What is the Japanese symbol for freedom?

In the Western world, freedom is considered to be one of the most important values. It is seen as a cornerstone of democracy and a key component of individual liberty. But what does freedom mean in Japan? 

Historically, the word that is currently used as the most common equivalent in Japanese 自由 (jiyuu) was used as a derogatory term meaning something more like “selfish” or “self-serving”. It had the sense of a “loose cannon” who was only thinking of their own wants and needs.

In fact, early Japanese translators had a lot of trouble with English words like “liberty” and “freedom”. Strange as it may seem to our contemporary Western ears, there really wasn’t a concept of “individual liberty” like that which we know. Rather, the emphasis was on group harmony over individual liberty.

The Japanese version of Wikipedia talks of an early translator Fukuzawa:

“Fukuzawa’s “Seiyo Jijyo” state that it is difficult to translate liberty into Japanese, and although there are Chinese translations such as self-esteem, self-reliance, volition, tolerance, and obedience, the meaning of the original word is lost. Hiroyuki Kato translated it as “自在 jizai” in the “Constitutional Government Strategy” of the 4th year of Keio, and was translated as ” 自由之理 jiyunori ” in ” On Liberty ” by Tsuda Mamichi. Freedom was established by ” reason “. “

The definition of freedom has been a topic of discussion now for centuries. 

There are, however, now some general concepts that are generally agreed upon between Japan and the West. Freedom is the ability to make choices and to act upon them. It includes the freedom to think, speak, and worship as one chooses. It also includes the right to pursue happiness in one’s own way.

What is the Japanese symbol for freedom?

There is no one kanji (Chinese character) that represents the concept of freedom in the Japanese language. However, there is one word –in Kanji—that has come to take on equivalence to the word “freedom” in the English language.

The kanji (Chinese characters) for freedom that is used in everyday conversation is 自由 and it is read as Jiyu (じゆう) –the second syllable /yu/ has a long vowel. 

The word Jiyou is composed of the Kanjis:自 and 由. The kanji 自 means “self” and it has an on-yumi (the Chinese way of reading in the Japanese language) of /Ji/. 

The other kanji is 由 and has a on-yumi /Yu/ (ゆう). Its dictionary meaning is significance, reason, cause, a piece of information that has been read, and origin. Together, both kanji form a word that could be “self-origin” or “self-reasoning” equivalent to “freedom”. 

The word Jiyou (自由) is a very common word used in both casual and formal conversations. Its dictionary meaning is freedom and liberty. While freedom and liberty are two different things in the English language, they are mostly synonymous in the Japanese language. 

What words is the Japanese symbol for freedom used in?

Some common Japanese words that use the Japanese characters for freedom relating to their meaning in English are:

  1. 自由化 Liberalization
  2. 自由奔放 – Free and uncontrolled
  3. 自由形 – Freestyle
  4. 自由自在 – Unrestricted freedom

1.      自由化 (Jiyouka) – Liberalization

自由化, pronounced as / Jiyouka /, is a word that means giving someone/something freedom, freeing something, or liberating something from restrictions or any form of shackles.  The kanji 化 means “acting on something” or “the action of making something”, in this case, the “something” is freedom. 

This word is often used in politics and other rule or law-related topics. 

There is no alternative writing for 自由化.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 自由化 (Jiyouka):


It will be four years before the definite result of beef liberalization emerges.


It is difficult to peg the direction of interest deregulation.


Since liberalization, the government has approved significant banking reforms.

2.    自由奔放 (Jiyouhonbou) – Free and uncontrolled

自由奔放 (Jiyouhonbou) refers to the kind of freedom that is uncontrolled and unrestricted. It often has a negative connotation, almost like being a loose cannon. It is used as a na-adjective to describe people or things as having too much freedom and lacking consideration. 

Its dictionary meanings are free and uncontrolled, behaving with abandon, and freewheeling​. Imagine a teenager acting out rebelliously. 

There is no alternate writing for 自由奔放 (Jiyouhonbou).

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 自由奔放 (Jiyoujizai):


Just what you’d expect of a young lady, you certainly weren’t left to live as you pleased.


Americans appear unsettled and uncontrolled to the Japanese.


Sometimes her free manner seems rude.

俺は自由奔放で 車と女の子が好きだった。

I liked to get a little wild. I liked cars and girls.

