All about the Japanese symbol for King

With just four strokes, the symbol for King in Japanese has more impact than many other symbols or kanji in Japanese. 

The symbol has a sense of power, symmetry and groundedness to it. It is essentially a pictogram of a person standing beneath the heavens, hinting to the fact that kings usually draw a divine providence to sure up their mandate.

Indeed, the character has a similar historical etymology as the character for heaven 天 (ten).

Compare the related characters of 玉 (“jade” or “jewel”) and 主 (“master”), and you get a sense of some of the connotations associated with it’s shape.

The character for king 王 is commonly used in China or in Chinese language. Japan itself doesn’t have a king, instead they have an Emperor which is referred to as the 天皇 (tenno). You can see that the second character of this word includes the character for “king” as radical 皇, so you know that it is still a powerful symbol!

How is the word “King” pronounced in Japanese?

Ou (王) is how the word King is pronounced in the Japanese language. 

Another common word that you see in comics and popular culture is Kingu (キング) which is a loanword written in one of the Japanese’s basic writing, the katakana(カタカナ). It is the name also of one of the characters in the Japanese animated series One-punch man said to be one of the strongest amongst the hero society in the series. 

Historical Forms of the Chinese character for “king”

The traditional interpretation is that the three horizontal strokes represent Heaven, Man and Earth. The vertical stroke is the king, the one who connects them together. Older representation of the character shows a man like 大 or 天 above a horizontal stroke.

The modern interpretation is that the character is a pictogram (象形) of either an axe or a crown, one of two symbols of the king’s power. A ceremonial axe was kept near the throne, and was used for performing rituals in ancient China.

Different ways on how “king” can be expressed in Japanese characters and symbols.

  1. 王(Ou)

Means King, rule, magnate and Jade for Chinese are highly associated gems like jade. 

Examples sentences:


Ou wa jibun no oukoku wo kousei ni osameta.

The king rules his kingdom justly.


Ato ni naru to ou no goei ga eisei to yobareta.

Later the personal guards of kings were called satellites.

  1. 神様(Kamisama)

Define as God, god(amongst men), ace, superior person, or king. Kings in the history of China and even emperors in Japan have been treated the same way as a god amongst men hence the name kamisama. The first symbol 神 is read alone as kami means god or even God and the second symbol 様 is read alone as sama which used to address anyone with highest honor to the person. Despite being defined also as king, kamisama leans more on defining and expressing god better than king during the modern day.

Example sentences:


Kare wa fune de naniseiki mo mae ni jibun n tochi wo hanareta kodai no kamisama ni tsuite no hanashi wo kiiteita.

He had heard stories about an ancient god who had left his land centuries before by ship.


Kamisama wa kare no negai wo kiite iru kamo shirenai.

God may be listening to his wish.

  1. 大君(Ookimi)

Emperor, king, or prince. The first symbol 大 is read as Ookii which means big, and the second symbol 君 is read alone as Kimi defined as old boy or as a name suffix.

Example sentences:


Mata ookimi no migawari wo metomeru  Kaoru ni ukifune no sujō to shozai o akashita.

He also revealed the identity and whereabouts of Ukifune to Kaoru, who seeks a substitute for the prince.


Kaoru ga hachinomiya no himegimi-tachi to deai, omoi o yosete ita ookimi ow ushinau.

Kaoru meets the princesses of Hachinomiya and loses the prince who was thinking about it.

  1. 天皇 (Tennou)

This is the most commonly used word for “Emperor” in Japan.

What words is the Japanese symbol for “king” used in?

  1. 王様(Ousama)

Also means king but with the suffix Sama(様) which means the speaker or person 1 is greatly honoring person 2 whom he or she is calling Ou.

Example sentences:


Kono kyuuden wa okanemochi no ousama no tame ni taterareta.

This palace was built for the rich king.


Mukashi, Ingurando ni taihen iji no warui ousama ga sunde ita.

Once there lived a very wicked king in England.

  1. 女王(Jyoou)

Means queen or a female champion. The first symbol 女 is read as Onna which means girl or female, and the second symbol means king(王), read alone as Ou. together it now means A female king; Queen.

Example sentences:


Jyoou wa karei na gin iro no doresu wo kite ita.

The queen was wearing a magnificent silver dress.


Eikoku dewa jyoou wa kunrin suru ga, shihai shinai.

The Queen reigns but does not rule in England.

  1. 王国(Oukoku)

Means kingdom or monarchy. The second symbol 国 is read alone as Kuni which means country., together with 王, it means a country with a king or a country ruled by a king.

Example sentence:


Sono oukoku wa teki ni shinnyuu sareta.

The kingdom was invaded by the enemy.


Kono you ni shite, boukun wa sono oukoku no seifuku ni seikou shita.

Thus, the tyrant succeeded in conquering the kingdom.

  1. 王座 (Ouza)

Means throne. The second symbol 座 is read as suwa from the verb suwaru(座る) which means “to sit”. Together, it means “a king to sit” or “sitted king.

Example sentences:


Marigan wa juuyon kagetsu mae ni gyakuten de ouza wo tasshu shite irai, mattaku no makeshirazu desu.

Mulligan has been riding high since he seized the throne in a come-from-behind victory 14 months ago.

  1. 王族 (Ouzoku)

Royalty. The second symbol after 王 means family, or tribe, which is read as zoku(族). Together, it speaks of the “family of the king” or just simply royalty.

Example sentences:


Nivuruheimu kougeki wa houmon Rushian ouzoku no seikatsu ni kokoromideshita.

The Niflheim attack was an attempt on the lives of the visiting Lucian royalty.

How is “king” expressed in Chinese?

The same as Japanese, 王 is how Chinese expresses king in Chinese language but is read differently for it is read at Wáng. 

Stroke order for writing the characters in Japanese “king” and associated symbols.

  1. 王(Ou)
  1. 大君


  1. 王様


  1. 女王
  1. 王国
  1. 王座


  1. 王族

So should you get “king” done as a tattoo in Japanese lettering?

Having a king in Japanese symbol as a tattoo is quite a statement! 

If you really wanted to ham it up and perhaps inject an element of humor, ou could even put “sama” after the word “ou”, which is a super-honorific signifier to show that someone is really important. This would become ousama (王様).

Still, just the character for 王 by itself has such a sense of gravitas about it, both visually and metaphorically, that it is an appealing option if you want to really highlight your own inner royalty!


Article by Dhanie James Perez

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