Sakana : 2 Different Meanings of the Japanese Word

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

Sakana is a basic Japanese word for fish, but in the Japanese language, there is one more Chinese character pronounced in the same way as “魚”, which is “Sakana (肴)”.

The Meaning of Sakana (肴)

Sake and Sake no Sakana

Actually, “Sakana (魚)” is a word derived from “Sakana (肴)”. Until the Muromachi period (Muromachi : 1336 to 1573), the Japanese word Sakana referred to foods eaten with “Sake (酒)” 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 solely mean fishes, the Chinese character, “魚” came to be used.

The original “Sakana” referring to the foods 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 can also refer to fun things enjoyed together with Sake, like songs and dances.

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