme “-berry” in Chinese, used in such words as 草莓 (strawberry), 蓝莓 (blueberry), and 黑莓 (blackberry).

4. I’m not a big fish-eater, so I’m not confident in the fish translations. Any corrections are welcome.

There’s a lot more I could say here, but unfortunately, my blogging time is limited. Comments welcome!

Related Links:

Source: Endless Simmer (via Brad)
– More Chinese Vocabulary Lists on Sinosplice
Learning Curves for Chinese and Japanese on Sinosplice


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. The Kippies Says: March 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

    For seaweed, there seems to be a lot of different words used in Mandarin- 海藻 seems be used for smaller seaweed in its original form. The dried processed seaweed used to wrap sushi, or packaged as a snack is 海苔, and kelp seaweed is 海带. Does Japanese have this difference too?

    • I know Japanese has quite a few words for seaweed too. Unfortunately, I’m no expert on words for seaweed. I’m hoping someone else can chime in on this one…

      • Sarahplusone Says: March 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm

        The Japanese eat a lot of different kinds and preparations of seaweeds, and there are a lot of different names for them. Here are a few that I can think of off the top of my head. For better or worse, these Japanese terms often get borrowed into English, so perhaps someone else can offer better translations for you.

        海草 かいそう all seaweed, refers usually to the plant itself not a food product

        昆布 こんぶ konbu, thick, used in boiled dishes, soup stock (aka だし dashi), and in special celebratory or health teas

        海苔 のり  nori, aka laver, used to wrap rice balls, sushi

        ?  ひじき  hijiki, small black thread like, used in side dishes & soups

        There are several others, and like the examples above, the kanji are not always used for these in everyday practice.

        Re fish:
        鯵 is a white fish, small, usually served fried at breakfast or lunch.
        Horse mackerel is 鯖 さば I believe, and delicious. There is also a similar but different fish called a さま that translates to saury I believe. Mackerel is bigger, and you buy pieces of it. Saury are usually cooked whole.

        鰈 and 鮃 are both kinds of flounder, but it depends which way the eyes face which name is used.

        I cannot believe that more than 5 years after I left Hiroshima prefecture all of that is still in my head. Clearly the way to language mastery for me is through my stomach…

        I am very much a J 2nd language person, so if a native speaker wants to jump in and correct things here, please feel free!

    • When I see or hear the word 海藻, I imagine it under the sea, as all sorts of seaweed.

      海草 (kaisou or umikusa) is not edible. For example, We use it for aquariums.

      The Chinese word 海帯 is the Japanese 昆布



      海苔 is edible seaweed.
      Usually means dried Nori for sushi. 板海苔 means seaweed in sheet form, like Nori.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nori has a picture of 板海苔

      We also have 生海苔, which is not dried.

      We eat seaweed a lot, since Japan is surrounded by the sea. We have many words for it.


      Saury: サンマ 秋刀魚 literally means “autumn sword fish.”
      It is best in autumn, and looks like swords.

      Kanji for fish are crazy. I only read a few of them.

      Eat fish; it’s good for your health!

      BTW, I’m japanese.
      I love UTF-8.

  2. There is a very similar poster for Chinese characters in the Shanghainese restaurant which is in the old villa right on the corner of Huaihai with Fuxing.

    Actually, I suspect it is copied from the japanese one, because it looks really similar – even the colours (white on black) are the same. Next time I go there for lunch I will take a picture.

  3. Ugh, I hate characters with cutesy illustrations where the strokes should be. Just today I was trying to decipher a restaurant name from its menu and couldn’t, because someone thought a bowl of rice would be cute if it were incorporated into the character design. (was trying to look them up online and see how late they were open, menu didn’t say)

  4. Jaques Aandy Says: March 29, 2011 at 4:10 am

    Hi John,

    I wish the tools would have also supplied the romanji in addition to, or in place of the hiragana. It would be interesting to find out if on occasion one could detect a common root for the pronunciation however, faint, remote and unlikely (was there ever a common ancestor language in Eastern Asia thousands of years ago?)

  5. Hi John,

    As one who studied Japanese long before attempting the wild world of Chinese, this was the best. So interesting to see the connection between the two languages. Encore!!

  6. Oh, one more thing: does anyone have trouble reading the characters? They are tiny! I have problems seeing details. I always end up magnifying the text to 150% or 200%, otherwise the characters look like digital blurs. There just aren’t enough pixels there. Am I the only one?

  7. Interesting listing!
    Soy milk, 豆乳(とうにゅう), 豆奶
    Watermelon 西瓜(すいか), 西瓜

    I think some of the words are very interesting…
    Japanese:手紙(てがみ) -> English: Letters
    Chinese:手纸 -> English: toilet paper

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