Japanese Word: 2 Different Meanings of Sakana

If you have learned Japanese for a while, you probably know the meaning of the word “Sakana (魚)”.

As you may know, Sakana is the Japanese word for fish, but in Japanese, there is one more Kanji Chinese character pronounced in the same way as “魚”, which is “肴” (Pronunciation).

The Meaning of Sakana

Sake and Sake no Sakana

Actually, “Sakana (魚)” is a word derived from “Sakana (肴)”. Until the Muromachi period (Muromachi: 1336 to 1573), the word Sakana referred to foods eaten with sake rice wine.

Therefore, the accompaniment for Sake, Sakana was the word for various kinds of snack foods and side dishes.

However, in those days, cooked fish was often served as Sakana along with sake rice wine, so in order to distinguish Sakana fish from other kinds of Sakana, the Chinese character “魚” began to be used.

The original “Sakana” referring to any kind of food that is enjoyed with sake rice wine is still sometimes used, and “肴 (Sakana)” is the Kanji Chinese character for the original meaning.

By the way, the word “Otsumami (おつまみ)” is a synonym of “肴 (Sakana)”

Sake no Sakana (酒の肴)

Actually, not only does “Sakana (肴)” refer to a food accompaniment for sake rice wine, but it can also refer to fun things that are enjoyed together with Sake, such as songs and dances.

In order to distinguish “Sakana (肴)” from “Sakana (魚)” as these words have the same reading and pronunciation, we Japanese usually use the hackneyed expression “Sake no Sakana (酒の肴)” (Pronunciation) for “Sakana (肴)”.

(Reference Page: Wikipedia 肴 )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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