Loneliness caused by being alone both physically and emotionally is perhaps one of the greatest modern problems in Japanese society. Some succumb to despair and lock themselves inside their own home. The phenomenon of such people, called “hikikomori” is fairly well known outside Japan.
The Japanese language even has plenty of terms very specific to certain types of aloneness. They have a word for being independent (relying only on one’s self) and a separate word for simply being unaccompanied.
While most Japanese words for “alone” are paired with other kanji characters to become applicable to specific scenarios, there is one kanji in the Japanese language that is used to refer to being “alone”.
What is the Japanese symbol for Alone?
While there are many types of aloneness in the Japanese language, this kanji is one of the most commonly used kanji that can refer in a single character to something like “alone” in the English language.
The Japanese kanji (Chinese character) for “Alone” is 独. The kanji 独 has an On-Yomi (Chinese reading) of “doku/ (ドク)”. It has the meaning of:
Its Japanese reading (Kun-Yomi) is hito-ri (ひと-り).
“Hitori” can also be written using the kanji of ”一人”. This is the more common way for the word “Hitori” to be written in Japanese. These characters literally mean “one person”. So, when written this way, the word is actually quite “neutral” in meaning, and comes across as similar to saying “by myself” or “by yourself”.
“Hitori” can be used when referring to being alone related to having to do things by yourself without or with very minimal help from other people.
When “Hitori” is written with the kanji 独, it takes on more of the nuance of a word like “alone”, which can also imply feelings of “loneliness” or “lonesomeness”. It doesn’t express this nuance as strongly as the character 孤 below, which more strongly emphasizes the “loneliness” aspect of “alone”.
独 is often paired with other characters, both kanji or a hiragana, to form other related words. When paired with other Japanese characters, the meaning becomes more specific to a certain context or usage.
Another Kanji for Alone
This kanji is not alternative writing for the previous kanji, 独 (hito). The kanji 孤 has an On-Yomi (Chinese reading) /ko/ (コ) and its dictionary meaning is solitary, lone, and alone. This type of aloneness focuses more on separation, and loneliness than the previous character.
This kanji is used in everyday language and is found in Japanese words such as orphan, isolation, solitary and lonely.
What is the difference between the Japanese symbols 孤(Ko) and 独 (Hito)?
While both characters mean “alone” and are seemingly similar, they are actually different. The concept of the usage of each is somewhat removed from the other.
The Japanese kanji 独 (hito) is often used in words relating to one’s self. It is associated with individualism, independence, and self-reliance. On the other hand, the kanji 孤 (ko) is often associated with a circumstantial kind of “alone”. While the kanji itself doesn’t necessarily have a negative meaning, it is often used in words that have negative connotations concerning loneliness.
What words are the Japanese characters for Alone used in?
Some common Japanese words that use the Japanese characters for Alone relating to their meaning in English are:
- 独り (hitori) – Alone
- 独立 (dokuritsu) – Independence
- 孤立 (Koritsu) – Isolation
- 孤独 (kodoku) – Loneliness/Solitude
1. 独り (Hitori) – Alone
独り(Hitori) has the meaning of alone, by oneself, or solitary. It is used to denote the various emotional implications of being alone. Oftentimes, it includes the feeling of loneliness, sadness, or freedom.
Do not confuse 独り with 一人. While both words are read as /hitori/, they have different connotations. The word 一人 literally means 1 person. It refers to aloneness based on quantity or number of individuals. On the other hand, 独り is more about having oneself detached from other people.
The word is the same when spoken, however it is written. In this way it could be said that Japanese speakers use both words “interchangeably” to some degree. But the context usually makes it pretty clear what sense of the word is intended. For example the word “Hitori” is used as the counter for “one person”, and in this sense it would only ever be written as 一人 (meaning one person). The reading of 独り is never used to count people.
Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 独り (hitori):
Yoko thought that it would be impossible to go on living alone any longer.
She stayed here by herself.
She took the hotel suite all for herself.
It makes people realize that they are not alone.
What good are you if you’re all alone?
2. 独立 (Dokuritsu) – Independence
独立 (Dokuritsu) is a common Japanese word used in everyday conversation and it primarily means independence. It is a noun used to express having to do things by yourself and the freedom that comes with independence.
The word 独立 (Dokuritsu) is composed of two kanjis: 独 meaning being alone and 立 meaning to stand. The word itself has a literal meaning of “to stand alone”, thus, independence.
独立 (Dokuritsu) is a neutral word –neither positive nor negative. However, the way it is used in a sentence or context often indicates the positive or negative implication of being “independent”.
Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 独立 (Dokuritsu):
They shed their blood for their independence.
She is independent of her parents.