3.    自由形 (Jiyougata) – Freestyle

自由形 (Jiyougata) has the exact definition of the word “freestyle” in English –meaning having an unrestricted style of performance –basically doing your “own thing”. While this is a common word, it is often observed in competitions, especially in swimming. 

The kanji attached to the word freedom (自由) “gata” (形) has a dictionary meaning of form, shape, and figure. Basically, 自由形 means using your own figure or form, thus, freestyle. 

Alternate writing for 自由形 is 自由型.

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 自由形 (Jiyougata):


The freestyle race was held four times due to multiple lane crossing.


Two years later at the age of 18, he won three freestyle events at the AAU national championships.


The front crawl stroke is almost universally used during a freestyle race, as this style is generally the fastest.

4.    自由自在 (Jiyoujizai) – Unrestricted freedom

自由自在 (Jiyoujizai) is also another common word in the Japanese language. Its dictionary meaning is free; unrestricted; (with) complete mastery; completely in control​. It is basically the opposite of 自由奔放 (Jiyouhonbou) and it is often used to describe something positively. 

It refers to the kind of freedom that allows you to act on your own will that suits you and your environment.

There is now alternate writing for 自由自在 (Jiyoujizai).

Example Sentences For the Japanese word for 自由自在 (Jiyoujizai):


He has a good command of English.


A portable type compact design that allows for free and easy carrying.


Since the device is thin and flexible, it is possible to change the structure.


How to spend according to members, the number of people, the purpose is flexible.

Is the Japanese symbol for “freedom” the same in Chinese?

Yes, the Japanese kanji for “freedom” is exactly the same in Chinese mainly because the Japanese word for freedom is borrowed from the Chinese language. However, the pronunciation is slightly different mainly because phonetically, Chinese and Japanese languages are very different. 

The pronunciation of “Jiyou” in Chinese is “Zìyóu” with /Zì/ sounding almost like /dzi/ having a short vowel and /yóu/ having the close /o/ sound in English.

The word is used both as an adjective and a noun in traditional Chinese. 

How to write the Japanese character for “Freedom”

The Kanji writing for the word “freedom” in Japanese is one of the easiest to write consisting of two simple kanjis with 5-6 strokes each. 

The first kanji 自(Ji) only has 6 strokes starting from the very top of the character followed by the straight line on the left, then the upside-down “L” line at the top. The vertical lines are then drawn from the top to the bottom.

While the kanji for 由 (you) only has 5 strokes and the order of stroke is as follows:

Remember that stroke direction when writing kanji is from left to right and up to bottom.

Historical versions of the Japanese symbol for respect

The Kanji writing for the word “Freedom” in Japanese is originally from the Han Dynasty, but was used in a very different way to how it is used now. It’s been written the same way since then in standard Chinese and eventually made its way to the Japanese language writing system later after Japan adapted the Chinese writing system before making their own (Hiragana and Katakana)

While the Japanese language doesn’t use alternative writing for the word 自由 (Jiyu), the Chinese language uses 自繇 as alternative writing.

What is the Japanese concept of freedom?

The Japanese concept of freedom is far different from the English or western concept of freedom which focuses more on equality and human rights. The concept of “freedom” is originally a foreign ideology but has eventually become part of the concept of individualism in Japanese society.

The main meaning of the word freedom in Japanese is derived from its Chinese origin thru its kanji having a meaning of “following oneself” which was often related to negative behaviors especially since Japanese culture is all about harmony and blending in society. 

The idea of freedom used to struggle a lot in finding its way in the Japanese society especially having freedom is often considered a “selfish” behavior. 

Nowadays, individualism is perceived to be more acceptable and sometimes ideal influenced by western culture.

While there is no concrete evidence indicating that the kanji for “freedom” is a popular tattoo, it is one of the kanjis often offered on tattoo websites. This could be a good indication that the Japanese word for “freedom” is a tattoo that may be in demand today. 

Should you get “freedom” done as a tattoo in Japanese writing?

It is worth considering getting 自由 (Jiyuu) as a tattoo. 

In some ways, given that the concept of “freedom”, per se, was foreign in Japan until relatively recently, to translate the word “freedom” back into Japanese. The idea of individual liberty is essentially a very Western concept. It contrasts with the much stronger tendency towards group harmony in Japan.

It is also important to remember that there is political strife in recent years relating to freedom and equality in western society. Make sure you are choosing the right kanji for whatever “freedom” you want to represent. Like any other tattoo, contemplate what best represents your thoughts and idea before having it inked forever in your body.