2 Different Meanings of Sakana that You should know

If you have learned Japanese for a while, you may know the meaning of the Japanese word “Sakana (魚)”. Sakana (魚) is a basic Japanese word for fish, but in Japanese, there is one more Chinese character pronounced in the same way as 魚, and that is Sakana (肴).

The Meaning of Sakana (肴)

Actually, Sakana (魚) is a word derived from Sakana (肴). Until the Japan’s Muromachi period (Muromachi : 1336 to 1573), the Japanese word, Sakana referred to foods eaten with “Sake (酒)” rice wine, so the accompaniment for Sake included various kinds of snack foods and side dishes.

However, at that time, cooked fishes were often served as Sakana along with Sake rice wine, so in order to solely mean fishes, the Chinese character, 魚 came to be used. The original “Sakana” meaning the accompaniments for Sake rice wine is still sometimes used in Japan, and Sakana (肴) is the Japanese term for the original meaning.

Sake no Sakana (酒の肴)

Not only does Sakana (肴) refer to foods eaten with Sake rice wine, but it also refers to fun things enjoyed together with Sake, like songs and dances. In order to distinguish Sakana (肴) from Sakana (魚) as they have the same reading and pronunciation, we Japanese usually use a hackneyed expression “Sake no Sakana (酒の肴 : the accompaniments for Sake)”.

(Reference page of this article : Wikipedia 肴 )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. I want to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures and trivia.

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