His grandfather is what you would call a self-reliant man.
He established his independence..
3. 孤立 (Koritsu) – Isolation
孤立 (Koritsu) is also another common Japanese word used in everyday conversation and it means “isolation.” However, it also has other dictionary meanings such as being alone or having no friends.
孤立 (Koritsu) mostly represents aloneness that have come about due to involuntary circumstances, such as: having to lose one’s parents/loved ones, difficulty in making friends, separation due to health risks, being shunned by a social group, etc.
Breaking down the word, Koritsu is composed of kanji: 孤 which means solitary, and 立 which means to stand. Together, its literal meaning is “standing alone” which in effect is isolation.
Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 孤立 (Koritsu):
He is always isolated from his fellow workers.
Albania is emerging from its long isolation.
Several cottages have been isolated by the flood water.
The church has become isolated, and we feel it.
It’s the spirit of the age, you don’t want to stand alone.
4. 孤独 (Kodoku) – Solitude
孤独 (Kodoku) has a dictionary meaning alone, solitude, loner, loneliness, and solitary. It is used to mean having separated from everything or everyone else. It also often denotes the negative meaning of being alone.
Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 孤独 (kodoku):
She led a solitary life.
For all his wealth and fame, he is a lonely man.
I was lonely, with nobody to play with.
Loneliness through social exclusion is very common.
Donobert accepts his daughters’ religious commitment to the solitary and celibate life.
Is the Japanese symbol for “Alone” the same in Chinese?
Basically, the answer to that question is yes. The primary kanji for “alone” in the Chinese language is 独. However, this is only a simplified form. The traditional form of this kanji is 獨 and it is read in the standard Chinese language as /dú/.
The second kanji, 孤, is also used the same way in the Chinese language. It doesn’t have any other form but the pronunciation is different. 孤 is pronounced as /gū/ in Mandarin.
How to write the Japanese character for “Alone”
There are only 9 strokes for the kanji 独 (Ko) and it starts from completing the character on the left then and then starts again in the middle portion of the right character forming the little rectangle using only 3 strokes.
The kanji 孤 (Ritsu) also has 9 strokes and is also composed of 2 characters put together. The order of strokes is as follows:
Remember that stroke direction when writing kanji mostly starts from left to right and then from top to bottom.
Historical versions of the Japanese symbol for respect
The kanji for 独 (Ko) is first found in the old scriptures of the Han dynasty. The original form of this kanji is shown on the left side of the picture below. Later, during the Ming dynasty, the form started to change as more people started to transcribe the said character. Eventually, the Chinese language uses the current traditional form 獨.
When the Japanese adapted the said kanji, the simplified version was used and the traditional form was never adapted to the Japanese language.
On the other hand, the kanji 孤(Ritsu) is used in both the traditional and simplified versions in the Chinese language. It also hasn’t changed since its discovery in old scriptures in the Han Dynasty.
What is the Japanese concept of Alone?
The main concept of the word “Alone” in Japanese society has a generally negative connotation, especially since the number of people feeling like they have become outcasts from society has increased.
The word “hikikomori” has become a trend in Japanese culture, especially in Otaku culture since the 1960s. The emergence of people who feel like they can’t fit into the current trend of society is a major problem in Japan.
In 2010, there are an estimated 700,000 people in Japan living as hikikomori and a part of that number ends up in suicide, or even in death due to severe malnourishment.
The social culture in Japan can have various effects on individuals. The concept of being alone is so ingrained in Japanese culture that there are several words used for different kinds of aloneness in life.
Is the Chinese character for “Alone” a popular tattoo?
While no evidence would suggest that the word “alone” using the Japanese kanji is a popular tattoo, there are some online T-shirt printing shops that offer such kanji to their customers.
Depending on the kind of “aloneness” you are aiming for, the concept of solitude and aloneness may already be inked on several people’s skin. The concept is certainly no stranger to a lot of people in this modern time.
Should you get “Alone” done as a tattoo in Japanese writing?
The Japanese kanjis for “Alone” is worth considering especially if you value solitude and “me time”.
It is a very tempting concept to put into a tattoo since many of us can relate to being “alone”. There is also the idea of the fundamental “solitariness” of existence, when you consider that our individual experiences are in many ways totally divorced and incommunicable with those around us.
If you plan to use a Japanese word for “alone” as a tattoo, make sure to choose the right kanji for the kind of “solitude” or aloneness you want to be represented in your tattoo. Remember that there are more Japanese kanji for “alone” that have negative connotations embedded in each word. Remember that there are often several different ways of using Kanji to write the same spoken word.
Try to choose the one that suits you the best! And one that you can explain well when asked what your tattoo for “alone” actually means.